Our New Roots: Bringing classical dance out of the arena – Ashwini Raghupathy, Arpana

Odissi dancer Ashwini Raghupathy is taking classical dance to places it has never gone before.


Being under the arclights was nothing new to her. Yet, when she caught the attention of the public who stopped right in their tracks in the centre of the bustling KR Market, taken aback to witness an Odissi dancer performing in the middle of their vegetable mandi, she knew that this time it was extra special.

Ashwini Raghupathy is a dancer with a lot of laurels resting on her petite shoulders. A classical Odissi exponent who is a graduate out of the renowned Nrityagram Dance Village, Raghupathy also has over 6 years of experience with contemporary dance troupe Nrityarutya and has performed in many major festivals in India.

One of the things Raghupathy has constantly attempted is to bring classical dance out of the traditional, ‘artistic’ spaces that it has always been reigned in, into more inclusive spaces and communities. Whether it is her work in helping transgenders with expressing their emotions through dance, or free body conditioning classes by the sunlit trees of Cubbon Park and Bangalore’s busy markets, Raghupathy has constantly pushed the frontiers of what dance could be to people.

 We catch up with her to learn more about ‘bringing art to the lot’:

“Couple of years back, when I started off as an independent artist, I faced a lot of challenges in terms of resources. The two basic activities of a dancer: rehearsing and performing, were proving to be difficult. I could not find an affordable studio space to practise. The complicated procedure of performance, networking and an insufficient audience frustrated me, although for some, this is conveniently done.

So instead of complaining about overbooked studio slots and high rents, I looked at spaces that were free. Our city has one of the most beautiful spaces in Cubbon Park- (I heard there is a move to privatise the park- so, don’t know if it will remain free then!). This was the seed which grew into a full-fledged journey of exploration of public spaces for dance. We also embarked on a performance called the world’s first classical dance flash mob:

Tell us more about the Monsoon Muse project.

Odissi is one of the most sensual dance forms in the world. Dancing Odissi connects you to a deep, primal place within yourself and it pours out as rasa through the dance. Nature has always been an inspiration to dancers and it would be great if we dancers thought of ways that could bring people closer to nature.

In Monsoon Muse, we are exploring the monsoon season through a dance event. Last year I was in Kerala by the sea when it started to rain. Every time it rains I have been trained to run and seek shelter- this time I decided to soak it in and dance! It was amazing to be one with nature. I hope to share this experience with other dancers this year!

Challenges in bringing dance out of its traditional sabhas?

One of the biggest challenges I faced in this project of taking dance away from the proscenium to public spaces- is an ironic one. Everyone would have faced such an irony. In fact, every Indian woman (dancer or not) faces it. It is the restrictions that society imposes on women who wish to access public space!

But performing in a public space is never a passive act. In an auditorium, the dancer is blinded by the lights and is somehow on display. In the midst of a public space, the audience and dancer look into each other’s eyes and it becomes a deeper, shared experience.

With stage dancing, the art form never moves out of one circle of audience. But dancing in the middle of the vegetable vendors of K.R. Market or doing flash mob in the fashionable UB city takes the dance to people who are seeing it for the first time.

Tell us more about your choreography work with ‘Three Halves’.

I have a strong background in development work, working with marginalised communities in collaboration with NGOs such as APD, Greenpeace, Oxfam GB etc . The more I involve myself in this work- the more I see compelling evidence of how important dance is as a medium for social and individual change. Dance is a primal form of communication and can cross several barriers. I once did a workshop with Infosys using dance as a means for talking about Waste Management!

Three-halves is an exciting project I am working on with my dear friend, the award winning photographer Sindhu Sarathy. She has been working with the transgender community for a long time now and she invited me to conduct a dance workshop for the transgender community in Bangalore. The first time we tried this project out it turned out to be too crazy for us to handle involving some violence that erupted at the transgender community center! Recently, Sindhu became a producer (along with U.K based film makers) of Three-Halves, a documentary on the lives of the TGs in India. Dance is a vital part of the TG community and I learned a lot from this experience. My choreography focused on expressing their stories and feelings through dance.

No earlier generation has been as stress ridden as us. How do think dance can provide some relief for people who don’t particularly want to make a profession out of it?

There is so much of physical stagnancy in today’s world. Our bodies are meant to move—and dance is the most beautiful and fun way to get to our natural state of being, which is strong, healthy and full of vigour and grace! In earlier times, and in fact in tribal communities till date, dance is an extremely important part in keeping the community connected.

To tell you of an interesting experience, we started a village tour program performing in village temples across Karnataka. Other artistes too collaborated with us on this journey. I worked with film makers Vishwas Avathi and Chiranth Wodeyar to make a dance film as a tribute to Bangalore-this fantastic city that we live in!

What does the future hold?

Currently, I am starting an Odissi certificate program which is open to people of all ages and backgrounds which will be an intensive to learn Odissi dance. (http://ourarpana.com/academy/odissicertificatecourse/).

I am working on a project called Bhoomi, which involves street children and the folk dances of Karnataka. Rehearsals cannot always happen in public spaces, especially if it is with large groups of people.

Hence, I look forward to build a community centre for dance in Bangalore. This will focus on bringing the community together through dance. If anyone can contribute in any way towards the building of this dedicated studio space, I am sure that it will help me achieve this vision soon.

A special note to young classical dancers: Remember that no one owns the dance. Train hard, immerse yourself in the technique but don’t forget to try something new.

Our New Roots is a special series featuring entrepreneurs, artists, visionaries and youngsters who are forging the old and the new in exciting and innovative ways.

Rini Barman is an Editorial Intern with The Alternative. The Alternative editorial internship is a chance for students and working professionals across the globe to work with the magazine’s editors in creating real-time content, photo and video stories and more while exploring the fascinating world of sustainability and social impact as it unfurls around us. Write to editor@thealternative.in if you are interested in exploring an internship.


  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rini Barman has completed her Masters in English Literature from Jamia Milia Islamia and has graduated from Lady Shri Ram College in the same field. Her writings have been published in Muse India, The Northeast Review, The Seven Sisters' Post, Kritya.in, The Bricolage-An independent Arts and culture magazine, The Thumbprint News Magazine, Newsyaps, the Eclectic and several other dailies of the Nor... more

   FOLLOW US

   SUBSCRIBE TO OUR NEWSLETTER
  Top Stories on TA






  Top Stories in LIFESTYLE






   Get stories like this in your inbox

  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rini Barman has completed her Masters in English Literature from Jamia Milia Islamia and has graduated from Lady Shri Ram College in the same field. Her writings have been published in Muse India, The Northeast Review, The Seven Sisters' Post, Kritya.in, The Bricolage-An independent Arts and culture magazine, The Thumbprint News Magazine, Newsyaps, the Eclectic and several other dailies of the Nor... more

Discuss this article on Facebook