Maya Sapera performing contemporary Indian dance

© Leen Van Laethem

Contemporary Indian Dance

As this is a dance style personally developed by Maya Sapera and not a school or specific style we follow, the explanation has a personal overtone.

Maya has great respect for those traditional dancers who continue to follow the very strict dancing principles with much precision and dedication, but she considers that as only part of her dance mission in life. Although Maya feels the urge to pass on the secrets of these wonderful dances. She prefers to transmit them to a more contemporary setting in which there is also place for personal background and interpretation. The mythical themes remain fascinating to many of us and rightly. Yet Maya feels the need to make the link with more contemporary or general themes, thereby taking into account a social responsibility, without losing the “feel” of dancing, because this is the heart of Indian dance. It’s also very fascinating to examine this “feel” of dancing: where does it grow in our body, how can it be expressed using facial expressions?

These questions can help us put more depth into our dance movements and expressions. Next to the “feel” of the dance, we should also keep in mind the body itself and its movements which constitute very fascinating study material.
- How can the eye movements as described in the Natya Shastra move the audience? What if we only use one specific eye movement throughout the performance?
- How can we connect hand gestures?
- How do arms and legs relate?
- How can we connect the karanas (temple postures)?
- What if the eyes do not prolong the movement, or the other way around?
These are only a few of the many questions which we can use to start our investigation.

On the other hand, the physical exam will help us reach our own emotions, to get to our centre. That is because Indian dance, and especiallyBharata Natyam, is a very centred dance style. The search for this centre or the reasons why we sometimes cannot reach this centre is another angle from where to start the investigation.

Indian dance is in its nature often narrative/illustrative, to an extent where the dance itself is often subordinate to the song that a performer is dancing on. This is an interesting starting point, especially in these times where art disciplines work transversally and complementary. Questions to start our investigation regarding the relationship between dance and feeling with are:
- Should dance subordinate to music?
- How can the mudras be used to naturally enforce the power of the words?
- How do we use our body to express feelings? Feelings are not only expressed through our eyes and face, but through our whole body.
- How can we dance to the general feeling of the music, without literally expressing the words of the song? In Western dance this is self-evident whereas in Indian dance it is not straightforward.