Aranyani Bhargav, Bharatanatyam dancer and Artistic Director, Vyuti Dance Company, has challenged many pre-existing notions of what is acceptable in classical dance and what is not through her performances. But Bhargav is all set to offer a surprise of sorts by performing a classical dance in the sixth month of her pregnancy.
“Be it by introducing the idea of direct physical touch by touching each other through interlinked limbs, lifts and floor work or touching the floor with our backs; whether it is staying away from mythological/religious narratives, or distancing ourselves from the post-colonial presentation of Bharatanatyam in other ways, we have quietly done it instead of making big statements about it. But perhaps we’ve been too subtle and realised that people didn’t get how much we have actually challenged the socio-politics of the existing way in which Bharatanatyam is taught, practised and performed just by quietly doing things a bit differently,” she says on pushing the boundaries in Bharatanatyam.
Her latest exploration, Questioning Frontality/Changing Body at Oddbird in the Capital will challenge the idea of a singular front (introduced in the post-colonial, post devadasi era, of course) and ask an intimately placed audience on multiple sides of the performers to view Bharatanatyam non-frontally and very closely. She’s also trying to question and understand why classical dancers either choose to or are pressured into pausing or ending their dance careers once pregnancy and motherhood hit them. “I’ve seen so many classical dancers who stop dancing as soon as they find out they’re pregnant, and whose families, doctors, rasikas signal to them that it’s not appropriate or aesthetic for a big-bellied woman to be exhibiting her physical form in such a manner and in that condition. This ‘choice’ then becomes loaded and shrouded in guilt and shame – for doing what a dancer has always been doing – which is simply to dance. I want to question that, challenge that and celebrate the pregnant dancing body,” she adds.
Challenging the ordinary is an exciting process of discovery and creation for her. “For me, challenging frontality in dance or questioning the aesthetics of the female form is all a part of a larger quest for finding contemporaneity through exploration and discovery within a dance form that has such a long and rich and complex history and one that I have devoted my life to for over two decades,” says Bhargav.
She’s not planning to be particularly militant-activist about these issues and would rather make a statement about them through the dancing and the repertoire. “I’m not creating a piece on pregnancy or motherhood or anything like that. I just want to normalise the idea of a pregnant woman dancing along with non-pregnant dancers doing what she would normally do.
“Similarly, I don’t want to verbalise any challenge to the post-colonial revivalist movement in favour of the devadasi setup. I want to offer an alternative way of viewing Bharatanatyam, a way that was possibly the norm once upon a time,” she says.
Bhargav hopes that her performance will encourage and enable an informed choice regarding dancing during pregnancy that is free from guilt, shame and fear that is often inflicted upon pregnant women who choose to display and physically exert their bodies through dance during their pregnancies.