‘If people come, they will get a sense of the joy in the dance’: Tanya Saxena on her first ‘proper’ post-COVID recital in Delhi

Tanya Saxena (pic: Soumik Banerjee, courtesy Facebook)

Stage performances have slowly resumed over the past month or so and suddenly, there is a welcome burst of invitations in our notifications. Familiar haunts like IHC and IIC in Delhi are abuzz again. One such dancer performing ‘properly’ on stage in Delhi for a live audience after two years is Tanya Saxena, the young and talented Bharatanatyam dancer. Tanya is a disciple of Gurus Saroja Vaidyanathan and Rama Vaidyanathan and is being mentored by Gurus Kamalini Dutt and A. Lakshmanaswamy. She is performing a ‘mini margam’ for the IIC Spring Festival of Dance and Music at the India International Centre on 6 April 2022 at 7 p.m.

The event is a double bill where Tanya performs after Kathak dancer Arti Shrivastava Gedam. Due to the restriction on time, Tanya is presenting a condensed margam, which she calls a ‘mini margam’, including a pushpanjali, a varnam, a ninda stuti and then a thillana. ‘The pieces I am performing are traditional but not often seen on the stage, especially in Delhi,’ Tanya explains. ‘These pieces are completely traditional and include a Tanjore quartet varnam translated into Tamil. The abhinaya piece is a ninda stuti by Sarangapani. You don’t see pieces by Sarangapani or Kshetrayya quite as often. They’re also quite challenging to do and it’s interesting for me because it’s like a challenge for myself – I try and push myself through the performance to see how much I’ve grown over the past two years and what I’m capable of as far as the traditional repertoire goes. That was my thinking behind the selection of the pieces. These are pieces I have learnt over the past two years from my mentor A. Lakshmanaswamy. I am continuing my menteeship under Guru Kamalini Dutt also, but the pandemic has made that a bit difficult over the past two years due to her health. Lakshman sir interested me a lot even before the pandemic and during the past two years, I have formally started classes with him. These are all things I’ve learnt over the pandemic. He has been generous in sharing the pieces he has and it has all been done completely over Zoom – he has not seen me in person in class yet!’

Tanya (pic: Anoop Arora)

Tanya feels that coming back to a ‘proper’ stage with an audience, not just for a video, is ‘wonderful’. With about four days to go for her big evening, she said, ‘I had rehearsals with the musicians today and we were all talking about how nice it was to meet in person and do this. There’s nothing that can replace the warmth and energy of meeting people and in a live concert. It’s only when you have people with you that a space comes alive. I’m very excited and happy. I think a little bit of that happy feeling might come into the dance as well!’

However, like all performers watching viewers return hesitantly to venues after two years of fear and lockdowns, she is worried people might not turn up in the same numbers as before COVID. ‘That is my concern – that people might not come,’ Tanya says. ‘Proper programmes are just starting again and I have sent out invitations, but some people have already said we can’t make it. It’s quite an effort to go out now and people are not used to going out as much as earlier. It happened with me also earlier when concerts started – I’d gotten unused to the rigour of what it was to constantly travel. I’m nervous about that but hopeful. I’m happy with the programme I’m presenting and I genuinely believe it’s special sharing these traditional pieces, seeing how difficult they are for a dancer. It’s a worthy thing to present a programme that feels challenging as a celebration of the end of these two years. It was the same when Arushi (Mudgal, Odissi dancer) was presenting her concert a few days ago – we’ve been working on our art as much as we can and it is such a joy to be able to share it with people, but only if people are coming to partake in it. I’m happy with what we’ve put together and if people come, they will get a sense of the joy in the dance and the sharing of it.’