It is not the burden of a lineage that is steeped in the field of Bharatanatyam — nine generations of dancers and more than 200 years of legacy. Nor, is it the challenge of being the grandson of the legendary Balasaraswati. Aniruddha Knight, the son of Balasaraswati’s daughter, dancer Lakshmi Knight and Douglas Knight Jr, says, “I fail to understand why male dancers are seen as incapable of suggesting feminine emotions. No one questions the dancing prowess in kathak where you have the likes of Birju Maharaj, or in Odissi, when it came to Kelucharan Mohapatra. Kuchipudi for a very long time was dominated by male dancers, who performed dressed like women.”
He adds, “The question arises the minute a male performer chooses to perform a sringara, in bharatanatyam. There is so much baggage that is carried towards the art that the art is forgotten. It finally becomes everything else, but the art.”
Observing the perception of male dancers and the dance items they choose to perform, he says, “You are only expressing as a character and not becoming the character. There is a difference between a sensual approach and sexual connotations. One can be sensual and still be divine. It is all about suggesting and not interpretation.”
Aniruddha has been performing since the time he can recall.
He took to dance when he was just three. Surrounded by musicians like T Vishwanathan and with an approach to dance that is more of a way of life for his family that has had a matrilineal tradition of dancers and musicians, it has been a natural process of observing and listening that has helped Aniruddha to evolve as a performer.
Having been raised in the US, where he gave his first performance, Aniruddha says that the West is far more accepting when it comes to male dancers.
The lineage is not just the name, as it also represents a category of artistry. “Performance is altogether very different. Each time an artiste performs, the piece is going to be different. The abhinaya is on the spot,” he says, highlighting the trademark style of Balasaraswati that the family strives to keep alive.
A book by Aniruddha’s father titled Balasaraswati: Her Art and Life is a summative account of the dancer, her journey and the impact she made in the world of dance.
A first person account of the dancer’s life and works, the author himself has been a witness to the transfer of legacy. Aniruddha maintains that the challenges as a performer, especially a male performer, seems a little insignificant, when one looks at his grandmother’s efforts towards making arts for arts’ sake.
“She had to completely change the societal stigma. I couldn’t put myself in a position like that,” he says.