Lec-dem by Savitri Naidoo on 'Bharatanatyam in South Africa'
December 20, 2005 Sri Krishna Gana Sabha, Chennai
Text & Photos: Lalitha Venkat

December 25, 2005

The concluding day of the Natya Kala conference featured 2 lec-dems. The first one was about how Bharatanatyam has found its place in the African culture. Savitri Naidoo's 26 year old Vadhini Indian Arts Academy in Cape Town, is the first Indian dance academy in the Cape Province. With her skills and background in Western dance and the motivation of her mentor Dr. Dulcie Howes, she has structured an innovative dance course with grades, external practical examinations, theory and a wide range of workshops by experts in the arts in general.

Along with the efforts of other dance practitioners, Bharatanatyam is now a school subject and can be taken up to Matriculation level. Now, they are working to take Bharatanatyam into the university level, where ballet and other dance forms are already part of the syllabus. Earlier, lot of value was placed on an arangetram where more value was given to the pomp of the occasion than the dance itself. "An arangetram could cost as much as 40,000 to 60,000 Rand. Multiply by 6 for rupees," and we gasped in horror! Now things are changing, especially after the boycott has been lifted in South Africa. Now, people get to see lots of art, music kutcheris and different types of dances.

Naidoo explained how she went about the teaching process. She first had to do an awareness program about the dance, as the general idea was that pretty neck movements, some hand gestures and the sound of the ankle bells was all that the dance was about. At that time, there were hardly any dance programs on TV either. Prominent dancers like Priyadarshini Govind and Sandhya Murali went to judge the exams, after which the examiners took the students through the paces. This exam shows whether the student is ready for an arangetram.

Talking about fusion of dance forms, Naidoo also does cross cultural collaborations where they spend about 6 months to a year learning each others' dance forms before putting together a production. They are currently working on the theme of slavery. Thus, Indian dance has been taken beyond the Indian dance community and to the wider African dance community. An example of its success could be gauged by the fact that 60% of the audience at their Natya Anjali fest was non-Indian.

Naidoo showed some slides about the African culture followed by the demonstration of the gumboot dance where slaves communicated through the beats. The dance of joy from Gambia promotes group participation. The costumes and bead decorations were adapted since the Africans wear minimum of costumes! The dancers wore attractive costumes for the African fusion dance of East and West Africa.

Naidoo expressed her gratitude to the Indian High Commission that has organized outreach programs in the townships. She said that African children are uninhibited and have such an innate sense of rhythm that within an hour, they are able to learn our folk dances like garba. Naidoo also works with physically disabled children and adults.