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Shankar Kandasamy – an Appreciation

Dancer Kali Chandrasegaram found his teacher Shankar Kandasamy’s performance at the Bhavan Centre (7 May 2018) brought memories flooding back.

Shankar Kandasamy was one of my dance teachers, around twenty years ago, back in the days when I was training at the Temple of Fine Arts in Malaysia. I remember the classes at his house, on the veranda, before the compassionate eyes of a larger-than-life size statue of Swami Sivananda. Swami Sivananda’s disciple, Swami Shantananda, or Swamiji as we lovingly call him, was the founder of the Temple of Fine Arts. I didn't have the privilege of seeing Swami Sivananda but was blessed with seven years of complete devotion to his disciple Swami Shantananda. Naive was I in my early twenties, with limited capacity to truly understand and appreciate the great words of our Swamiji, but they still resonate today and have got me through the most difficult of moments. His words were so deep and insightful that only since I disengaged from the religious connotations, in recent years, do I fully understand them. Those seven blissful years of being totally immersed in the temple of great souls with dance, music and spiritual teachings have actually shaped me as a human being, led by love. 

The beautiful memories of that time of my life came flooding back when I saw Shankar Kandasamy dancing. (I am going to refer to Shankar Kandasamy as Shankar Anna, ‘elder brother’, as I lovingly call him out of respect, instead of Kandasamy as I do when I write about an artist.) Shankar Anna was not only a teacher but is an inspiration to dance to many, many of us. His teaching, like his dancing, is precise. The depth of his knowledge in dance is immeasurable, pristine – faultless technical execution in every step in every speed, intensely compressed. He is so quick that he can dance five movements in the space of one; and his teaching is interspersed with the lightheartedness of comedy – a quality that is unique to Shankar Anna, and which makes his classes so much fun and as students we love him for that. I have cried so much and laughed so much in equal measure in his classes... only in his classes. 

Shankar Anna's performance at the Bhavan kicked off with ‘Saraswathi Kauthvam’, a beautiful opening describing the goddess Saraswathi as Saptaswara Chaturveda Swaroopini, meaning the goddess who embodies the seven musical notes and the four Vedas. The piece further describes Soham Hamsa Hamsa Soham… identifying oneself with the ultimate reality. 

The item ‘Angayarkanni Varnam’, by Padmashri Lalgudi Jeyaraman, was on the goddess Meenakshi and the Navarasa – nine emotions set to Ragamalika. The various characterisations of each emotion were spot on, but having known Shankar Anna for many years I have never seen the extremities of pride and anger in him – a beautiful quality for a human being, I believe – and those two emotions of valour and anger somehow didn't quite come through.

The third item was ‘Kandanaal Muthal’ in raga Madhuvanth, a popular Tamil song cleverly transformed and adapted for a classical bharatanatyam expressive dance by Shankar Anna. In this dance he portrays how a little girl  falls immensely in love with Lord Muruga when she first casts her eyes on him, when he is taken on a chariot across her home, and on subsequent occasions as she grows up. Shankar Anna's expression was so believable one actually sees the little girl in him. 

The last was my favourite ‘Ardhanareshwara Stotram’, which Shankar Anna said was a response to watching others perform the concept of half man and half woman in one body. He maintained the split halves of the masculine energy on the right and feminine energy on the left throughout the choreography. He carefully crafted movements of duality in one body without compromising or infiltration from one side to the other. He mastered the technique and presented it with such crisp shifts, it was genius!

Shankar Anna to me is a walking encyclopedia of Indian classical dance and culture, a technical genius, a dance magician, a comedian and above all a beautiful divine soul. Although it has been over a month since this memorable performance, the subtlety, the nuances, the brilliance of Shankar Anna's dance are embedded in my head as if I only saw it yesterday. I am biased but I believe in singing the praise of a great artist whose humility pervades and shines through; a true dance gem that never fails to touch the hearts of every being he comes in contact with through his dance; and I am positive that the students at the Bhavan who attended his workshop prior to this performance would agree with me. With open arms and heart we invite him back to the UK with more wondrous and magical moments in dance.

The performance was presented by Vani Fine Arts Society and Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan