One walks into an auditorium, and hears the dancer singing with the orchestra and dancing too! What a treat to watch! Just like a breath of fresh air Aniruddha Knight swayed on stage and did the pièce de résistance Krishna Ni Begane Baaro. Representing an unbroken lineage, ninth in a generation full of artists, grandson of the late legendary dancer Balasarawasti, Aniruddha talks to us about his training, his lineage, and also share thoughts about her grandmother on her currently going birth centenary.
Legendary Balasaraswati’s grandson and a representative of the 9th generation of a family steeped into the arts, do you feel burdened or elevated.
There is no simple answer to this question. One must be clear about the intention behind being a part of the parampara. There is a bound duty, whether you are a part of a lineage or a shishya, they are actually one in the same. The art knows no difference. With duty comes burden and elevation. It is the challenge of the artist to look well beyond both. The art has a mind of its own and gives you challenge after challenge. Therein lays the challenge of staying steadfast and completely bound by the classism of the art and perpetually haunted by its history, and fear for its survival. Yet, there can be many chances of professional and personal success in ones career. The art knows what it doles out. In the end, it will always win, even if it means sacrificing the artist.
Tell us about your training in music and dance under your grandmother and you mother Lakshmi Knight
I was actually never formally trained under my grandmother, as she passed away when I was four. But she took a great interest in my dance and would teach me mudras and used dance as a play activity with me all of the time. One must understand that music and dance were a part of the home all of the time. So it seemed my affinity to it would be completely natural. My mother even danced in Hawaii when she was 5 months pregnant with me!
Dance was always something very serious to me. I trained formally with my mother, and began to perform at the age of 7. I still remember my first performance – it was at the Natural History Museum in New York City and was paid $150.00.
Though we had formal classes on technique in dance and music, much of the learning was through watching performances. I never knew what she was going to do in each performance – no one did. She never practiced abhinaya, we all got to watch her create on stage. That’s where one learns the various pathways to the vast worlds of imagination in dance.
How much does your vast training in music help you in your dance
Even today I cannot dance a piece without knowing the music. It is not about incapacity to execute, but a certain wholesomeness that only comes from knowing the piece musically that I can justify performing. Music is integral to the style. In a way, the music is even more predominant than the sahitya itself. This does not dismiss the lyrics at all; this is to show that all the rasa and anubhava springs from the music. IT is the subtle interplay between the sahitya and the music that creates the dance itself, whether it be nritta or the abhinaya. Musical understanding, even at a very basic level, gives the dancer a subtlety and sophistication that would be otherwise unattainable.
Enlighten us about the Bharatnatyam style of Balasaraswati’s and the intrinsic nature of improvisation it has notwithstanding set choreographic patterns
This is a tough question! As I said earlier much of how the improvisation is grasped through watching. One must have a very very sure grounding in the finer technique of the dance. Must! You should spend years of just doing the nritta and learning the whole abhinaya before attempting to improvise. One must understand that manodharma is a highly stylized specific way of interpreting the sahitya; to grasp that completely the dance must be innate.
One must make the dance second nature first, and then make it his or her own. When it comes to manodhrama, you are on your own. There is no place to dance like someone else, whether it be your guru or your icon. You are literally stepping off a cliff each time it is done! You must be your own artistic self, after seeking the blessings of your guru and the art.
The dancer must have great knowledge in music. It is essential to read, read, and read! You must understand the cultural context of the dance always and the worlds that are created in each piece. One must read the puranas, poetry, and good understanding of at least a few languages. The dancer must also develop the skill to observe the environment around him, even the most basic things. You’ll be surprised how these things permeate the dance on such a subconscious level.
This is the centenary year of your grandmother, on this occasion any particular choreography or anecdote of Balasaraswati close to your heart you’d like to share
Where can I start! There is no one piece of choreography or anecdote that defines her art and person. I believe that she was only satisfied with 5 concerts in her entire life – out of thousands. This defines, for me at least, her unrelenting strive for perfection and wholesomeness in her art. In 1967, during a performance in Delhi, she danced the Kapi Varnam Sarasalanu. That day, after the varnam, she told my mother that if concert ended that day with the varnam that the performance would be complete! There was nothing more to dance that day. She was saturated and completely beaming in radiance. But alas due to her commitment as a professional, she had to move on. That was always her – needing to move in dance and move on in life.