New Delhi, July 6: She is beautiful and she is American, but a quintessential Indian at heart and on her feet.
Gaura Prema, founder of the contemporary Indian fusion dance troupe Natya Nectar, which performed with Lady GaGa in India in 2011, says she is still “exploring new norms in modern Indian dance to suit her American personality and Indian upbringing to cater to the new cultural dialogue that is opening up between India and the West”.
“I wanted to find my own language for years. I am an American but I have been brought up as a Hindu with the Ramayana, Mahabharata and the Bhagawad Gita… Bharatanatyam and the Kathak,” Gaura told IANS, after an electric performance at the American Centre July 4 to celebrate the 236th US Independence Day.
Her 15-member multi-racial international troupe brought the dance floor alive with a combination of acro-yoga (acrobatics and yoga), Kalaripayattu, Kathak, Bharatanatyam, Mayurbhanj chhau, Hip hop and Ballet. The designer costumes – exotic and fashionable fusing Indian and western traditional elements added to the glamour of the high-energy dance.
Gaura has lived on and off in India as a child.
“My mother has been in Vrindavan for the last 40 years. She is a member of the Iskcon religious sect and I have been raised in the Hare Krishna community as a Hindu with Ramayana, Mahabharata and the Bhagwad Gita,” Gaura said.
Recalling her initiation into Indian dance, Gaura said: “When I was in America as a toddler in a Krishna community, my mother sent me to my first guru V.G. Prakash in California to learn Bharatanatyam to cure my pegion foot. It was cured. Later I learnt ballet in college in the US. I never enjoyed western dance. I felt a disconnect with western dance.”
Gaura says her dance was about Radha-Krishna and “chanelling her own energy through dance”.
She began to learn Kathak eight years ago.
“I began with the Lucknow gharana and then switched to the Jaipur gharana because I like the fast ‘chakkers’ – vigorous movements – of the Jaipur gharana,” Gaura said.
The dancer uses a choreographer – who is a member of the troupe – for the western performances.
In the last eight years, Gaura has evolved two new dance idioms – the acro-yoga and aerial silks. The acro-yoga is a fusion of acrobatics and yoga that uses acrobatics, gymnastics and yogic postures as a style of performance art, while aerial silks is a circus dance performed in midair – sometimes as high as 40 ft without harness, Gaura said.
“I teach my students aerial silks and acro-yoga,” she said.
One of the reasons Gaura has chosen fusion as her style is “because of the changing Indian audience”.
“We have to learn to package and present our dance to the next generation. They know acrobatics, they know electronic beats and they can identify with classical dance. It keeps them guessing – what’s next…,” the dancer said.
“India was ready for a cultural transition in dance with the new cultural dialogue between the east and the west.”
Natya Nectar is now working on a new production, “Bhumi Pranam” – a one-hour production of Kathakali, Kathak, Kalaripayattu and acrobatics with “fabulous costumes”, Gaura added.
(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)