Raza’s bindu sprouts and blooms in Bharatanatyam by Tanya Saxena


Tanya Saxena

The Indo-American Arts Council’s Erasing Borders Dance Festival was presented in a hybrid format in 2022: some artists performed live in New York in August 2022, and others performed digitally on IAAC’s streaming platforms on Facebook and YouTube. Bharatanatyam dancer Tanya Saxena showcased her dance film Bindu digitally in this festival. Bindu was inspired by a painting by legendary artist S.H. Raza.

Dance films have been around for quite a while, but it was only during the pandemic that due to unprecedented situations of self-isolation and social distancing, the creative bug in the artists prompted many, many more of them to take pictures and dance videos of themselves doing a lot of creative dancing — or not dancing at all — to sustain their engagement with their art and its creative essence. Thus it was that dance films in the Indian classical space saw a sudden boom. 

Tanya is a disciple of Gurus Saroja Vaidyanathan and Rama Vaidyanathan and is continuing her learning under her mentors Gurus Kamalini Dutt and A. Lakshmanaswamy. She is an empanelled artist with Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) and with Doordarshan. She comes across as a very humble person and a thinking dancer. Her thoroughness totally reflects in her work. 

S.H. Raza spent his childhood in MP and his paintings are inspired by his childhood memories of nature. According to him, the point or the bindu symbolizes the seed bearing the potential of life. The black space ‘is charged with latent spaces aspiring for fulfilment’. In his later years, the appearance of a bindu as a single meditative form marked Raza’s transition into pure geometric abstraction. 

To me, Bindu sounds like sindhu or ocean, and Tanya also told me that to her, the bindu, a dot or a black hole, was the origin of the universe, like the ocean is the origin of life. According to the Big Bang theory of evolution, the universe started from a black hole. 

The movie starts with a plain white paper that has a black dot on it. In the next scene, Shruti Mohan introduced the festival and the eyes quickly went to the black dot or the bindi on her forehead. Next, it was Subhalakshmi Khan who inaugurated the festival.

In Tanya’s interpretation of the painting Prakriti by S.H. Raza, through film, dance and sound, Tanya says that he has captured the very fundamentals of nature itself. She was dressed in a sari with minimal jewellery and adding to the relaxed ease of the frame, even the strap of her watch was visible. There are references to the five elements – wind, water, fire, earth and space. She had to explore how she could think of these elements in nature. Wind is the movement of air as well as our breath. The imagery created for this was a visual of Tanya among trees, a flower blooming. Tanya stands amid verdant surroundings, looking at the beauty of nature as she spreads her arms outward in a shape like a fountain. And this visual was then juxtaposed with a box in the painting, which shows a fountain-like shape in five colours. And finally, she quickly catches her breath.

In the second frame, as the bindu of the sun sets in the horizon, another bindu, the dot of the moon, rises in the other direction. The element depicted was water, an image of concentric blue circles from a section of the painting was shown and Tanya interpreted it as the ripples in a pond of water when something hits the surface. A teardrop rolls backwards on Tanya’s face to show the water element in her body, and then she refers to the blood coursing through our arteries and veins with her hands painted red and blue. This again goes to show the water component in our body. The energy or fire element was shown in the painting by a red dot and Tanya’s depiction showed hands painted red, cupped to form a circle. She did a few jathis in a kaleidoscopic view around a circle for fire. The element earth was shown through nritta, with jathis progressing towards more speed and complexity. This was juxtaposed with straight lines with triangular geometric shapes in the painting. The concept of space was shown through a hollow in a tree trunk and her hands painted black and cupped together. Space is also the voids in the universe and in our bodies. In the painting, this is shown by black circles which are full or half-full. 

The next element to be depicted were the male and female energies, which unite for the genesis of life. By getting these elements together, the painting shows two intertwined snakes around a blue dot. Tanya chose to show it by painting her hands blue and holding them in front of her middle, the area of the abdomen. The two hands did a pushpak and then tied together into a knot to show fertility and the origin of life. The two entwined snakes are the male and female energies, which are shown using the two hands. Finally, all the elements came together in the painting, which was superimposed on Tanya’s face, lying right in the centre of the square. 

The art of a dance film has come of age due to COVID-19 in India. Dance films in the west must have been popular for some time now, but for most Indian classical dancers, live performances were the only medium of reaching out to their audiences and exhibiting their art. As a dance film, this one was interesting and had a lot of elements working together. There were different locations like the outdoors and the water bodies. The costuming could be casual, not necessarily the entire aharyam. And then of course, the art of filming and the camera work, creating special effects like the kaleidoscopic images and the superimposition of images. The concept was engrossing, well-researched and interpreted — the five elements in nature were juxtaposed with sections of the painting that they stood for. The art forms like the music, dance choreography, filming, painting and special effects were well-blended and Tanya used other elements like painting her hands, the recitation of the bols and the choice of location, which were close to the concept of the painting, Prakriti. There was only one drawback — that a lot was being encapsulated in a very limited time, so you could not focus on each of the elements. For a film like that, the dancer should either get more time to explain the concept in speech or show slides of the written text, which would prepare the audience to grasp more. Of course, I would want to watch it as a longer production with the scope for more elaborate explanations. All the best to Tanya, who has always been a very talented and innovative dancer, and to this new medium, which has become a part of our classical forms in the present.