Saturday, 7 January 2012

Evening at Nrityagram

Lakshmi, who works here. She was working outside my window this afternoon. Dressed so beautifully, even to work.
It's evening now, about 7 o'clock. Night falls quickly here; there's very little twilight. I just closed one of the shutters to my room. I was scoffing at the mention of "chilly" weather here, but even though it's very warm in the daytime (in the 20s), the evenings do cool off and early this morning was misty and definitely chilly. Gorgeous mild and sunny day today. I did a morning walk with Nabina, one of the other writers here, and an afternoon walk with Birgitta, an editor and translator from Sweden.
I spent a fair bit of time last night and today watching the dancers practice. I feel so privileged to be able to watch them. The two principle dancers are Shurupa and Bijoyini (my spelling may be wrong). They're going to Chennai tomorrow to receive an award that is normally only given to much older dancers. These women are amazing. They begin practice at 9 a.m. after yoga and a run, and they practice all day. They sweat as they practice and I know from the little yoga I've done that the poses they hold must be very demanding, yet they manage to look incredibly graceful as well as strong. From the sound of it (the drumming and singing carries; our rooms are at the other end of the compound, through winding garden paths, maybe a 1/4 kilometre away), they're finished for the night, but last night they practiced past 7:00. They're working on some new pieces right now so it's neat to watch this process.

I'll try to convey what I've learned so far. First of all, this style of dance is earth-oriented. I was told it is somewhat related to flamenco. There's a lot of slapping of feet to the floor in time with the music. The timings they use are very intricate and of course exact. Apparently Shurupa has an unerring mathematical sense for this. The dancers and the musicians are always counting and so Shurupa might say "Okay, I'll meet you at beat 148." Today I heard her say to her partner, "Three? How do you put three into seventeen?" Last night I watched them go over and over a short section of a piece where the two of them were spinning in unison but couldn't get the timings to their satisfaction. The musicians very patiently listened to Shurupa's comments and played it over and over. Finally, I think they ended up changing the choreography of that portion (I watched it again today and it was different).

The musicians too have amazing endurance. They sit cross-legged for hours. The vocalist sings all day long. I commented on this to him at lunch today and he said if he has a short rest now and then he's fine after that. I'm learning a few things about the singing. For instance, in Western music we have the seven notes (do re mi...etc) that are each separate notes. In Indian singing there are also seven notes (sa, re, ga, ma, pa, dha, ni...that brings you back to sa) and there are sharps like in Western music. But there are also micronotes or micro pitches between the notes and that gives the kind of bending sound you hear in Indian singing. I asked about this, too, how to do it. I was told "practice." It's harder than you might think.

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