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Indian classical dance

Natalia and Ganna have left their homes in Russia to learn Kathak.

india Updated: Apr 21, 2003 19:16 IST

Natalia Ivanova and Ganna Smirnova have left their homes in Russia and Ukraine to travel to India, lured by the magic of classical dance.

The two are among many who have come for training here with Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) scholarships. The council awards over 1,000 scholarships in several categories each year.

"I can't explain what brought me to the dance form, destiny perhaps," Kathak danseuse Ivanova told IANS, echoing the typically Indian belief that one's fate is pre-determined.

"I was an avid watcher of old Indian films in theatres and used to copy the movements. Sometimes I used to watch movies seven times over to learn the movements by heart," says Ivanova, who hails from Volgograd. She says Indian movies are popular all over Russia.

Ivanova, whose mother is a doctor and father is a government servant, has always loved being on stage and performing. She learnt Russian folk dance.

Three years at the College of Choreography exposed her to dance forms of the Soviet Union, not just Russian but also those from Georgia, Latvia and Ukraine.

A short stint in Kathak at the Indian Cultural Centre in Moscow and the ICCR scholarship put her on the track to the Indian capital where she now learns from Prerna Shrimali at Gandharva Mahavidyalaya.

Teachers feel ICCR scholars, who are given stipends for a fixed time period, are sometimes more committed than Indian students of the arts.

"Indian dancers know that the guru will be with them all the time," says Jayalakshmi Eshwar, a Bharatanatyam dancer and guru of repute who runs the Abhinayaa School of Dance here.

"Foreign scholars, however, are here for a short period of time. They value time and money more than their Indian counterparts."

The going, however, is not easy for them, one of the major hurdles being language. "Some of them can't even speak English. It's tough for us teachers and for them as well," says Eshwar.

Bharatanatyam dancer Smirnova, who is originally from Kiev and is now a disciple of Eshwar, says: "I had a language problem initially and could not understand most of what was taught.

"I then read books on Indian philosophy, history and dance and got a better understanding of the art form over the years."

Her father, a microelectronics engineer, was a big fan of yoga and meditation. Smirnova took a course in oriental philosophy and yoga when she was in the university.

It was then that she met Mikhail Krivchuk, a disciple of Jayalakshmi Eshwar who taught in Kiev. She learnt the basics from Krivchuk and got an ICCR scholarship to learn more dance in Delhi under Eshwar.

Both Smirnova and Ivanova have taken to wearing the salwar kameez and sporting bindis like the average Indian girl.

The two insist they have always had full support from their parents who, being well read, were interested in Indian philosophy and were constantly on the lookout for something new.

Ivanova, who has also played the violin professionally, talks of how her mother supported her, motivated her and even stitched her costumes in the initial days.

However, while the two were into ballet and folk dances initially, learning Indian classical dance was a different proposition altogether.

"For instance, the 'aayatha mandala' or the typical Bharatanatyam pose, puts the entire body pressure on the knees, which some dancers found painful. So we had to use kneecaps, particularly in winter," explains Eshwar.

Kathak guru Shrimali adds: "Indian students tend to get results faster, more easily than foreigners. Perhaps it is because of the difference in their body structure."

Foreign students, however, soldier on due to sheer dedication and determination, and often become shining examples for their Indian counterparts.

"Dance is not just part of my life, it is my life!" gushes Ivanova, who has stayed long beyond her scholarship period to continue learning. Ditto for Smirnova, who is a law graduate but quit her job with the Scientific Research Institute of Forensic Science in her hometown to pursue dance in India.

She also sings Carnatic classical music and dabbles in the Chhau dance form besides helping children learn dance in a mobile crèche near her home.

"I'll spend a few more years in Delhi learning, and go back and perform and teach in Kiev where there is a lot of interest in Indian art forms," Smirnova says.

First Published: Apr 21, 2003 19:16 IST