A dancer with a difference: Anusha Subramanyam's 'From the Heart': a choreographic solo dance work  
- Sunil Kothari 
e-mail: sunilkothari1933@yahoo.com 
Photo: Vipul Sangoi  
April 19, 2007 

Anusha Subramanyam, trained in Bharatanatyam in Kalakshetra bani, is a dancer with a difference. She divides her time between Chennai and London. Besides training Indian diaspora and foreign students in dance, she gives solo performances and has specialized in dance therapy and creative movement work with a range of people with physical and mental challenges in a variety of settings - terminally ill children in cancer wards, and several psychiatric patients and in care homes for those with learning and severe physical disabilities, with refugee groups and others. She started working in this field since 1986-87 in India and moved to London to study further, which gave her opportunities to understand the movement in a different context than merely performing as a solo recital. She graduated from University of Hertfordshire in UK in 1996. 

"Dance moves me in more ways than I can probably articulate," says Anusha. "The joy and freedom I experience in dance is something I wanted to share with every one. Dance also gives me a great ability to be in touch with who I really am. I wanted to translate this conviction, empowerment especially to individuals that I think can get marginalized any way."  

Anusha started realizing that some dances can only be experienced and not seen. She had the privilege to do so in her work as a dance movement therapist and in dance education and workshop environments. "I feel that the dances I saw in these settings are raw and real because it really was from the heart," explains Anusha. "The participants gave what they really believed in. This feeds me as a dancer because I want to try and be vulnerable when I dance. I want to be one and generous in who I am and not try to hide myself."  

I was privileged to see her work 'From the Heart,' when Anusha during one of her recent visits to New Delhi presented it at Attic Gallery near Regal cinema near Connaught Place. It is an intimate space, which can seat more than sixty people, with a standing room for other twenty or so. Subtle lighting and clear viewing brings an intimacy, which enables audiences to appreciate the work from close quarters. A fine venue, which has become popular with visual artists, dancers and musicians, more so because it gives them an opportunity to interact. 

It was a happy coincidence that Vipul Sangoi, Anusha's husband, photographer, designer, and visualizer had displayed in an exhibition for a week, his photographs of dancers from India and abroad. This also provided a fitting backdrop, and as many leading Delhi based dancers attended the performance, the synergy was palpable. They also took part in the post performance discussion. Attic Gallery's aim was thus successful to have interaction with the performing artists and those specializing in plastic arts. 

The performance piece, as Anusha explained later on 'emerged as a natural progression of various dance projects she has been involved in. It is an exploration of those moments during creative or therapeutic workshops and group sessions participants create dance, irrespective of their physical and mental abilities: revealing inner truths and deriving a sense of creative achievement, hope and strength. Bharatanatyam and movement vocabulary that reflect the way a normal audience sees those that are differently 'abled'; challenges the notions of normal and abnormal, 'abled' and 'disabled.' 

Anusha used Bharatanatyam to juxtapose these other movements both to show the inherent beauty and strength they possess. In addition to provide a sense of harmony and discord. Other worldliness. She used Mongolian Khoomii singing and instrumentation done by friend Candida Valentino and Micheal Ormiston, and overlaid their music with various environmental and nature sounds. The music was rearranged and layered by Vipul. Anusha also used teermanams to intersect the various sections. 

In the first section she dealt with two songs sung by T M Krishna, all in Anandabhairavi, 'O Jagadamba' and 'Kshirasagara.' 'O Jagadamba' was to evoke nature as the metaphorical mother, the nurturer. 'Kshirasagara' was for the metaphor of water, water being the giver of life. Anusha used these traditional songs and music to express ability of human beings to interact and fully participate with this world on our terms. There was a strong indictment underlining that as a society we forget and put labels on each other. 

The piece succeeded in showing us our own notion of taboo towards 'disability.' 

The Q & A after the performance brought to the notice of many present the following information. Anusha spoke about her work in cancer ward with children. The usage of the hastas, the hand gestures popularly termed as mudras, the expression, and story telling - one had to pick and choose any one. The story telling worked well among the boys, as they did not want to dance but used hand gestures and eyes to tell the stories. This was when Anusha learnt about football. She asked the boys to imagine two teams Arsenal and Manchester United. As they lay on their beds they could still use only their legs, heads, hands or shoulders and imagine kicking or heading the ball. "We incorporated these movements to music; it had positive effect on their parents. When they saw their child suddenly moving their limbs, they were pleased. And it gave them confidence and hope, because they saw the child not as a sick person but as a human being." 

Anusha expressed a hope that she could tour India with this presentation. 

('From the heart' premiered in India during Anita Ratnam's PAST FORWARD festival at Sri Krishna Gana Sabha, Chennai, in January 2000.) 

Dr Sunil Kothari is a leading dance historian, scholar, author and critic of Indian classical dances.  He has to his credit more than 12 books on Indian classical dance forms and allied subjects. Kothari was a dance critic of the Times of India group of publications and wrote for the Times of India for 40 years as a dance critic. He has held several positions: Uday Shankar Professor and Chair , Dance Department, Rabindra Bharati University, Kolkata: Dean and Professor, School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawharlal Nehru University, New Delhi; National Professor of Dance, under UGC scheme for two years.  His awards include Padma Shri, Sangeet Natak Akademi Award and Gujarat State Sangeet Natak Akademi Award. He is currently a Vice President of the World Dance Alliance, Asia Pacific, South Asia, representing India.