Moving with words 
A review of dancer Geeta Chandran’s book “SO MANY JOURNEYS” 
- Anita R Ratnam, Chennai 

April 5, 2005 

Dancing in all its forms 
Cannot be excluded from 
The curriculum of all noble education 
dancing with the feet, 
with ideas, with words 
and, need I add 
That one must also be able  
to dance with the pen?  

Friedrich Nietzsche 
“Twilight of the idols” 

Books on Indian dance have not kept pace with the rapid changes in the practice and presentation of dance in India. The dizzying number of performers and presentations do not have the necessary objective analysis and commentaries needed to put this phenomenon called Indian classical dance in any kind of perspective. With dance academics concentrated outside the country and poorly written and even more poorly produced hagiographies posing as biographies, the intellectual vigour in Indian dance looks anemic and listless. 

The reciprocity between dancing and writing engages a double motion and involves a synergy, even symbiosis that animates not only the body but also words and ideas.  The dancing body fields impulses, signals and signs that can be transmitted, deciphered, amplified and translated – to court a kinetic cogito. Dancing outdoes any teleprompter - words, sentences and ideas pop into one’s field or inner screen, materialize in the air, brain, or somewhere in between. There is a whole lot of information in a single movement. Even a text, and more! 

In this light, SO MANY JOURNEYS is a pleasure to look at. Beautifully produced and gorgeously designed, the publication literally lathers on layers and layers of photographs of the ever photogenic author in various costumes and postures, some in performance, others in rehearsal and still others in photo sessions. In between, there are short and sensible articles on important topics such as ‘Audience-Rasika’, ‘The role of the critic’, ‘Understanding Siva’s dance’, ‘Krishna as a metaphor of environmental consciousness’, ‘Linking with Women’ and ‘God and I’. The articles are short and direct.  Nothing wrong with that. Fortunately, they are not mediocre.   

Some of the most appealing sections were those that come straight from the heart. Geeta’s passages, early in the book in the chapter titled ‘The sacred bond between guru and sishya’ expands on her early training with the legendary Swarna Saraswathy and her firm understanding of body, music and aesthetics. The metaphor of the Siva-Pradosa-Tandava aesthetic is a stunning example of how traditional gurus of Bharatanatyam synthesize an innate understanding of outer-inner tensions of body and mind.  

Throughout the book, Geeta asks important questions. Can Bharatanatyam regain its original status as an art form and not be judged by modern standards of speed and technical brilliance alone? Why have the modern-day gurus failed in adapting their teaching methods to keep pace with a visually stimulated world? Why has the government and the media abdicated the responsibility of being the prism and the catalyst for dance appreciation among the public? The questions are several and all are important. 

Unfortunately, the serious import of the book is largely diluted by the huge number of photographs (220 pages - 72 text pages - 110 photos). Geeta will be disappointed as almost everyone will continue to comment on the photos while ignoring the interesting content of her thoughts and musings. Although several renowned photographers are credited in the book, the most potent photographs are those taken by Vandana Kohli. Could it be that a woman can really penetrate the soul of another?  

Frank, direct and passionate in her everyday life, Geeta Chandran’s most evocative photo in the entire publication is the last but one image of a woman looking askance into the future in a dimly lit profile. On the cover, Geeta looks in the same direction, but clothed and bejeweled, her chin and eyes emanating a stubborn determination and gentle sadness about the state of Indian dance today. Contained in that profile shot is a million thoughts and a thousand little journeys that she has already taken, away from the camera’s eye- in private, debating about dance, its future, walking that constant tightrope between the eternal role- playing of wife, daughter, mother and contemporary artiste.     

SO MANY JOURNEYS may raise the question from many dancers. “How many journeys has Geeta actually taken?” “What is the ultimate purpose of this book?” “Is it a coffee table book or a volume for dancers?” One question that will not be asked anymore after this maiden publication is “Who is Geeta Chandran?” With a pragmatic and street-wise savvy about marketing, visual communications and public speaking that emanates from her everyday life and professional stage performances, Geeta has carefully ‘packaged’ her thoughts into this lavishly produced volume, a maiden effort of a Delhi-based publisher Niyogi Offset.  

This writer gets the feeling that Geeta’s real journey is just beginning. Just as a river gains momentum from deep within the earth’s crevices and depths to begin its long downward journey from the mountains on to the earth, so too is Geeta’s probing, questing thirst for newer vistas and expanding mind-scapes for her beloved Bharatanatyam. Contained within this one book are several books - one for dance students, one for dance enthusiasts and one for the larger audience of Indophiles. Her articles alone can be recompiled and republished in monograph form at affordable prices for today’s dance audiences. However, with almost 1000 copies being sold at Rs 3900, it proves that there is a market out there for quality products.  

In today’s brand-conscious world, SO MANY JOURNEYS is both eye-candy and spirit-food. What comes through clearly is that dancing is a transformative experience for the author who seeks to minimize the sacrifices and enlarge those amazing peak moments of creative highs. If only Geeta had allowed the camera and her words to catch her in more relaxed and vulnerable moments, the synthesis of an intelligent creative artist and a prolific practitioner would have been clearer. 

Anita Ratnam is a dancer, choreographer, organizer and writer. She founded Arangham Trust in 1992 and is the co-artistic director of The Other Festival in Chennai