Very early in her childhood, Kalpana Raghuraman learnt the importance of bridges as metaphors. Her parents had migrated to the Netherlands from Tamil Nadu before she was born and it was from her mother, Sharadha Raghuraman, that Kalpana inherited Bharatanatyam, a temple dance form that was strange and new to the landscape of the Netherlands. The challenge was to make the two meet. “To find a place for Indian dance in the Netherlands has not been an easy feat. With people not knowing about classical Indian dance, I have worked hard to create awareness among audiences. I created my own tours, inviting musicians from India to come and educate the audience about classical Indian dance,” says Kalpana, who has researched on “the changing dynamic in knowledge transferal concerning the Bharatanatyam” as part of her studies in cultural anthropology. “After creating a place in the Netherlands as the first professional Bharatanatyam dancer I became more interested in creating my own choreographic voice.” At present, she is touring India and will present an ensemble piece, titled Simeon, in which Bharatanatyam and contemporary movements respond to classical Dutch music by the master, Simeon ten Holt. Simeon features live performances by the Matangi Quartet from the Netherlands and dancers of Kalpana’s group, KalpanArts, and has been brought to Delhi by Hamsadhwani, a cultural non-profit based in Chennai, and IGL. Excerpts from an interview with Kalpana:
The Self and Society
The concept of Simeon is about the individual and society. How does one cope with the societal expectations, pressures and demands? How does an individual hold on to her vision and her values in a world that demands you give it up? And to what extent are we so programmed to follow the group? We live on automatic pilot to such a great extent that it is exhaustion of our inner fire and we are left with no sense of self For me, musical compositions are done in such a way that they really match the concept of the piece.
Simeon ten Holt was a well-known composer in the Netherlands especially, famous for his work, Canto Ostinato. I heard it first when I was in my late teens and loved it. Its repetitive, minimalist nature really sucks you in. At that point I was already curious what it would be like to make a choreography for it. The fact that Canto Ostinato is among the most performed of Holt’s works does not affect me. For me, the composition has its own power and I have my own way of developing it which is not related to its formality.
Finding Her Place
With Dutch contemporary dance scene being so well developed and non-Western aesthetics not having a place in the contemporary dance scene, it has been quite a journey to develop my own choreographic voice. After working on smaller projects, I become part of a dance production house that supported me to develop myself and this created a lot of openings. Now, I have my own dance company, Kalpana Arts Reiminaged, which is the first Indian contemporary dance company that is part of the Dutch mainstream scene. This is extremely exciting and Simeon has done extremely well. We have had packed theatres and really moved audiences all the way through. We are curious to see how the Indian audience will feel about this work.
I use elements and techniques of the forms and develop them in such a way that they create the energy, image or feeling I am looking for. So, content is dominating and the dance form is a tool, a method to express this content. I am interested in how art can express or reflect societal concerns as am I interested in empowering people to follow their vision and live develop their potential. An artist is not there to maintain the status quo, she is there to show something different, something nobody has seen yet. If in that process people will not like what is being shown, that is their good right. But, if we worry about this, we will lose for we will not allow our vision to go beyond this reality. Nobody changed the world by being the same.
In a recent work, Rebels’ Cross, I speak about the power of being different, and that it is the rebels of the world that can inspire us all to create our own path and life. Another work, Satyagraha, is part of a larger project – an opera of Philip Glass. It is about vulnerability and presence being a stronger catalyst for change than resistance. The next work I am preparing is Superhuman: Our Inner Darkness, which deals with the dark side of the superhero and the existential question of what is good, what is bad, and who is the judge of that?