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Leena Mohanty

Unifying the body and the soul. A scientific exploration.

Mohanty, Leena: "Unifying the body and the soul. A scientific exploration" 14th International Congress on Dance Research, Aridaia, Greece, 13-17/9, 2000.

1. Introduction

Dance is an expression of human feelings. But it is different from any movement employed in daily life. It rather concentrates upon the stylisation of movements. It is an expressive action - special, rhythimic, dynamic. Dance thrives on living experiences. Any dance style and the symbols used in it are derived from the people belonging to that particular place. It is transmitted from generation to generation and modified throughout according to the changes in social conditions. Dance involves exaggeration - stretching of joints and tendons and movements of the body beyond what is comfortable and easy. So, the body of the dancer is special. But, the movements are in turn controlled by the mind. So, the mind of the dancer should be focussed, concentrated and alert.

Before going into the intricacies of any classical dance style a dancer should have a thorough knowledge about his body, which is his primary instrument. Then only he can try to go beyond the limitations imposed on his body in a gradual, steady and rational way.To achieve this extraordinary state, he has to train his body and mind. This training process should have clarity of thought and action.

2. Aim of the research

To develop a training methodology, i.e. a more systematic process to condition the body and the mind of the dancer.

3. Ojectives

- Understanding the human body, to become aware of the various body parts and their possible range of movements.

- Developing a set of exercuses based on Yogasanas, Martial dance (Chhau) and classical dance (Odissi), of Orissa and other life and art forms with reference to the psycho-physiological reactions in the daily lives of the people.

- Initiating emotional involvement by trasforming the experiences, observations and interactions into memory for realising the situation and then expressing it.

4. Methodology

In order to achieve the above objectives, a thorough knowledge about the techniques involved in Yogasanas, Chhau dance and Odissi dance was necessary. So, I took training in Yogasanas and learnt the technique of Chhau dance. Analysis of the movements in Odissi dance was carried out. It was necessary to train the body so that the vigorous movements of Chhau and the subtlety of Odissi dance could be carried out with equal ease.

5. Observations

5.1. Yogasanas

According to Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, "Yoga is an art of opening the unconscious parts of our being,which will enable us to feel the direct touch of cosmic consciousness, nay, sometimes inspire ourselves with the touch". Yoga helps us to discipline and understand the movements of our body and mind. Yoga has laid down psycho-somatic processes which help to harmonise and integrate the individual. An insight into Yogasana (postural training) helps to understand the how and why of the movements carried out by our body; Pranayam (breathing techniques) helps to control the bioenergy; Kriyas (hygeinic processes) helps in taking care of our internal and external organs. Yoga also helps to bring about neuro-muscular relaxation and increased energy level leading to mental poise and emotional stability.

5.2. Martial art form (Chhau dance)

A folk, tribal, martial or classical dance form grows from the nature and the environment. It owes its existence to the people, their culture, their way of doing things, their attitude towards their lives, their language, their expressions, their work and their reactions, their myths, their religion and their physical environment. According to Sri Jibanananda Pani, the word “Chhau” means "to attack or hunt stealthily". These words are linked with war. So, Chhau is a war dance. The Mayurbhanj Chhau is dominated by powerful and passionate movements. The style is intense, dynamic, yet soft and lyrical. The dance is inspired by the various facets of nature. Chhau dance is subbordinated to the foot work and body flexions as the movement of hands is often restricted by the holding of some weapons or other. The dancer communicates his inner feelings through his footwork and gestures of the body. The dancer has to increase his stamina and to store energy, which is required while carrying out the vigorous movements of Chhau. Body fitness is the primary requirement and exercises are developed accordingly.

5.3. Classical dance form (Odissi)

According to “Abhinaya Darpan”, dancing can be classified into three categories: a) Natya (drama). b) Nritya (gesticulation) and c) Nritta (pure dance, without any meaning). Dance can also be classified as either Tandava (the masculine and vigorous) or Lasya (the feminine and soft).

The Nritta technique involves the law and methodology of human movements. Here, the stance or pose is important. The movements originate in a basic stance and culminate in the same. Indian classical dance forms try to acheive the perfect postures. In Odissi, the characteristic posture is 'tribhanga'. It is acheived by a sharp deflection of the hip, and opposite deflection of torso and the head deflecting in the same side as the hip. Footwork (flat and toe-heel contacts) is dominant. The various movements with heel contact is distinctive of this style. Another basic stance is the 'chauka'. Chauka is a square position where the hand bent at the elbow is at right angle to the upper arm. There is a gap of one foot between the two feet, and the knees are outturned in squatting position. Most of the movements in Odissi are carried out in this position. The movements again depend on rhythm (tala). It depends on rhythm to create variations in movements and postures. Working in space is carried out in different directions and at different levels.

The Nritya (gesticulation) technique involves 'abhinaya' or expression, expression of the inner feelings in front of the audience. It involves movements of hands and face. Stress is laid on facial expressions to convey the mood. Hence, the 'Natyasastra' deals in detail with the movement of eyes, eyebrows, eyeballs, which help to express the sentiment.

6. Result: the training methodology

The training methodology comprises the physical aspect and the emotional aspect. Physical exercises are meant to improve:

- Agility: The ability to change the level and direction of body movement with control.

- Balance: The ability to maintain a static and dynamic equilibrium of the body parts and the body as a whole.

- Power: The ability to effect the optimal level of force in muscle growth over a minimum time period.

- Reaction time: The ability to select a neuromuscular response with minimal time delay, changing the response at intervals.

- Speed: The ability to perform selected movements quickly and to sustain the rate of performance.

- Coordination: The ability to perform a range of movements with kinesthetic awareness, combining movements with accuracy, rhythm and timing, in a continuous sequence.

Emotional fitness is: a) A healthy response to physical activity through a fulfilment of basic needs. b) The release of tension through suitable physical activities. c) The ability to get involved and be happy.

The physical aspect of training includes:

- Understanding our body trough: Meditation or concentration; Control over breath (pranayama); Knowledge about the musculo-skeletal system.
- Physical exercises exploring the range of movements that can be carried out by the human body: Movement of the major limbs (angas), i.e. head, hands, chest, waist, hip, legs. Foot contacts (flat and toe-heel contacts).

Structure of physical exercises

Conditioning: One should have the right frame of mind in order to carry out any activity. There may be conflicting ideas or thoughts. To get rid of all these agitations of the mind, an attempt is to be made to compose the mind through a process of conditioning. A proper mood is created by way of inwardness. The mind too is quietened down and is more receptive. This conditioning is best acheived by sitting in a meditative pose.

6.1. Sukhasana (the easy pose). Posture: To sit in crosslegged position with heels below the thighs and maintaining spine erect. The abdomen is drawn in a little, shoulders drawn a little backward, arms relaxed, palms on knees. Attention should shift from different parts of the body, head and neck are brought slowly on breathing and simply watching passively one's own breathing rhythm without interference.

6.2. Pranayama (control of bioenergy). Respiration is concerned not only with the breathing and lung structure but also with the blood stream since oxygen is supplied to the blood via the respiratory system. Breathing is correlated to mental and emotional life. When you are agitated, breathing is fast, jerky, short and uneven and when calm, it is smooth, even, rhythmic. Harmonious and rhythmic breathing quietens the mind and brings about mental equilibrium. Power of concentration improves with much less disturbance and distraction. Every exercise should be carried out rhythmically. First in a slow pace, then in a medium pace and finally in a fast pace.

6.3. Flexibility: a) Free and brisk walking. b) Shaking of the body. In this phase care should be taken not to introduce complex exercises. Simple repetition and concentration on rhythm is emphasised.

6.4. Extension of the range of movements to the entire body: The exercises are carried out in a sequence from head to toe. Body parts involved:

- Head and neck (to and fro movements, side to side movements and rotational movements).

- Shoulder and arms (rotation of shoulder girdle, full rotation of arms, up and down stretching of arms).

- Torso movements (right, left, front, back and rotational movement of the torso).

- Waist (frontal, backward and sidewise bending from the waist and rotation of the body from the waist upwards, keeping the lower half fixed).

- Legs and thighs (shifting of weight from one leg to the other, extending one leg, bending the other at the knee, where the whole weight is concentrated, and the reverse).

Note: All these exercises are to be carried on rhythmically, first at a slow pace (bilambita laya), then at double speed (madhyama laya) and then double that speed (druta laya).

6.5. Steps amd exercises to give an insight into the classical Odissi dance:

- Jumps-Utplavanas: Vigorous jumps where the body is thrown up and the legs touch the hips; jumps where the body is thrown up and the knees bend forward and curled in front; also jumps to the sides.

- Steps (The basic postures of Odissi dance are 'Chauka' and Tribhangi', as mentioned earlier). Footworks are carried out in these basic stances, according to the rhythm (tala). Here stress is given on foot contact (which may be flat, toe or heel contacts). These steps involve various movements of the feet, body, hand and face.The steps are also divided according to the number of beats. Practice of these steps follows the rhythm in various tempos.

- Movements: The Indian classical dancer tries to achieve abstract and geometrical patterns from the key joints of knee, hip and shoulder, so that movement emerges in both the lower and upper limbs. The neck joint is the pivot for movement of the head and face.

- Pirouttes-Bhramaris: Various types of circular turns or pirouttes are carried out where the dancer might be making circles on the ground, balancing her body on one leg or making circular jumps and returning to the basic stance of 'chauka'.

6.6. Warm down. This phase is essential for restoring normality in the body, the movements mostly involve stretching in the lower limbs at a slower pace).

6.7. Relaxation-Sabasana (A corpse posture): The technique consists in lying supine, motionless, like a corpse, with arms and legs extended to their full length, and to offer no resistance against the pull of gravity. The process is to draw attention in stages starting from the feet and slowly working upto the head, leading to a deep state of relaxation. This especially restores and recoups energy and re-invigorates the whole body in a minimum of time. Integrated physical action leading to sheer poetry of movement creating a sense of joy.

Emotional involvement: A performance can never be satisfactory without emotional involvement. A stage comes where the scientific temperament becomes inadequate and the journey beyond is of an internal form which can be determined by the spiritual temperament. It involves a process of transformation of the experiences, observations and interactions into memory, their realisation and finally their expression. According to Bharata's Natyashastra, the Nritya or Abhinaya technique involves mostly the hands and face, movements of the minor limbs (upangas), i.e. eyeballs, eyes, eyebrows, nose, mouth, chin; convey the mood to the audience.Then comes the movement of the major limbs.The use of feet is according to the demand of the theme. Hand, gestures are vividly used since Indian classical dance forms are mostly symbolic. There are endless possibilities of hand movements and it is the vehicle of an entire language of gesticulation. According to Nandikesvara, "where the hand goes, eyes follow: where the eye goes, there the mood (bhava) follows and where the mood goes there arises the sentiment (rasa). The dancer is trained by developing exercises and games which enables him to try and begin by working from inside, both on the factual and imaginary parts and put like into all the imaginary circumstances and actions until he is completely satisfied with the sence of truth and until he has awakened a sense of faith in the reality of his sensations. Psychological games: Involves development of: Imagination; Impersonation; Clarity of thought; Training to transform thought into action; A total emotional involvement blended with rationalisation.

7. Conclusion

The research work is intended to be collectively put into testing and retesting in order to develop a more systematic process to condition the body and soul of the dancer: To merge the body and soul into a single vital force in a highly conscious and rational process.

References

Iyengar, B.K.S.: The art of Yoga.

Marg. A magazine of the arts, vol. 22.

Mille, Agnes de: The book of the dance.

Nath, Pt. Shambhu: Speaking of Yoga.

Vatsyayan, Kapila: Indian classical dance.

Vatsyayan, Kapila: Classical Indian dance in literature and the arts.

Author's biography

Leena Mohanty is a professional Odissi dancer. At present, she is involved in her own institute “Bansi Bilas”, where she works with children to shape up their body and mind and make them understand the nuances of Odissi. She is also imparting training on movements in “Mukti”, a contemporary theatre group. She has been awarded the title of “Singarmani” and is receiving a fellowship from the Department of Culture, Government of India. She has performed widely in major dance festivals of India. Leena, a graduate in Physics and later a master in Business Administration with a brilliant academic record, chose dance as her medium of expression.

Ms. Leena Mohanty

 

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