DNA of Dance

By Sara Baur Harding |

Every so often, there is a seemingly random moment that we may pass by but instead pay attention to – and this is how OUR story began. For a period of time I was driving an unreasonably long distance for the sensory and warming pleasure of Indian fast food at Indian Sweets & Spices in Woodland Hills. It may be relevant that I had just come to the conclusion of several unsatisfying creative projects and I was seeking some kind of poetic comfort. Yoga and eating are always a good place to turn.

One day, I made a concerted effort to go back into the store to write down the telephone number and web address from a small flier requesting dance students for an unfamiliar classical Indian dance Mohiniyattam. I had no idea what this meant. Only several weeks later did I find the number in my book and decided to inquire about classes. When the lovely voice of Vijayalakshmi answered she said I would be her first American student and that we would practice twice a week as the students do in India. Not wanting to disappoint her I agreed with this plan. So once again I headed off the mountain of Topanga to the vast valley, this time up the 101 to a suburb in Agoura Hills, where I would try to learn a dance I had never heard of. From the moment Vijayalakshmi opened the door we became friends.

Months later, her mother, guru and dance legend Bharati Shivaji’s first trip to L.A. prompted my husband Urs and I to turn on the camera. So, on one exceptional Southern Californian afternoon Bharati and Vijajaylakshmi, “Bubbli” spoke openly and fondly about the many challenges and privileges their unique dance form Mohiniyattam has brought to their lives. What started out as a short film eventually led to a much larger project, documenting rehearsals in the heart of Delhi to a performance in a shutter-clad colonial style theater in Chennai and back in time to the birth place of Mohiniyattam in Kerala. Additionally, Bubbli’s fifteen year old daughter Nayantara joined us and we were able to meet the grandmother Sankari, bringing together four generations of women, all of whom have shown us the possibility of grace.

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