DANCE: Classical Indian dancer from Vancouver, 18, joins world’s best at Gait to the Spirit

Published: October 24, 2012

LARISSA CAHUTE
VANCOUVERDESI.COM

Malavika Santhosh is one of Vancouver’s up and coming classical Indian dancers — and she’s only 18 years old.

Dancing since the age of six, she’s performed across Vancouver, including at the Vancouver International Film Festival and Vancouver Celebrates Diwali.

This weekend she’ll be performing alongside her favourite and idolized dancers — who she’s only ever seen on YouTube — at Mandala Arts & Culture’s third annual dance festival Gait to the Spirit. The festival is a celebration of the classical dance of India, with performances, master classes and workshops from renowned international artists from the U.K., U.S., India, and of course Vancouver, with Santhosh.

“It’s an incredible opportunity for me to perform in front of the other amazing guests we have who are professional dancers from around the world,” she told Vancouverdesi.com as she set up to rehearse at the Scotiabank Dance Centre. “To see them live is just amazing.”

Dressed in her vibrant full costume and make-up, Santhosh’s performance is mesmerizing: the music, fluid movements, stomping feet and porcelain doll appearance isn’t something you see everyday.

But from Oct. 26-29, the Scotiabank Dance Centre will be bursting with the art form.

Malavika is a local dancer who will be performing at Gait to the Spirit, a classical Indian dance festival. Gerry Kahrmann/PNG

“A lot of audiences like to see it in its authenticity, with the bells, the makeup — because it is so unique,” said Mandala Arts & Culture artistic director Jai Govinda. “For those who have seen contemporary dance: We get tired of seeing the black little dress, the black little boots,”

“There is no really set up or platform to present Indian classical dance (in Vancouver), so the festival offers a nice format where you can see two or three artists … the best in the respective dance forms and you see them the way it’s supposed to be presented.”

Govinda has performed Indian classical dance for the past 30 years and has been putting on the festival since 2010.

“There is a need to present young classical Indian dancers,” he said. “There are young students training all over the world in the classical dance form.”

Twelve studios exist in Vancouver with about 100 across Canada.

“The general public are not aware of all this vibrancy of Indian classical dance on the planet,” Govinda said.

Govinda tries to bring the best artists from around the world for the festival and they’re each performing different styles of classical Indian dance. The many forms come from thousand-year-old traditions, deeply rooted in temples as a form of worship — but it’s since been (rightfully) moved to the stage.

“People think the classical dance forms are stale and we do what people were doing 2,000 years ago,” said Govinda. “(But) there’s new repertoire, new music, new ways of using the stage, new ways of fusing lighting, of using new poetry — new concepts.”

And he believes Vancouver is the perfect place to present it.

“A lot of people are well travelled who like world culture of music and dance, so this festival has a big appeal for them — they don’t regularly get a chance to see it,” he said. “We did the festival to seal that gap.”

And if you aren’t a traveller, “you can come by curiosity but discover something that is so deep and beautiful.”

It’s also a great opportunity for Govinda’s 50 dance students, “to see how it is done on stage by some of the best in the field.”

“Very few of them have time to go and travel and go see performances outside of B.C., so I bring them here,” he said.

Odissi dancer Shalini Patnaik lives in San Diego but was formally trained in Orissa, India. She’ll be performing her classical style Friday night.

“(Odissi) hasn’t gotten as much exposure as other Indian classical dance forms,” Patnaik said from her San Diego home, adding that the style nearly died out under British rule in the second century.

“It’s very rounded, it’s very fluid, very graceful. The body movements and arm movements are not very sharp,” she said. “Which is one of the things that sets odissi apart from the other Indian classical dance forms,”

“It still has all Indian classical styles: we do intense footwork, dance barefoot with bells.”

Patnaik’s parents are from Orissa, so she and her sisters were raised learning the unique style.

“That’s literally like my cultural heritage, that’s my art and I feel an inate connection to it and a responsibility to carry on this tradition and carry it on well and strong so that it’s alive and for generations to come,” she said. “It’s not something that we see in North America too often, so it’s great to see a city that’s presenting Indian classical art and it’s such a rich tradition and it’s so beautiful I think people really enjoy it if they have the opportunity to be exposed to it.”

Classical dancer from Delhi, India, Savitha Sastry, will perform the better known classical Indian dance, bharata natyam, Saturday night.

The style is very fast paced with rhythmic movements, rooted in temples and religion, but “over time it’s undergone several years of sophistication and refinement … that is now exceedingly popular world over,” said Sastry. “As much as (the dances) were religious, I think there was also the entertainment value and that has outlasted in some ways the religious connect.”

For Santhosh, as a young aspiring dancer, she’s excited about working with these artists, but also excited to expose Vancouver to the many faces and styles of classical Indian dance she loves so much.

“A lot of people aren’t really aware of the different forms, they just know it as a classical Indian dance style,” she said. “So it’s a great opportunity for them to see professional people around the world.”

Malavika Santhosh

Picture 1 of 7

Malavika, a local dancer who will be performing at Gait to the Spirit, a classical Indian dance festival, runs through a dance routine at the Scotiabank Dance Centre in Vancouver, Oct. 18, 2012. Gerry Kahrmann/PNG

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