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April 2006


God’s art: dancing as ritual

- Priya Sundaravalli

After a break of over 15 years, Krishna Kumar and his wife Gita were back in Auroville leading a motley crew of sixteen Aurovilians through a six-week long intensive dance workshop to an evening performance at the Sri Aurobindo auditorium on February 27 th

Krishna Kumar and Gita in rehearsal. Photo by Priya Sundaravalli

Krishna Kumar and Gita have been associated with Auroville for over 20 years. “In fact my connection began even earlier,” says Krishna . “I was in Auroville on the day of its inauguration; I had just finished my matriculation exams when my granny thrust 150 rupees into my hand and told me to make a round tour of the South of India. On the day I arrived at Pondy, someone took me to a bus full of young people all carrying a little earth.” He remembers sitting right in front watching the inauguration ceremony of Auroville.

Krishna comes from a traditional south Indian family with a background in theatre and arts. Since the age of three, he has been performing on stage. “I was thrown into that world just like my father and his father before him,” he says. Gita, his wife and dance partner, whom he fondly refers to as his ‘Shakti', is German by origin. The two met in Delhi when Krishna was teaching dance and she was his student. “After two years he was not somehow my guru anymore – we were boyfriend and girlfriend. Then the problem came that his granny pressed him to get married in two months. So we simply told the family that we got married to keep the pressure off,” she says with a grin. The couple got married later.

What brought them to settle in this area? “It is Mother's work,” says Gita. “After our time in Delhi , we wanted to move to Kerala and start a new dance school there. But then we had to first visit his family in Madras . Then we headed to Chidambaram to see the famous Nataraja Temple and there it suddenly started raining and pouring down. With half of Chidambaram under water we were advised to move to Pondy and stay by the beach; the logic being that even if it rained, the water would go into the sea. So we came to Pondy, rented a hut by the beach in a place called Serenity. It was run by some French man, Pappa Serene or someone, and there we started practicing – Krishna his Mridangam, and I, my dance.” The two loved the place. “It was so nice – we'd practice, go to the beach, swim, come back, practice more. Finally we ended up buying some land right on the beach.”

For the past fifteen years, the couple has been leading a nomadic life, dividing their time between Europe and India . “But our hearts have always been here,” says Gita. Through their earnings in Europe they managed to build their home and studio by the beach. Every two years, the couple returns for a precious few months to work on new compositions and choreography, give music or dance performances, or, as on this trip, conduct workshops for students. This time they have also been training ten children from their neighbouring fishing village.

As teachers, their approach to teaching dance is radical and refreshing, perhaps also a result of their own inter-cultural partnership. While strongly grounded in tradition, they exude a certain global avant garde quality that is simultaneously philosophical, playful, adventuresome and exploratory. “We are in the modern world,” says Krishna . “And no one wants to learn this art form anymore in the traditional way, so as teachers we have to create fresh interest.” Their unconventional style and approach to dance is often frowned upon by purists. It is the main reason why the two prefer Auroville with its open-minded audience. Over the years, they have been teaching an array of ‘global' faces, a term Krishna uses to refer to their multicultural students from Auroville and its environs. Saroja, one of their earliest students, remembers how as a little girl, she and her friends living in the hostel in Fraternity, would swim along the coast, get to Krishna and Gita's house, learn dance and then return back to Auroville

After all these years of dance and music, Krishna says that his perspectives on the fine arts have deepened. “Dance, music, mime, painting and sculpture – all these five arts can be a medium to solve one's problems: your kama (lust) problem, your artha or ‘desire for material possession' problem and all your other problems can find release. Through dance I have experienced that all my wishes are fulfilled; and that I become free from them, that they are no longer important.

“For me, dance is God's art. I can't work for just a performance, for me dance has become a ritual. And you can't cheat in a ritual. It depends on your inner attitude. It's this that you have to give to the audience; they must feel that.” Adds Gita, “And some do. In Europe sometimes people came to us after a performance with tears in their eyes. They had felt ‘something'. The whole experience became transformational.”

Though their work in Europe is not yet over, the colourful and eclectic couple wishes to shift focus to India . “We need a new generation of dancers who create Bharatanatyam in different ways. We would like to train them in our dance studio. This dance now needs global faces,” says Krishna .


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