February 3, 2018

Transcending Boundaries: Bharatanatyam, her only passion

Shakuntala, one of the pioneers of Bharatanatyam in France, talks about her Bharatanatyam-inspired triptych Metamorphoses held in Kochi.

Dedication is rather a strong word. It also means getting identified by what you are dedicated to, leaving behind your birth identity to pursue your passion. Here is an artiste, who had the will to persist a passion by embracing Bharatanatyam through her life. For Shakuntala, being a foreign national didn’t stop her from pursuing her love for Bharatanatyam, when it struck her at a young age.

She says she is fascinated by the nature of Kerala, but her words reveal a rather strong commitment, “I love the nature of India, especially Kerala, its rice fields, rivers and greenery. But I come here only for dance.”

 One of the pioneers of Bharatanatyam in France, Shakuntala was also one of the first French to learn the Indian classical dance. “Yes, I have been among the first French dancers to take up Bharatanatyam as a career.”

The artiste was in Kerala to perform at the Kalashakti Mandapam run by Kathakali artiste Sunil Pallipuram and his French wife and Bharatanatyam dancer Paris Laxmi. “I met Paris Laxmi in France five years ago and was struck by her talent.”

She gave a performance of her choreography Metamorphoses in Kochi on Saturday.

It was a a triptych inspired by Bharatanatyam. When she performs Bharatanatyam, she uses the traditional attire. But for Metamorphoses, she uses a costume that fits the theme. “The musicians came to ask me if I could create a piece from their music made on crystal vessels and I created Chrysalide, the first piece of Metamorphoses. The second piece is based on the great Sufi saint Jalaluddin Rumi and the third is a dream-like abstract piece.”

Asked how her love for Bharatanatyam began, she says it all started from a book she had found as a teen. “I started dance when I was nine and began my Bharatanatyam training at 19. I found a book on sacred dances like Bharatanatyam when I was 16. I was fascinated by the beauty of the dancers and three years later, I started learning. Since then it was obvious that Bharatanatyam would be my only passion.”

She found her guru in Chennai — Kalaimamani V.S. Muthuswami Pillai under whom she learned dance for 20 years. “The name Shakuntala was  given by my guru,” she smiles.

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