I am sitting on a chair with another hundred people around me in front of the Chitragupta temple dedicated to Surya, the Sun God, who with a gentle smile withdraws to transform his power into the colourful stage lights. A sculpture comes alive. As the dancer emerges from the shadow, for two hours the captured time ornamented by intricate rhythmic syllables turns poetry into dance; or maybe it is the dance, and not the dancer anymore, what evokes bodily words.
If I had been a well-versed poet I would have shaped her dance in eloquent words to make a poem: “Her anklets sprinkle melody/ and choke the mind with stardust/ as this jewelled dancer / lives a language on her limbs/ waking ritual into metaphor” (from “Bharata Natyam” by A.K Ramanujan). Or if I had been a rasika in the audience, returning home enraptured by the aesthetic experience of the performance, I would have described this moment as defined by the concept of rasa, “pure, indivisible, self-manifested, compounded equally of joy of consciousness, free of admixture of any other perception, the very twin brother of mystic experience” (from Sahitya Darpana by Viswanathaaviraja).
But I was a nine-teen year old theatre student from Spain, and I had no words then to explain what happened to me on that specific day, the 20th of February of 1994, at the Khajuraho Dance festival. My entire life changed, when I saw Alarmel Valli´s enthralling Bharata Natyam dance that evening. After that unforgettable performance I took a train from Khajuraho to Chennai, her hometown, and knocked at her door to inquire whether she would accept me as her student. Following her suggestion, I ended up applying for admission at Kalakshetra College in Thiruvanmiyur, Chennai, and few months later had a letter from ICCR granting me a scholarship, stating that I could start the journey of my life in dance.
As a theatre student in Spain I had to fight to convince my family to accept my decision to become an artist. And if that was not already difficult enough, my firm determination to study dance in India was to become an even greater challenge. I called my parents over the phone from an ISD booth in Chennai, and when I informed them about my decision it was a rather heavy blow for them as I was still a teenager, and this was India, thousands of miles away from home.
Of course, I did tell them I had applied for a scholarship, which gave more credibility to my new adventure, and so I have to acknowledge ICCR for having given me such a great opportunity in my life. In the context of a young student, as was my case, to pursue a dream like this, so far away from home, and at the same time to be able to certify my studies in India with the support of a scholarship, this meant a lot.