Inspiration for male dancers

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CHITRA SUDARSHAN reports on Dr Chandrabhanu’s latest accolade

Dr Chandrabhanu recently received the Nartaka Award 2012 for lifetime achievement and contribution to Indian classical dance in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

For the past six years the Natyanjali Trust (of Chennai), founded by the late Jayalakshmi Satagopan has been organising the Nartaka Dance Festival dedicated exclusively to presenting male dancers. In 2012, the festival expanded to include a Malaysian chapter.

The Nartaka Dance Festival, Malaysia, conferred its first Malaysian Lifetime Achievement Award to dance icon, Dr Chandrabhanu, who has inspired many male dancers to pursue dance.

Joining Dr Chandrabhanu in Malaysia for the festival were the male members of the Jambudvipa ensemble: Sam Goraya, S Sujeevan and Wee Hong Chin. They presented Odissi dance items over several nights of the festival.

Dr Chandrabhanu reflected on his career in a conversation with Ramli Ibrahim the well-known Malaysian dancer, about male dancers and the award, and said he was greatly inspired by legendary dancer Sir Ram Gopal in his adolescence. “I never saw him dance live, but saw films and photos of his stage presentations. He must have inspired both male and female dancers all around the world. His biography told of much suffering in the beginning to establish himself and to be recognized as a dancer. My admiration for him has to do with his perseverance, and that he created an identity and a career through his own ingenuity,” said Dr Chandrabhanu. Dr Chandrabhanu identified with Sir Ram Gopal also partly because of his Burmese antecedent, being part Burmese himself. Much later, after seeing Rudolf Nureyev and Nijinsky, he was determined to redefine the male dancer’s role in the artform.

As a child Dr Chandrabhanu was fortunate to have the support and encouragement of his father in dance, the arts and theatre, because he himself had been involved in amateur theatre as a youth in Penang, and because his grandmother (the Burmese connection) who lived in Bengal was described as a dancer by profession, what today is known as a ‘nachwali’.

Spending a year in the USA as an exchange student in 1968-69 exposed Dr Chandrabhanu to invaluable experience in Western performing arts and theatre studies.  He was fortunate that his main guru in Bharatnatyam, Adyar Lakshman; and his guru in Odissi, Bijoy Senapati; encouraged him. Yet, says Dr Chandrabhanu, “… there is still a terrible stigma attached to male dancers today.

I believe that one’s persona is really made up of both the male and female psyche. One should have the freedom to explore both psyches.”

The biggest challenge he faced was creating a career here in Australia while maintaining contact with Malaysia and India. In Australia Dr Chandrabhanu strived to get non-western arts and dance accepted and treated seriously, and his background in social theory helped.

What does he instil in his dance students today? Dr Chandrabhanu stresses the importance of the principles of hard work and discipline, to treat dance as yoga and meditation.

Chitra Sudarshan

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