Times Rouge, Mumbai – Dance With Me

February 13th, 2008.
Anindita Ghose, Times Rouge, Mumbai

Revanta Sarabhai is a dynamic aesthete who isn’t afraid of treading new terrain. He talks of dance, drama and carving his own niche BY ANINDITA GHOSE.

Revanta gestures dramatically as he talks. As he supervises the stage craft for an evening performance by the Darpana Academy of Performing Arts at the ongoing Kala Ghoda Festival in Mumbai, his voice resonates with the power that seasoned theatre artistes are synonymous with.

Meet Dancer, Choreographer and Multimedia Artist, 23-year-old Revanta Sarabhai. Primarily a Bharatanatyam dancer, he has trained in various other Indian classical, folk and contemporary forms and toured across the country as well as Australia, China, Europe, the UK and the US. In recent years, Revanta has also started experimenting with choreography—combining aspects of classical dance with innovative contemporary movement.

Mallika Sarabhai’s son has an illustrious lineage to substantiate his foray into the arts. But he insists a career in dance wasn’t foisted upon him. “I grew up at the Darpana campus, the academy that my grandmother Mrinalini Sarabhai founded in 1949. When I was around six, the environ got to me and I asked my mother if I could dance too,” he says. His gender wasn’t a setback. “At the time, the core dancing troupe of Darpana primarily comprised men, unlike today,” he recalls. At 16, juggling school, travel and performances, Revanta took a break from institutional academics to focus whole-heartedly on dance. In 2002, he performed his first solo at the Purush (man/male) dance festival, designed specifically to promote Indian male classical dancers. With a modest stance, he doesn’t dismiss the fact that his family background has helped boost his career. “There are a lot of men graduating from dance schools around the country but very few make it to the big scene. Having a mother with a flourishing career has helped me get solo Bharatanatyam performances, which would have been difficult at this stage of my career otherwise,” he admits.

Does that result in unwarranted expectations on his artistic calibre as well? “There’s never been any external pressure. But since I’ve chosen to be in this field, I want to excel at what I do and contribute to contemporary developments in dance.” There is much to be achieved, he claims. “Discerning audiences abroad have been well-exposed to classical Indian dance, what is more of a challenge is to project newer developments; to show that while we continue to borrow from a cultural heritage, we’re not stuck in a time capsule,” he explains.

Being a man in a woman’s domain: “It’s like being a rare fish in the sea. I really don’t feel lonely or out of place. In fact, it kind of charms the women!”

Women: (smiles) “I’ve had some very strong women in my family. Women who’ve been at the forefront of movements and who’re acclaimed artistes. I’ve been acutely aware of a woman’s inherent power or shakti as I was growing up.”

Equations with co-dancers: “I seriously believe in chemistry on stage; it can be cultivated if it doesn’t exist. Of course, it’s a whole different ball game when I’m partnering my mother. It’s slightly intimidating but it challenges me to push myself to a different level.”

A good high: “Being really tired after a performance on opening night … dancing gets my adrenaline pumping.”


Making waves, not patterns
Disenchanted with the idea of studying the mundane, Revanta pursued a BFA in Multimedia at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. “Multimedia was a fancy word to say that I could basically do a little bit of everything—from music creation to composition, filmmaking, design and dance,” he says. Revanta is particularly proud of his senior project thesis, something that he’d like to recreate in India—an installation piece that comments on elitism in the arts. Titled “Touch Me”, it comprises three live dancers surrounded by technical equipment. The audience can participate in the performance by altering the lighting and music, thereby breaking traditional barriers between the artist and the audience.

He adds that he needed to get away from the wonderful but cloistered world of Darpana to find his personal creative voice. “It was important for me to know that I could start from scratch. I took classes in jazz and modern dance to build upon my repertoire and I believe I have brought a lot of that back,” says Revanta. He propagates “repackaging” classical dance forms without compromising on their essence. “It’s about recontextualising something to make it more appealing to the audiences today. We’ve done Bharatanatyam set to jazz music. While conservative critics are dismissive, there is really no adulteration of the classical dance form in these productions. It’s just about venturing into new territory,” he says animatedly.

Seeking Celluloid
While choreographing Unsuni: Unheard Voices (2006), Revanta had a taste of Bollywood. “I’ve done a fair number of powerful stage performances and I’m interested in trying the film medium,” says an enthusiastic Revanta. He refutes that it would be “dumbing down”. “ I have great respect for the self-created song and dance culture of Bollywood. It’s a completely novel avenue and as an artiste it is important to be a blank canvas; to be someone who can bring in whatever the role or character demands whether for stage or film,” he says.

Revanta succinctly summarises his youthful approach to dance, and to life, when he says, “I wouldn’t want to be known as a Bharatanatyam dancer in Bollywood, but rather an artiste who can take up anything.”

Click here to read the full article on The Times of India website

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