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In Conversation With Sheejith Krishna, Dancer, Choreographer, Sahrdaya Foundation

Nirmala Garimella

Sheejith Krishna is India's leading Dancer and Choreographer,also the Director of Sahrdaya Foundation.

 Sheejith Krishna studied, then taught, at Kalakshetra Foundation, the world-renowned institution for the classical arts in Chennai, India, for 21 years. Now an independent artiste and choreographer, he has learnt Bharatanatyam, percussion, and vocal music from such stalwarts as Sarada Hoffman, Vikku Vinayakaram, and S Rajaram.

He choreographed and directed for the Kalakshetra Repertory, the innovative Masquerade, an adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’s Man in the Iron Mask in the idiom of Bharatanatyam, to critical and popular acclaim. He received a national production grant from the Government of India’s Ministry of Culture in 2015 for his original Bharatanatyam adaptation of Don Quixote that toured India and USA extensively. He is the recipient of the Sangeet Natak Akademi’s prestigious Ustad Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskar (2007), Sri Krishna Gana Sabha’s Yagnaraman Award for Excellence in Dance (2010), and the Ram Gopal Award for Best Male Dancer (AttenDANCE, 2015). He choreographed the dance sequences for Ang Lee’s Academy award-winning motion picture, Life of Pi.  Sheejith has also taught workshops and courses for prestigious organizations and choreographed solo and group productions for many eminent artistes around the world.

 You can watch Sheejith Krishna’s solo presentation (first one in the Boston area) on August 17th at 3:45pm at Lexington Christian Academy, 48 Bartlett Ave, Lexington, MA 02420. For tickets contact: Soumya Rajaram – soumya.raj.02@gmail.com

 How did you first become interested in dance?

 When I was young,  wanted to learn music, to sing and play mridangam! I didn’t really want to study dance. My main source of inspiration is my teacher Sarada Hoffman. She taught me throughout at Kalakshetra Foundation, directed my interest towards dance through her unconditional teaching. She opened me up to feel and enjoy the values and beauty of dancing.

Did you family support you in your decision of becoming an artist?

 Yes. It was my parents’ decision to send me to Kalakshetra Foundation. While my attitude to dance changed over time, I never dreamed in those early, rebellious years, that I would receive at Kalakshetra the ideal education that every child in the world should obtain.

Share with us the most memorable moment during your tenure at Kalakshetra

 How can I choose? Each experience was special. When I joined Kalakshetra in 1989, rather than consciously learning particular aspects of life or art, I would go around in a dreamy, almost vague way, unconsciously absorbing my environment: the trees, plants, creepers, birds… I was drinking everything in without thinking too much.  I was not enjoying the luxury of my environment, rather, embracing its essential simplicity. This unconscious assimilation of everything around me—nature, humanity, art—is what I deeply value about my student years.

 You are a well trained percussionist and a musician. How do you think they impact your choreography?

 I cannot separate percussion and music into two different categories. Music and dance are similarly inseparable.  They value each other. At the very least, you need to have good listening capacity or liking towards music to create good choreography. You don’t need to be a brilliant singer. But developing true taste towards music will change your approach.  Without music,  I cannot imagine choreography, except under specific circumstances. You need to be sensitive to sound, too, the variations and aesthetics.

 You have choreographed many traditional Bharatanatyam pieces and at the same time you have created a production like Don Quixote. What drives you to create across such a broad spectrum? 

 With any art form, there is no limit to creative expression. If you know the vocabulary well, you know how to wonder and experiment.  You need no new alphabets, no new inventions. 

 There is a lifetime of possibility with the alphabet you already know, to arrive at better words and better sentences.  You need passion, skill, love, and respect.  You need to understand how far you can travel within the vocabulary without repetition or imitation. if you ask why Don Quixote I will simply say that the book and the character are very human. Simply human.

Choreography is feeling. It is a vehicle for bhava, emotion, a fundamental concept in Indian poetics and a fundamental aspect of life. It is the ability to feel deeply, and translate feelings into a language that others can readily understand. It is the desire to communicate feelings across cultures and communities.

Bharatnatyam is simply a beautiful language with which to convey your emotions and feelings, to imagine a better world, all together, and to feel connected to the world around us.

All humans have stories and feelings to convey. In the novel by Miguel Cervantes, Don Quixote is a character who is very human, a man who truly dares to dream. Sure, he has his flaws. In that, he is no different from any of us. 

For me, the universe is one. I don’t belong solely to one country. I belong to mother earth. You may need a visa to go to Spain from India, but you don’t need one to relate to a story from Spain.  Don Quixote belongs to all of us.

 Tell us about your presentation on August 17th at The Lexington Christian Academy

 I am performing some of my own compositions which are personal favourites as solo presentations at the Lexington.  These pieces reflect my core purpose -- where I can communicate with others about love, caring, preserving traditions and the sacredness of life through this beautiful language Bharatnatyam.

 I am delighted that my student Soumya Rajaram is also presenting some of my choreography.

 You are a leading performer and quite busy with your schedule. What made you create Sahrdaya Foundation?

 My schedule is packed because I created Sahrdaya Foundation. I love being busy with Sahrdaya!  It’s my aim in life to share through Sahrdaya what I want to share to a world of like-hearted, like-minded sahrdayas.

At Sahrdaya, we emphasize humility, goodness, and a love for humanity as a first step for any artist. We strive to create an open-ended creative forum for artistes, students, teachers, and audiences while maintaining classical standards of excellence.  Growing Sahrdaya Foundation fulfils my main purpose as an artist or dancer.


What advice would you give to students of dance who want to make a career as a performer?


If you want to be a good dancer, be a good human being first, and a good artist next.  Cultivate a good eye for everything around you, in life and in art.  Sharpen your sense of aesthetics: texture, colour, light, shade, sound, smell, taste, your sense of the whole. Absorb everything around you.  If you have that eye, that vision, if you lose yourself in the appreciation of the greater whole, your dance will shine.

But do we really establish this kind of vital foundation for learning in our practice? Between friends and students we should stimulate the kind of dialogue and discussion that can shape our lives and our art.  We should be softer, more open, ready for new experiences and ideas, whether simple or complex.  Only then will doors open.  You will be at peace, ready to receive dance and music.  To me, that is bhakti.  I feel that bhakti always.

Do you think in todays world we have sufficient audience for live performances of traditional arts?


At times, we fail to create a good audience. For that, one (the artist or performer) needs to be more attentive, careful, watching each and every step, knowing that art has a vital role in creating a better world.


Yes, I still have hope. 


What is the purpose of dance?


Through dance, through art,  we access a specialised language through which we can communicate unconditionally. And this communication helps develop more sensitivity or better connections with nature and those living all around us. One can become more sensitive to nature and beauty, towards love. Art has its power. We should dance about that quality. We should dance to create that capacity. Our epics, stories, and poems should move us in new ways, gain more relevance,  through the form of dance. We should not limit our actions only to depict dharma winning over adharma through Krishna and Kamsa, Siva and the demon, or Parvathi and Mahisha. Instead, we should make people think about the dhvani (deeper resonances) of these stories.


We should make our audience imagine and wonder and look at the world, for all good.  We should strive to be artists in the broad sense with whatever we are doing. Also, we as artists must pay attention to the world around and beyond us, be aware of every leaf, every creeper, every insect, every bird, every fish, every single creature that lives.  We should also be  aware of the legacies and lessons of human history. Cultivating empathy, being a true sahrdaya, is the need of the hour.  If we work together to protect and preserve our humanity, our humanness, our humaneness, creativity will flower.  It will flower in every child and every student.  It will uplift hearts and minds. It will heal us.


Can such lofty ideals really be achieved? I believe they can. Rigorous training in core content and technique are the foundation for learning. But simultaneously, we must cultivate wide-ranging exposure to the arts and the world beyond.  


I hope that, wherever we are,  friends, fellow artists, and students, we can talk to each other.  We should have the kind of dialogue and discussion that can shape our lives and our art. We should be softer, more open, more humble, ready for new experiences and ideas, whether simple or complex. Only then will doors open.  Only then can we see parallels between our own experiences and those of others, in our lives and our art.

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