If her sheer energy, graceful movements and beautiful poses on stage captivate connoisseurs of Indian classical dance, Shobana’s power-packed performances in more than 200 southern Indian films have also won her critical acclaim, National Awards and a huge fan following in India.
The Kerala-born dancer and actress, who will showcase feminine power and grace through a Bharatanatyam performance titled Shakti (Power) in Dubai on March 6, tells The National about how, for her, dance is a way of life and a celebration, and how 20 years of running her own dance school has been such a fulfilling experience.
How will your dance recital Shakti, which translates as “power”, reflect feminine strength, especially since it is thematically timed to coincide with International Women’s Day on March 8?
Actually, I’m not the kind of person who would dedicate just one day to mark Women’s Day. But in this programme, we look at dedicating the foremost piece to feminine power, which [in Hindu mythology] are Mahakali, Shakti or Durga, who do not symbolise just physical power.
Will we see a coming together of pure classical dance and the contemporary choreography you are known for as well?
No, it will be purely classical, traditional in nature and accompanied by musicians from India.
It has been more than 20 years since you founded Kalarpana, your school for Bharatanatyam, in 1994. How has that journey been?
It’s a profession where you have to build your reputation by word of mouth over the years. You start with a few students and over time you might have one student who really believes in your style. And when that student does well for herself, then you have a few more. So it’s been like a creative chakra, or cycle, for me – the more you teach, the more you internalise the process and structure [of classical dance]. The more you internalise the structure, the more freedom you have to experiment. So it has been a very creative process. You need to really invest lots of your time. After a point, it becomes a way of life. Overall, it’s been a very fulfilling experience.
You founded Kalarpana at the peak of your film career. What motivated you to teach dance at that time?
Because people wanted me to teach. I always thought of dance as a celebration. So if we have 10 people celebrating that spirit, then it’s always better than one. You cannot celebrate alone, can you? It’s just a way of giving back, I guess.
You were known for doing several films a year in the 1980s and 90s. The last powerful role you played was in the 2013 Malayalam hit Thira. What do you look for in a film role now?
There was a time when I did 22 films a year, actually. Nowadays, I look for a theme that instils confidence in me, something that will teach me and give me direction.
You’ve experimented a lot with fusion in dance choreography. At the same time, you’re also known for excelling in the pure, classical form of Bharatanatyam. Do you see any contradictions or dilution?
People who like to see dance, just come to see dance. One cannot say this is good art or bad art because art is art. And classical dance goes a long way back. So for me, tradition is what my teacher taught me, and innovation is what I teach my students. Classical dance has a certain grammar, so if you can use that grammar aesthetically, then that for you is tradition.
What do you look forward to when you take your dance to new places?
I look forward to sharing this art form – not just the dance, but also the music, the poetry and the entire experience. And finally, we are sharing India.
• Shobana will perform Shakti on March 6 at 7.30pm at Dubai Community Theatre & Arts Centre, Mall of the Emirates. Tickets, priced between Dh100 and Dh300, are available from the Ductac box office