Leela Samson: Choreography is exciting, and dance is a challenge always, especially now
In an interview with Firstpost, renowned Bharatnaytam exponent Leela Samson spoke about her troupe Spanda, why the arts must evolve, and her experiences working on Mani Ratnam's OK Kanmani.
Leela Samson — Padamshri, renowned Bharatnatyam exponent — is a name to reckon with.
A product of Kalakshetra, Leela is in Mumbai for the eighth edition of the National Centre of Performing Arts' Nakshatra Dance Festival (from 20-23 October), where she will perform with her troupe Spanda and then conduct a daylong workshop.
In an interview with Firstpost, Samson spoke about Spanda, why the arts must evolve with time and her experiences working on Mani Ratnam's film OK Kanmani.
Dancer, choreographer, instructor, writer — it would be unfair to ask which role has been most satisfying. Having achieved probably all that you aspired for in all these fields, is there something that you still feel needs to be fulfilled?
In all of these roles, there are things to be done still — especially as a dancer. And I feel that these are all interrelated. Being a teacher is an outcome of being a dancer. When you see young people dancing, you feel that good choreography is needed to keep their interest alive and audiences drawn. Besides, the full potential of a style is explored. Choreography is exciting. Dance is a challenge, always, especially now. When you are younger you have much more energy and potential, but not the maturity of understanding. When you are older you have all the maturity, but not the energy.
In one of your interviews you had shared that you wanted to become a surgeon. Do you feel at times that you could have? And that you could still be a dancer had you opted for medicine?
I would have surely used my hands in some field or the other — I could have been a surgeon, a farmer. It would be a nice feeling to use my hands to heal people. But I guess I didn’t have the intelligence for it. But had I become a surgeon, I wouldn’t have danced. They require, each of them, very complete energies and time. They are both extremely demanding and specialised.
How would you, as an artiste, gauge the audience response to traditional art forms in the West as compared to India?
People across the world are the same. Some are informed, some more sensitive than the others and some will only criticise. It depends on what the expectation of the audience is. Some may be looking for fun, some for glamour, some for drama or characterisation and others for merely the abstract in any performance. An artist cannot please everyone. In that sense, I would say that the positive or the negative response of the audience, anywhere in the world, lies in the eyes of the beholder.
What was working on OK Kanmani like?
Doing the film was a great experience. I loved the way Mani Ratnam simply made me sail through all of it. He did not ever make me feel that I was not an actor. We had a great cinematographer in PC Sreeram, a wonderful score by AR Rahman. To play a woman suffering from Alzheimer's, I guess one had to be sensitive to the character and convey the same with subtle nuances. A small but well-etched role and a challenge, because of the complexity of character. I loved the process though, the people and that world. The Hindi version of that film — OK Jaanu — is ready too and I am blessed to have a role in it too. It is directed by Shaad Ali and casts Naseeruddin Shah, Shraddha Kapoor and Aditya Roy Kapur. It's being readied for release by Dharma Productions.
You’ve choreographed several works — solo as well as group performances. Which of the many has been closest to your heart? Why?
All the works for solo or Spanda are close to my heart. People may have their preferences, but I like them all. Each is different. I like the older works as much as I like the new. Some research goes into each work and each is a sort of learning for the next.
Art forms need to evolve with time. With Spanda you have ensured a touch of the contemporary to the traditional dance form. How important is this fusion in the coming times?
I would not call what I do ‘fusion’ although the word is fun to use. The classical form of Bharatnatyam is getting contemporarised constantly. My guru did it in the '40s and '50s. I am simply adding to what many dancers have done. Our language is changing. We are using a vocabulary that is more youthful. Dance has to evolve to connect with the youth. A lot of young people are into dance per se. And there is no form that does not demand discipline from you and commitment. This is very important because it brings rigour to the mind and the body. That brings about harmony or balance between the body, the mind and the feelings. This balance can be attained through dance.
At the NCPA's Nakshatra Dance Festival, you are showcasing 'Past Forward', along with Spanda. What is the work based on?
'Past Forward’ is a demonstration of the soul’s inward journey depicted through the body of the individual and the group collectively. It also includes the search from without to within, an exploration for light and truth which is every human being’s endeavour.
Each performance by Spanda whether of the abstract and symbolic, of the traditional and the contemporary, chooses themes that are universal in spirit, without forsaking the vocabulary of Bharatnatyam.
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