“Are we human, or are we dancers?”
I never thought I would quote lyrics from The Killers’ song, but after meeting with French kathak dancer Isabelle Anna, seeing her perform and interact with other dancers, I understand the song better; it takes almost super human ability to commit yourself fully to the arts, especially dance. Mind and body have to be exercised constantly while keeping sure you don’t lose your spirit when life disappoints, according to Anna.
The dancer has been blessed since childhood; she was surrounded by music and dance at the age five, at a creative arts centre that her parents managed in France. The discipline required for ballet and bharatnatyam shaped her focus towards the arts. Along with musical training, she developed an interest in drama, literature and foreign languages that she pursued till university. In 1998, she discovered kathak and went on to join Kathak Kendra, a premier kathak dance institution in New Delhi, and was trained under Pandit Jai Kishan Maharaj.
However, Anna’s interest in kathak goes beyond the stage. “Gypsies from Rajasthan who migrated to Spain highly influenced the culture there, and gave rise to the flamenco dance. It is really interesting to see how much different cultures are actually interconnected,” shared Anna during an interview held at the Alliance Francais, Islamabad.
The dancer’s depth of understanding dance, culture and music is apparent from her performances; but she also has had many doubts about her creative endeavours like any artist. Anna noted that though she was always passionate about dance, she started questioning whether this was something she was pursuing on her own accord or due to the pressure to perform exerted on her since childhood. “It was after being away from dance for a few years, and doing what people will call a ‘real job’ is when I realised how much dance was a part of me and had to be what I did fully,” she said candidly.
The dancer’s depth of understanding dance, culture and music is apparent from her performances. PHOTO: PUBLICITY
Though France is more supportive of its artists than Pakistan, Anna noted that being an artist anywhere has various shortcomings. “Artists and musicians aren’t given much value and are always on the margins of society, but that’s what makes the struggle more genuine because it’s not for monetary gain but for yourself and for those who you can touch with your art,” she explained.
Referring to the maturity that comes with age, the dancer noted that though in dance aging is often seen as a negative thing; she deems that there is no substitute for wisdom and experience. “The more you grow and learn, the more material you have to work within your performances. The more you have to say.”
Anna’s statement was reaffirmed when she met 83-year-old kathak icon Indu Mitha during her master class. “I couldn’t believe that such a magnificent and graceful dancer was in my class. It was really quite overwhelming, something I will cherish my entire life. Though she is so much more senior than me, she was so humble and keen. She truly loves kathak and wants to learn everything about it,” said Anna. Mitha was all praises about Anna as well, and told The Express Tribune that she found the French dancer’s approach meticulous, utterly sublime and refreshing. “What a dancer, what a lady!” exclaimed Mitha.
Amna Mawaz, a student of Mitha, also participated in the master class, and noted that Anna’s style of dance, though traditional, was much more complicated than what she is used to. “It was such a brilliant experience learning from her and learning more about kathak. There are so many complexities in this dance form,” said Mawaz.
With dancers from various ages and walks of life drawing inspiration from each other, one has to think that dance is indeed where art finds embodiment.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 9th, 2012.
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