She has taken Bharatanatyam, India’s ancient temple dance, to the churches in Ukraine. Indian performing arts encourage the tradition of give and take. What is learnt is meant to be taught. Going by this tradition, Ukranian Bharatanatyam artiste Ganna Smirnova is popularising the dance form in her country. Not only that, Ganna has also organised Bharatanatyam dance recitals in churches during the Church festival. “Two years ago, Saint Sophia Cathedral asked me a few things about the traditional Bharatanatyam costume. I told them that the artiste’s body would be covered. The Church gave the permission for the performance,” says Ganna. The Nataraja dance recital performed on the occasion was watched by the Tourism Minister of Ukraine.
Her tryst with Indian dance began at a cultural programme at Kiev while she was a student at the National University. “I was mesmerised by Bharatanatyam performances at the Festival of India organised by the Indian government in 1987. I was learning ballet and fold dance, but my heart went out for Bharatanatyam,” says Ganna. The fondness for Bharatanatyam drew her towards Indian culture and she started reading Indian philosophy. “I have read several books on Sri Aurobindo,” adds Ganna.
Availing the scholarship given by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), she decided to take up Bharatanatyam. With tremendous passion, she enrolled at Abhinay, the dance school of Jayalakshmi Eshwar in New Delhi in 1997 and learnt the dance form till 2003. Besides Bharatanaytam, she also learnt Carnatic vocal and yoga. After six years of rigorous and intensive training and learning in India, she was awarded with the empanelment as an artiste under ICCR, a very uncommon achievement for a non-Indian artiste.
“On returning to Ukraine, I wanted to contribute to the cultural understanding between the two countries,” says Ganna. She established Indian Theatre Nakshatra in the most prestigious academic institution of her country, Tarasa Shevchenko National University in Kiev in 2005. She also invites famous Indian gurus of dance to teach local students.
Through this institution, she now strives for appreciation and awareness on Indian culture and its performing art. Round the year, many diverse cultural projects, including Nrityanjali, a highly acclaimed International festival of Indian classical dances, and Ranganjali, a festival dedicated to the classical music, are organised.
“Though Bharatanatyam is an ancient dance form, Ukrainians find the dance very modern and fresh,” says Ganna. The good response has made Ganna train a tailor to stitch the dress in Kiev. “Lenamatsenko, the tailor stitches the dresses. I take the material from Kancheepuram,” adds Ganna.
Ganna published a monograph on the antiquity and the grand traditional history of Indian dances under the title ‘Indian temple dances—tradition, philosophy and legends’ in Russian in 2010. Over the years, she has been performing across India at prestigious dance festivals that include Uday Shankar Dance festival in Kolkata, Taj Mahostsava, Rajgir Mahtosava, Natyanjali Festival, Chidambaram and Thanjavur, Naadneerajanam festival at Thirupathi Devasthanam, National dance festical in Ahmedabad, Pragjotishpur festival in Guwahati, International Dance Congress at Bhubaneswar, to name a few. “I tour the country, give performances, attend seminars and workshops,” says Ganna who recently performed at Raj Nivas, Puducherry. She has travelled to showcase her art at Berlin, Moscow, London, Lisbon, Milan, Colombo, Kandy, and Prague. Married to Sanjay Rajhans, an Indian professor in Kiev University, Ganna, a mother of two children, is now doing a research on the aesthetics of Indian temple dance at the Shevchenko University. Her classical moves in Kiev have given Bharatanatyam the movement it deserves.