By Nandini Ramani
A glance at her resume shows the extensive research and dance-oriented projects in traditional and contemporary areas. Sangeeta Isvaran has undertaken many of them which focus on social issues. This exuberant dancer has taken up all this in a period of about fifteen to twenty years; and she is just past 35. Her energy, enthusiasm and keen eye for scholarship are quite amazing. I am happy to recall the words of the renowned Natya Sastra scholar Prof. K.D. Tripathi who, while going through Sangeeta’s profile and work, exclaimed, “This young woman, I think, has been working 72 hours a day!” No wonder she was unanimously chosen to receive the Sangeet Natak Akademi’s Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskar for ‘Overall scholarship in dance’ in the first year it was instituted in 2006. Sangeeta is an accomplished Bharatanatyam artist and a hardcore research scholar who believes in using dance in education and social activism.
She started learning Bharatanatyam from Uma Sundaram at Kalanidhi Narayanan’s Abhinaya Sudha dance school in Chennai. Thereafter she continued classes with Bharatanatyam teacher Savithri Jagannatha Rao, and honed her abhinaya skills under guru Kalanidhi. She won a gold medal on completion of her Masters in Performing Arts from the Central University, Hyderabad. She has learnt Carnatic music, Kuchipudi and Kalaripayattu, and has trained in nattuvangam under the well-known teacher Kamalarani. She has a diploma in Cambodian classical dance under her belt. She developed interest in doing research in comparative trends in the South East Asian Ramayana, juxtaposing them with the concepts of Natya Sastra. With this began her long journey into the realms of academic work which she combined with first hand practical inputs by visiting remote areas in countries like Indonesia, Mexico, Brazil, France and Africa. This gave her insights into different performing art traditions and inspired her to adopt art as an important tool of communication in social issues pertaining to women and children. She continues to use art-education for improving the lot of the underprivileged in India and abroad.
In spite of her varied pursuits, Sangeeta is a serious practitioner of Bharatanatyam. She makes it a point to perform Bharatanatyam wherever she is invited to work, or conduct seminars. In addition to Bharatanatyam performances at several venues in India and abroad, she has been participating in and presenting papers at numerous conferences. She was commissioned by UNESCO and the Asia Pacific Performing Arts Network [APPAN] to carry out a project on ‘Art and Healing’ for post-earthquake victims in Nias, Indonesia. Recently she was invited to make a presentation on ‘Peace-building through Arts’ at the South Asia-China Cultural Forum.
Sangeeta attempts to strike a balance between the traditional and the contemporary in her artistic pursuits. On the one hand, she presents papers and lecdems on rasa, abhinaya and the guru-sishya tradition, while on the other, she conducts art-workshops for rehabilitation of refugees, disaster victims, AIDS patients, sex workers, street children, destitute women, and transvestites. She has conducted ‘movement’ workshops on a regular basis for the children at the Kattaikuthu Centre in Kanchipuram. As creative director for V.R. Devika’s recent initiative called “Youth for Peace”, she directed about 200 youngsters including special children.
Sangeeta is a recipient of many fellowships which enable her to work with renowned masters of different dance forms. The Ramayana theme is very close to Sangeeta’s heart, as is evident from her choreographic works and lecdems. Her talks on ‘Ramayana in the Performing Arts of Southeast Asia’ at the Music Academy and Sri Krishna Gana Sabha in Chennai were well appreciated, winning her the best lecture award.
Sangeeta is among the few young artists in the south who have successfully managed to blend dance research and practice and are received well in scholarly circles. “I am the happiest dancer, as the goals of my artistic life are aimed towards the joy of a larger world,” says Sangeeta. She believes the aim of art is to communicate, to heal, and to make better persons.
(Reproduced from Sruti 320, May 2011)