Spanda was born out of a need to express myself in the multiple energies of more than one dancer, as against the solo option that existed and that I practice. I did not wish to explore the format of the dance drama, of which also I had been a part and knew so well having participated in Rukmini Devi's inspiring modern day dance dramas that took inspiration from traditional genres like the Melattur Bhagavatamela and Kuravanji traditions of the South.
Instead, I wished to see the dancers I was teaching engage in a less self-centric form than the solo, without the need to convert all performance or story-telling into a male-female construct, with less paraphernalia to carry onstage in terms of dress and ornamentation, and last but not least, breaking from the clichéd frontal, made-for-the-proscenium-stage presentations that the soloist is conformed to.
To liberate oneself from both the solo and the dance drama form was a heady departure into the unknown! I used the male dancer and the female dancer with equal verve, using the energies of both to do the rigorous and the graceful, without bias.
I broke from hierarchical structures in the themes that we chose, as well as the hierarchy within the company. In Spanda, no one dancer has a role that stands out as pivotal, as in the hero-heroine oriented stories that we are used to presenting. In order to achieve this, I had to choose from pre-vedic texts that were universal in spirit; inclusive rather than exclusive, that was about nature and primal energies, rather than about kings or celestial beings with superior, more sophisticated skills than others about them. We had to break from the hierarchical structures that existed in myth, but also in dance companies where some dancers carried the show and others were relegated to props.
We launched Spanda in September 1995, with a performance in Delhi that was hailed as 'path-breaking'. For ten years thereafter the group took on various shapes and sizes, depending upon the dancers available to me. From 2005-2012, Spanda was on sabbatical while I forsake it to look after Kalakshetra.
Since 2012, we have revived ourselves with gusto, and performed worldwide and in India, as a cohesive and well-knit group, doing performances of the abstract and symbolic, of the traditional and contemporary, without foregoing the vocabulary of bharatanatyam that we so love.
I have observed the body – its desire as well as reluctance to move, extend, bend, stretch, contract, as also its propensity to tire and be injured. It is not less obsessive than the thoughts of the mind or feelings of the heart. When the body learns to do the gymnastics of the mind, then as in yoga it too has to be reined in, controlled, given rope, re-trained, manipulated even, in order to attain what we wish to effect from it.
There is also a very distinct energy that emerges beyond the singular, as when two or more bodies work together in a single expression. Not only in the sublimation of one to the other, but also in the unconscious moments of touch, of support, of caution, of aggression. It is these movements – so much a part of life – which become manifested in the dance of several bodies.
We all take impressions from what we have perceived before. Our particular sensitivity washes over that impression – giving it a fresh dimension. 'Unconsciously creative' work is rarely seen or experienced! However, the urge to create cannot be denied and the newness or success of it is quite irrelevant to the urge itself.
Spanda is a culmination of impressions, reactions, growth and an urge to express myself in the medium I know. The soloist is never restricted by his or her style – our great masters have proved this with the breadth of their vision. I find the expression of bharatanatyam in several dancers a challenge, precisely because its expression in the one dancer has always been so vital. The full potential of this has not been tapped. I enjoy the process of bringing several energies together, of moving and feeling in unison. At most times the exuberance of the individual ego has to be curbed, restrained – to lend strength to the group. Energy has to be distributed, shared laterally – giving the style a particular dynamism not easily experienced in the solo format.
Learning to own one's space, to share it, to acknowledge another's – this is the challenge of our work. This ability to share and yet give expression to one's own feelings is what enhances the whole, not unlike the experience of life itself. There is sweat, tension and exhaustion in achieving such a dream. There is also the joy of shared success! Spanda vibrates.
God creates, I do not create. I assemble and I steal everywhere to do it –
from what I see, from what the dancers can do, from what others do…
- George Balanchine
The last session as part of Torch Lights was an ensemble work by Leela Samson and her Spanda group. No wonder they're referred to as a trend setting ensemble. Not a single moment and movement to be missed.
'Disha' the group presentation by Spanda Dance Company...was for minds willing to think out of the box of conditioned grooves, a refreshing delight. Leela Samson's choreography, while not for a moment straying from rootedness in the Bharatanatyam technique, explored its micro elements, for a unique interpretation of group aesthetics. One got the feeling that each movement rendered in micro perfection became a statement of aesthetics in itself....
'Nokkam' by Leela Samson and Spanda Dance Company was a trend setting ensemble work... Intensively technical, but looking like effortless dancing, scintillating group formations and great creative music were the benchmarks...What an abhinaya experience.
To state that Leela Samson's work 'Nadi' presented by her dance group Spanda, mesmerized the audience with its nuanced poetic sensibility, would not be hyperbole… 'Nadi' is a unique production.