Sonal Mansingh: Youngsters learn dance as yoga now

"I am deeply grateful that people continue to show such respect and affection," she says.
Veteran dancer Sonal Mansingh
Veteran dancer Sonal Mansingh

With Padma Bhushan (1992), Sangeet Natak Akademi Award (1987) and the Padma Vibhushan in 2003 among her many honours, Sonal Mansingh, a veteran Indian classical dancer in Bharatanatyam and Odissi, offers a blend of mythological storytelling in her performances.

To mark 63 years of her career, ‘UDBHAV’, a dance presentation on god Vishnu by a repertory group of the Centre for Indian Classical Dances, took place on May 30 at the Sangeet Natak Akademi in Delhi. “I have beautiful memories of my journey. At the age of 17, I performed my Arangetram under the guidance of my gurus, US Krishna Rao and UK Chandrabhaga Devi. I performed the Bharatanatyam Margam, the traditional repertory. People remarked that a new star had risen. I am deeply grateful that people continue to show such respect and affection,” she says. Excerpts from the conversation:

Your latest show is a presentation on Vishnu. Tell us more about it.

Ever since I started learning dance, the stories of legends and divinities have been part of my upbringing. Udbhav means the beginning, the root, the spring. We believe when the world was created, it was Vishnu who nourished it. The first story is about Bhashmasur, Mohini. Vishnu who took the form of Mohini; he is always saving situations. The second one is ‘The Evolution’ on the first avatar of Vishnu, Matsya, the cosmic fish.

What are the qualities of body, heart and mind an Indian dancer should have?

Dance is designed to ennoble people. It nourishes people with spirituality and provides social commentary. When a message is enveloped in beautiful movements, attractive costumes and interesting stories, it will be well received. The minimum requirement is having a good body, knowing the technique and an understanding that goes with it to transcend the technique. A dancer has to be an instrument of conveying great ideas, giving joy, delight and bliss.

Sonal Mansingh
Sonal Mansingh

Is classical dance losing its audience?

Now with social media, Indian dance has gained audiences and popularity among youngsters who are learning it as yoga. I’ve called it Nritya Yoga for many years, and people have picked up that word now. It trains your body from top to toe.

What is an ideal relation between a guru and a student?

The word guru is so beautiful. It means the one who removes darkness.The relationship between a guru and shishya is a learning process. It is like a lotus that grows towards the sun. It inculcates the attitude of humility and receiving. I never knew what a body could do. I never knew my ten fingers could all work differently before I was told.

You were appointed the chairperson of Sangeet Natak Akademi.

I was appointed in the last few months of the first NDA government. The UPA government created many impediments. President Dr APJ Abdul Kalam told me to resign but I didn’t as I had done nothing wrong. The Akademi has once again come alive under the new chairman.

What is the hallmark of Odissi and how do you feel about performing Odissi in Chennai, the centre of Bharatanatyam?

Odissi has a sculptural quality. Its undulating grace is unique. This comes from a very strict discipline of the torso movement. There are a lot of square postures. Strong postures are juxtaposed with graceful movements. In general, it is very sober compared to other dance forms. It does not want to impress with grandiose movements.

I started learning Bharatanatyam at the age of 7. Even today, at my institute which is celebrating its 47th year, I teach both the dance forms.

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