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Finding the centre

Exploring and discovering connections

Céline Pradeu –KanagasabaiPhoto courtesy: Pratap Antony

DANCE TALK, presented recently by Alliance Francaise of Hyderabad, was a story of a search for cultural connections. The story teller was Céline Pradeu –Kanagasabai, contemporary dancer and choreographer from France. The story: How, as a dancer, she began to explore her roots which span two continents and make a connection between cultures. Her mother is French and her father is Tamil.

Céline had her initial training in ballet. But as she reached young adult hood she felt an inner urge to express her feelings and switched to contemporary dance and made it her main medium of expression. As she went along as a dancer, her curiosity about the dance form of her Tamil father’s place of origin, led her to study Bharatanatyam.

Wearing a specially designed costume that was suited to the free-flowing movement required of the different dance forms that she would demonstrate, Céline used ‘The Swan’, the music composed by the French composer Camille Saint-Saens. Dancers call this piece of music ‘The Dying Swan’, after a poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson was choreographed for a ballet to Saint-Saens’s music.

She first demonstrated Classical ballet to this music, performing with the typical turned out position of the legs and all the classic ballet postures. But of course, since she was a contemporary dancer she did the ballet demonstration barefoot, which made the toe dancing of a ballet dancer even more difficult to do; Even so, her execution was graceful, delicate and expressive. The dancer admitted that she had given up ballet long ago in favour of contemporary dance, and hence found demonstrating ballet very demanding, difficult and strenuous.

She then demonstrated contemporary dance to the same tune, ‘The Swan’, with the rhythms modified and played in a more modern way. The choreography and dance was very exciting and dynamic, with her body contorting and exploding into leaps, gyrations and twists in a creative, and free form interpretation of the music. Celine was ‘at home’ with this marvellous dance form.

Next, to demonstrate the different vocabulary and grammar of Bharatanatyam, ‘The Swan’ was modified with a completely different rhythm, the recorded violin playing the tune to a sharp percussion. She demonstrated the wide open knees stance of the legs and the foot stamps (adavu) and the facial expressions (abhinaya) and the hand gestures (mudras) of Bharatnatyam, which she had studied for years, enough for her to be comfortable in the practice.

But the real story of her exploration of dance and the quest for connections between dance forms only began now, as she gets ready for her solo which will open in France in May this year. In this performance, she will try to make the connections of her new hybrid dance which she feels would be too pretentious to name yet, and temporarily calls it "Bharatemporary".

In an excerpt from her work-in-progress solo, Celine demonstrated, to specially composed contemporary music by her husband, composer and violinist, Guillaume Blanc, her dance incorporating the mudras and some of the facial expressions of Bharatanatyam. She explained the difficulty in marrying the two dance forms and how she could only use some modified facial expressions and hand movements of Bharatanatyam in her dance. A huge problem of execution that she is still working on is the difference in the centre of the body - the centre of balance! The body needs to be centred differently for the two dance forms, to do justice to both the dance forms and their different needs of technique in using the body, space, time and the ground. Also, finding the right music, needed to be addressed.

Before the talk ended, the dancer did another excerpt from her upcoming solo dance, to the music of Guillaume Blanc, which will premier in France in May 2012. In this excerpt she demonstrated the use of the specially designed hanging props which will be used in the opening performance. Needless to say the dance was superb, and the lithe, beautiful and enthusiastic dancer was appreciated for her artistry and innovation. This was the first time ever that she had delivered a talk in English. She did well!


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