Writings Constructed with Students
What is Bharata-Natyam?
Bharata-Natyam is a (commonly solo) dance from southern India that has existed for centuries in many forms, including a practice of devotion in temples, entertainment in royal courts, and most recently, a performing art for stage. It comprises (1) nritta–complex rhythmic and lyrical movement, performed in the whole body (angika) accentuated by strong, clear feet movement and (2) nritya–story-telling, with intricate hand gestures and facial expression. The common outer expression (aharya) of rich costuming, make-up, and ankle bells support these aspects of the art form.
The teaching and practice of Bharata-Natyam was codified in the last 200 years via the margam or recommended repertoire. However, its craft, cultivated over millennia, gifts practitioners with a deep understanding, allowing not only performance of traditional choreographies/stories set to traditional music compositions (vacika), but also creative work based on individual lived experiences.
Bharata-Natyam is fulfilling on many levels–physical, mental, emotional and spiritual–depending on the dancer’s and/or her audience’s tastes and intentions. This fulfillment of the experience of dancing or witnessing Bharata-Natyam is called by various names, including rasa (lit. ‘flavor,’ ‘essence’), which is considered the measure of success of a performance.
Bharata-Nrityam, developed by Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam and taught at Dansense-Nrtyabodha, has an expanded vocabulary that sets it apart from contemporary Bharata-Natyam. Its inclusion of movement vocabulary and technique delineated in the ancient dramatic arts treatise Natyashastra makes Bharata-Nrityam immediately recognizable as a unique art, manifesting the vast aesthetics of Indian dance with infinite creative potential and empowering the dancer and witness with its spiritual capacity.
When a Bharata-Natyam or Bharata-Nrityam performance is successful, the dancer may leave her audience with a feeling of pleasure or satisfaction in witnessing something beautiful, in experiencing a range of emotions through a story, or in actively gaining awareness about oneself or the world around them.