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‘The experience of living is what dance is’

Abhinay Lakshman |


As she starts to talk about what dance means to her and how she sees the world of movement, veteran dancer Daksha Sheth’s eyes sparkle. At 66, Sheth has already been dancing more than 50 years.

First being introduced to dance through Kathak, she learnt the classical dance form from Kumudini Lakhia. After 20 years of performing Kathak all across India, she became a revolutionary in the contemporary dance circuit.

She was the first choreographer to bring aerial contemporary dance to India. Her works such as Sarpagati and Saree have been performed all over India and abroad.

Raising two children with a husband equally passionate about art and life, Sheth built her career fighting against the tide of negative criticisms coming from conservative aficionados of dance.

Currently based in Kerala, Sheth was in Kolkata recently at Samabhavana, a dance conference that talked about pressing issues that the dance community in India faces. Excerpts:

Q How would you define dance?

As I’ve said, more than dance, I’m more fascinated by movement. But movement can come from anywhere, classical dance, folk dance, ritual dance, ceremonial dance; even the people.

I love vegetable markets. I love fruit markets. I love those smells and the people; the ways the women carry the vegetable and fruit baskets and they walk.

Q As a contemporary dancer, you have created something entirely new out of so many forms that you have come across, experienced, learnt, performed, practised. What would you have to say to audience and critics who fail to understand the essence of contemporary dance?

The thing is you don’t have to understand. When I go to see a dance performance I never want to know what it is. I want to just experience it as it is.

So, when as an audience, rather than trying to intellectualise as to what it is and why it is, you just go and experience it, be there.

Q Your children are now artists in their own ways. How does that make you feel?

Oh, wonderful! Though not even once I told them to follow my profession. They’ve completely decoded us and have created something which is so satisfying to see that they are taking a direction of their own.

Q How did you meet your husband Dev Issaro? What was your relationship with him like?

We never realised that we will be companions in performing arts, but very soon as I explained, Issaro’s vision, because he came from a classical background and his own thirst for music was so intense which actually influenced me.

Whether it is a music programme, whether there is a lecture on philosophy; Jai Krishna Murthy used to come every year to Delhi and I never missed his lectures.

If there are exhibitions of paintings we will be there; if there’s an exhibition on galaxies or astronomy; if there’s an exhibition on textile, we will be there.

Both of us together started going to all the film festivals together and so we were interested in not just performing arts but our interests were so wide and everything about life. We were actually seeking for knowledge.

Once we married in ‘83, I think we both have never separated, for 34 years. We are just companions, partners and co-workers.

Two bodies but one soul– you become so much like just one entity, without even knowing or without even imposing ourselves on each other.

Q So, let’s talk about your move to Kerala.

I went to Kerala once we were in Vrindavan, we were asked to leave.

Q The temple you were living at?

Yeah, the temple we were living in. You know, it’s a very male dominated society and obviously I’m a strong woman and there were reasons that I didn’t agree with what they were telling me.

Q What exactly was the reason?

They wanted me to become their shishya. I don’t want to be; right now I’m not in a stage where I want to choose my initiation guru. That guru has to come to me in some form.

So they didn’t like that. Because we were staying in their place so they said, “Yeah we don’t want you to now live here”. So, I said okay. Now there is some force which is telling now it’s enough. So, time to move. Where do I go with two children and the luggage?

Q What is your philosophy in life and work?

For me, don’t dabble too much in the past, don’t worry too much about future, what you are today if you can make today as a living experience, go for it.