No Mean Feat

by Girija Shettar

To watch British-Indian dancer Subhash Viman Gorania perform is, in one word, exciting.

It was while scouring YouTube for spiritually uplifting performers to write about that I discovered Subhash’s stunning dance film Immersion, which showcases a mixture of contemporary and Indian classical dance skills.

A physically beautiful dancer, Subhash’s movements are sharp as a whip and flawless. Great freedom of spirit combined with technical virtuosity make his performances magnetic. 

Subhash started dancing at the age of 23. He is now 38 years old. In just 15 years he became a leading light in the modern world of Indian classical dance.

He tours internationally and collaborates with leading dancers and choreographers from around the world, such as Aakash Odedra, Gary Clarke, Sonia Sabri and Rukmini Vijayakumar.

He is an award-winning choreographer, recipient of New York’s prestigious Bessie award for his choreography of New York Apollo Theater’s Ecstasy.

In 2018 he portrayed the lead protagonist of The Troth, a groundbreaking dance drama portraying the lives of a group of Indian soldiers during World War I. 

Touring throughout the UK and India, The Troth received a standing ovation when performed before Indian president Ram Nath Kovind at his official residence in Delhi.

Surrender

In notes written beneath Immersion,  Subhash reveals his spiritual connection with dance, which say it can lead a dancer “into the comforting embrace of spirituality.

“We elevate into a supreme oneness within and [with] the world”, he wrote.

I contacted Subhash to learn more. For Subhash, dance is more than movement. It is “movement language”.

“Through dance I am able to talk without talking. 

“I am able to say what I feel purely by movement, and at times when there are no words, your mind goes into a form of trance and you learn to give in and let go, at this point you reach internal nirvana,” he said.

For Subhash, dance styles are more important than dance forms.

The styles, he said, act on him like an “external force” and take him on a spiritual journey. The key to an emotionally powerful performance, however, is surrender.

“It is not easy, but once you surrender, the audiences start to go on that emotional journey with you. It is about making them believe in what you are trying to say without it looking like dance or choreography,” he said.

The immersive nature of Subhash’s movement was noted by The New York Times, which describes him as an “uncommon shape-shifter, never less than lucid”.

Fearless

There’s a charismatic, Billy Elliot quality to Subhash’s movement, a white-flame wildness of two worlds colliding that seems reflective of his unorthodox journey into dance.

Growing up, his ambitions lay far from the stage. He was pursuing his desire to be a graphic design artist for Disney until one fateful day at university he intervened in a fight and sustained a head injury. When he eventually emerged from hospital, his former ambitions had died. 

His next move, to drop out of university and go to work in a supermarket, appears dangerously rash. However, this fearless spirit seems to be what informs his dance expression with freshness and truth.  rash. this fearless spirit seems to be what

Subhash was 23 years old when he spotted a flyer at work advertising hip-hop classes and decided to give them a try. Bollywood dance classes followed. It was not long before he was in a dance group performing professionally, and teaching.

It was two years after starting to dance, that his training in classical Indian forms began, first in the Flamenco-like north Indian form of Kathak, followed by the statuesque southern form of Bharatanatyam. 

Evoking the Gods

A profound experience while watching a Bharatanatyam performance in Liverpool initially sparked his interest in Indian classical dance.

“I saw Priyadarsini Govind perform an abhinaya1 item and the expression she portrayed was so spectacular you felt as if Krishna was standing in that very room with her,” he said.

Now a classical dancer himself, traditional dance pieces that tell the stories of Krishna and Shiva “allow me to relive my childhood”, said Subhash.

It is classical dance, in particular the Tanjavore style of Bharatanatyam, which Subhash is currently drawn to explore to greater depths.

“The hand gestures of Bharatanatyam in particular have so much depth”, he said, noting their uniqueness, “alien to most other forms of dance around the world”.

The expressions and articulation of movement through the body in Bharatanatyam, its costumes and music, make this 5,000 year old form a “treat to the eyes”, he said. 

Forging New Paths

“I am not a purist”, said Subhash. 

To reflect his life, which is a mixture of Indian and British culture and experiences, Subhash feels compelled to mix western and Indian forms to create his “own dance language”.

“I fuse the two, but that is because the piece demands it: the story I am trying to tell is that of both worlds,” he said, adding that he finds Indian stories are best told using Indian dance forms.

He said he is grateful for those in the Indian classical tradition who forged their own paths, such as the fiery Bharatanatyam innovator, the late Chandralekha.

“Non-traditional dancers and choreographers in my eyes are those who are trying to break new grounds. They leave us a path to walk on and later lead. I admire the works they created and the stigma they must have faced in trying to do so,” said Subhash.

The health or longevity of classical forms is in no way threatened by innovation, said Subhash.

“Bharatanatyam is safe and will continue to be so. As much as there are those like me who are being creative with what they have learnt, there will always be those who stick to the traditional way. 

“As long as the world has a mix of everything, people will always have a choice to make their own path,” he said.

You can follow Subhash on Twitter: https://twitter.com/Subhash Viman or head over to his Morph Dance Company’s website to learn more about his work: https://www.morphdc.com/about

Another version of this article has been published in the following site.

https://scientificethicalrevolution.wordpress.com/2020/01/07/

FOOTNOTE:
1Abhinaya  –  the expressive rather than the percussive parts of an Indian classical dance performance.

CREDITS for ImmersionVideography: Abbi Neon.

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