Lifestyle Books and Art 16 Jan 2017 Transcending Boundar ...

Transcending Boundaries: Bharatanatyam, her only passion

Published Jan 16, 2017, 12:00 am IST
Updated Jan 16, 2017, 7:28 am IST
Shakuntala, one of the pioneers of Bharatanatyam in France, talks about her Bharatanatyam-inspired triptych Metamorphoses held in Kochi.

Dedication is rather a strong word. It also means getting identified by what you are dedicated to, leaving behind your birth identity to pursue your passion. Here is an artiste, who had the will to persist a passion by embracing Bharatanatyam through her life. For Shakuntala, being a foreign national didn’t stop her from pursuing her love for Bharatanatyam, when it struck her at a young age.

She says she is fascinated by the nature of Kerala, but her words reveal a rather strong commitment, “I love the nature of India, especially Kerala, its rice fields, rivers and greenery. But I come here only for dance.”


One of the pioneers of Bharatanatyam in France, Shakuntala was also one of the first French to learn the Indian classical dance. “Yes, I have been among the first French dancers to take up Bharatanatyam as a career.”

The artiste was in Kerala to perform at the Kalashakti Mandapam run by Kathakali artiste Sunil Pallipuram and his French wife and Bharatanatyam dancer Paris Laxmi. “I met Paris Laxmi in France five years ago and was struck by her talent.”

She gave a performance of her choreography Metamorphoses in Kochi on Saturday.


It was a a triptych inspired by Bharatanatyam. When she performs Bharatanatyam, she uses the traditional attire. But for Metamorphoses, she uses a costume that fits the theme. “The musicians came to ask me if I could create a piece from their music made on crystal vessels and I created Chrysalide, the first piece of Metamorphoses. The second piece is based on the great Sufi saint Jalaluddin Rumi and the third is a dream-like abstract piece.”

Asked how her love for Bharatanatyam began, she says it all started from a book she had found as a teen. “I started dance when I was nine and began my Bharatanatyam training at 19. I found a book on sacred dances like Bharatanatyam when I was 16. I was fascinated by the beauty of the dancers and three years later, I started learning. Since then it was obvious that Bharatanatyam would be my only passion.”


She found her guru in Chennai — Kalaimamani V.S. Muthuswami Pillai under whom she learned dance for 20 years. “The name Shakuntala was  given by my guru,” she smiles.

Shakuntala performed classical Bharatanatyam recitals in Europe, India, Africa and North America before exploring other creative means along with French dancer Malavika, who was her first guru in Paris.

In 1991, she founded her own company Le Miroir du Geste and produced group choreographies with several artistes. “Since the beginning of the 20th century, Indian dance forms have been very popular in France. Through Uday Shankar, one of the great dancers during that time, Indian dance became very popular in France and many people became interested in learning Indian dance. I dedicated my life to Bharatanatyam and find this dance form extremely rich, complex and deep. One can express through dancing and abhinaya. When I started researching about new forms from Bharatanatyam, I explored in various directions with Vachika Abhinaya, geometry abstraction. I never made any fusion dance. I always developed my choreographic ideas from Bharatanatyam techniques. However, in 1976, I was fascinated by yet another art form — Koodiyattam — when I saw it for the first time at Kalamandalam. The Kalamandalam Koodiyattam troupe came to Paris for a night-long show in October and a week-long master class was organised. I took part in the class under the guidance of Guru Rama Chakyar and Kalamandalam Sangeeth Chakyar. It was a very inspiring experience.”


Shakuntala also guided a large number of youngsters to take up Bharatanatyam in France. “I have been teaching in France for many years. There is great popularity for Indian dance forms in France. These days, I take up private students and hold workshops,” Shakuntala says.