Stamp of class
Dancers Shijith Nambiar and Parvathi explain what helps them make their mark as choreographers and performers.
Dance is not just my career; it is a prayer, religion, my life.
In step: Shijith Nambiar and Parvathi are partners in dance and in real life.
It goes without saying that male dancers have always struggled to find a space of their own, or even coexist with the large number of quality female dancers. No surprise then that most boys, even if coerced into dancing at a young age, do not pursue it as a career.
The script was more or less similar for Shijith Nambiar, one of the top male Bharatanatyam dancers in the country today. He did not like dancing. But his father, P. Raghavan Nambiar, who divided his time between teaching and acting, was adamant that his youngest son take up dancing.
“I must have begun dancing seriously from class nine onwards. It was not just Bharatanatyam then. I was trained in Kathakali, Ottanthullal and Kuchipudi,” remembers Shijith, who hails from Kannur.
Soon Shijith began performing and made his mark in the State Schools’ Youth Festival. In 1995, he was the Kalaprathibha at the district level. “It was the same year that Manju Warrier won the Kalathilakam title. I won the first place in Bhartanatyam and Kuchipudi, the first major honours for me. Perhaps, it was a moment that decided my career. At least, my father felt that this would be my career,” he recalls.
Shijith had no clue what to expect at Kalakshetra when his father got him to sign the admission forms immediately after his schooling. “I’m not sure whether I was prepared for Kalakshetra, but once I joined I began to like it.”
It was at Kalakshetra that Shijith blossomed into a true dancer and choreographer. He imbibed the tradition set by Rukmini Devi, in refining the basic steps, making them impressive, evolving a grammar and methodology of his own. At this temple of arts, Shijith met, Parvathi, his life partner.
“Shijith was in his final year when I joined. But he came back to join the faculty,” recollects Parvathi, who belongs to Ernakulam. But marriage was not a smooth ride. “My parents were not sure how we, two dancers, were going to make a living. And both of us were adamant that we would continue dancing.”
For two years after he graduated from Kalakshetra, Shijith associated himself with dance groups in the West Indies, London and the United States. “That was an eye-opener, a different learning experience. Although I performed only Bharatanatyam it was fused into various other forms. In the Caribbean, with a company called Trilogy, it was a fusion with French classical ballet. The theme was ‘Water.’ It was a dance drama, ‘Silapathikaram,’ with the U.S.-Indian Dance Company and in London we did ‘Psyche,’ with a group called Sankalpam,” says Shijith.
For two years Shijith taught at his alma mater. After marriage, along with Parvathi, he formed a group in Chennai. “We would like to be known as a dancing couple. Of course, we do have other dancers, most of them freelancers, in our performances.”
First dance production
Their first dancer production, ‘Krishna,’ received rave reviews. What makes it interesting is the group choreography. Based on popular Krishna kritis such as ‘Krishna nee begane’ in Yamunakalyani and ‘Gaana mazhai,’ both modified by the singers, this is hailed as an inspired work.
“We have taken pains in developing almost every aspect of the production. Music and choreography are just two of them. The aharya (costumes) is simple, elegant and classical. There is a bit of theatrics such as a drum dance, the detailed entry of Krishna and presentation of water in the ‘Kaliyamardhanam’ sequence. We have attempted to make the choreography energetic and dynamic,” explains Shijith.
Unlike some of his predecessors, Shijith has been fortunate that his efforts have won recognition. In 2007, he was conferred the title Yuva Kala Bharathi, for nattuvangam, choreography and dance, by the Chennai-based Bharat Kalachar. “And being picked by Natya Ranga, of Narada Gana Sabha, as one of the five dancers for the five-day festival in December is a huge recognition,” gushes Parvathi.
The festival will have dancers Malavika Sarukkai, Mythili Prakash, Sujatha, Jyotsna and Shijith, along with others, representing five rivers in a theme-based performance called ‘Theertha Bharathi.’ “Brahmaputra is considered to be a male river and I have been entrusted to choreograph a piece. The music for this is by Sreevalsan J. Menon. Now I will have to begin the work,” says Shijith.
From July onwards, Shijith would be conducting classes, eight days every month, at Pallikoodam, Kottayam. He is also working on what he calls his ‘dream project.’
“A fusion of the classical and the contemporary on the theme of rain is on the anvil. The lyrics by P. K. Gopi are ready. Now, I will have to work on the choreography.”
Shijith and Parvathi make a fine dancing couple. But what about the criticism that male dancers survive only as couples or in groups? “As a dancer, one should try to come out on your own merit. I still look out for a chance to give solo performances. Dance is not just my career; it is a prayer, religion, my life.”
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