Danseuse and author Sohini Roychowdhury has had a busy calendar. She launched her book and wrapped up a performance in Kolkata where she performed alongside Farah Daoud and Kristina Veselinova, who hail from Iraq and from Bulgaria respectively. CT caught up with the Bharatnatyam pro and her collaborators to talk about their creative journey, their love for the form, their thoughts on Shaktism and more. Excerpts from the interview:
Sohini, when did you meet Farah and Kristina?
I met Farah in Madrid when I moved to the Spanish capital and started my dance school. I met her at a dance workshop; she was a beautiful, determined 16-year-old. I realised she was passionate about Bharatanatyam. She would tell her family that she was stepping out for English tuition since dancing is frowned upon in most Iraqi households. This was 15 years ago and since then Farah has performed on many of my stages and has received great appreciation. She is probably the only Iraqi girl in the world dancing Shiva Speaks. I met Kristina at the Madrid premiere of Slumdog Millionaire. I was performing for Danny Boyle. She came to learn from me right after and since then has been a part of my family.
How seamless has your collaboration been? Were there some challenges?
Our mantra is the world is one and that art has no frontiers. We do not believe art or dance be compartmentalised. However, we have often faced questions about why an Indian classical form should be performed by a European, American or Iraqi dancer. We have spoken through our work that these questions don’t make sense and are quite absurd. It was their passion and sustained hard work that made everything possible.
What is the predominant theme in your performances?
Our theme mainly revolves around Shaktism and women’s power but without the deconstruction of patriarchy. Our dance opera I Am is all about Mother Goddess Durga and how she does not kill Mahisasura but forgives him with the Sufi chant ‘llah Hi Rahem.’ It ends with Vedic and Gregorian chants as we believe that the world is one, humanity is one and art has no frontiers.
Farah, how do you feel about Bharatnatyam?
Dancing for me is a form of expression. I believe that each person in this world needs to express themselves in one way or another. In my case, dance has been an escape from the challenges of life. Dancing on stage is a kind of magic that allows you to feel alive. Dancing on stage in India is so fulfilling. The thought that I am dancing where the dance has its roots makes me extremely alive and happy
Kristina, how transformative has dance been for you?
Bharatnatyam has been the love of my life. The first time I saw Sohini perform in Madrid, I was mesmerised by the power of her dance and the enchantment of the setting. Dancing with Sohini has led to a deep friendship and has made my dreams come true. When I dance, nothing else exists. Performing Bharatnatyam for me has been sweating all the worries and smiling even harder while going through the pains and joys of life. The oldest classical Indian dance performed in the most stunning spots of Kolkata, Kerala, or Jaipur – it’s like a fairytale.
PIX: Samik Sen