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Choreography merges the Afro-Cuban and Indian culture

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Image source: defenceforumindia.com

Growing up in India, choreographer Ranjana Warier knew little about Afro-Cuban culture.

“I knew Cuba existed. That was it,” she recalls with a laugh. “I knew there was Cuba, and I knew there was Africa, but I had no exposure whatsoever.”

Today, Warier is the artistic director of “Surya: The Eternal Rhythm,” a project that merges Afro-Cuban and Indian cultures through dance, poetry and music. The show, a 2014 winner of a Knight Arts Challenge grant by the Knight Foundation, will take place Saturday, April 2, at the Wolfson Campus Auditorium at Miami Dade College.

“We all might talk differently, and we might portray things differently, but when you look deep down, it appears to be the same human spirit shining through different kinds of lights,” she says. “That is actually very encouraging, especially in today’s world. Many of us think we’re quite different, and that’s where conflicts start. But when you start understanding diversity a little bit better, you realize how close we are.”

The project started with a poem by Miami-based poet Adrian Castro, who often writes about Afro-Caribbean culture, history and myths. Lissette Mendez, director of Miami Book Fair International, introduced Warier to Castro’s poetry, and his work immediately absorbed her.

She was so moved by one poem, titled “Clay, Chalk and Charcoal” and inspired by the African religion Yoruba, that she based a new choreography on it.

“I lost track of how many times I read it. It’s a like a Renoir, [in] that the longer you look, you start seeing the details and all the different things,” Warier says. “I read it over and over, and each time I felt I was adding one more piece of the puzzle, not knowing what I was putting together. It seemed it had many layers, and as a dancer, I could just feel the rhythm.”

Warier describes her choreography as a “visualization of Afro-Caribbean poetry through Indian dances.” She uses classical and folk Indian styles, not Bollywood. Her show also features the Miami-based Afro-Cuban dance company IFE-ILE. Castro will read the poem before the show, and a panel discussion on the creation of the project will follow the performance.

While developing “Surya,” Warier says she was surprised by how many similarities she found between the two cultures.

“I just want people not to be afraid to collaborate with people who might look very different from you,” Warier says. “Maybe you use that experience to understand their cultures, and hopefully that brings more tolerance. And if not for anything else, it’s good to know more about what else is out there.”

Credits:  Barbara Corbellini Duarte

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Crotia-Born Bharatnatyam Danseuse Finds Indian Youngsters Now Focussing on their Physical Expressions

She is trained in classical ballet, contemporary dance, folk dances, flamenco, physical theatre, and yoga, apart from Bharatanatyam

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physical expressions, bharatnatyam
Heading her own dance academy now, she said that learning the Indian classical dance has completed her as a human and as an artist. Flickr

Croatia-born Bharatanatyam danseuse Nikolina Nikoleski, who was encouraged to pursue dance forms and sports from childhood, finds to her delight that more and more Indian youngsters are taking to physical expression.

“India has recently changed and is still going through changes in last 6-8 years where more youngsters are also being exposed and encouraged in physical expression,” Nikoleski, 43, told IANS in an interview.

“I see that as a very positive change and good sign. Being healthy and free in one’s body is the foundation of a good and complete life,” she said.

Speaking about her own early practice, Nikoleski recalled: “I was born and brought up in Croatia where children from a very tender age are exposed and encouraged to pursue various dance forms and sports. Almost every child then takes this hobby very seriously.”

bharatnatyam, physical expressions
She is trained in classical ballet, contemporary dance, folk dances, flamenco, physical theatre, and yoga, apart from Bharatanatyam. Flickr

The hobbies later translate to professional spaces, and make Croatia — with a population of close to 42 lakh people — a country with “world, Olympic and European champions in every sport”, she said. She is trained in classical ballet, contemporary dance, folk dances, flamenco, physical theatre, and yoga, apart from Bharatanatyam.

Nikoleski’s quest to learn multiple dance forms took her from the small European country, where she started with gymnastics at the age of four, to the land of multiple cultures and dance forms — India.

Settled in Delhi since 2005, the professional dancer-teacher has learnt Bharatanatyam in India under the tutelage of gurus Saroja Vaidyanathan, Malavika Sarukkai, as well as Shanta and V.P. Dhananjayan.

Coming from the light-footed ballet tradition, it took dedicated practice for Nikoleski to master this age-old dance form, that requires the performer to do heavy footwork along with gestures and body movements.

physical expressions, bharatnatyam
Coming from the light-footed ballet tradition, it took dedicated practice for Nikoleski to master this age-old dance form, that requires the performer to do heavy footwork along with gestures and body movements. Flickr

“I fell in love with Bharatanatyam because of its amazing holistic art, beautiful expression, use of all body, including facial expressions, ‘mudras’, intricate footwork, state-of-art costume and jewellery, music and ragas.

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“They transform and elevate one’s feelings. Most importantly, it’s storytelling of ancient spiritual scripts, devotional poetry and brilliantly expresses all human yearnings, longings, emotions, and inner battles,” she explained.

Heading her own dance academy now, she said that learning the Indian classical dance has completed her as a human and as an artist. Nikoleski’s students – 73 of them, with ages ranging from four to 70 – performed classical ballet, contemporary and jazz dances at an event here last week. (IANS)