Dancing outside the body

Moments after stepping foot in New Delhi, Dominique Delorme's gaze fell upon a man on the side of the road.

He had no arms or legs, and he entreated passersby to place money in a bowl placed in front of him. Their gazes locked, and a grin blossomed on the pauper's face. Immediately, gears started turning in the 19-year-old Frenchman's mind.

"I wondered what was inside that person that makes him smile at me, who comes from the West, who has a TV, computers and other things," he said. "I started thinking, 'What's beyond the body? What's beyond the material life?'"

Despite recently being disappointed by and dropping out of medical school, Delorme couldn't shake the feeling that his life was just about to start.

And, in a way, it did.

Deeply influenced by the people and kaleidoscope of cultures encountered during his travels, he returned to Paris and began training in Indian dance. A year later, the budding performer earned a scholarship to live and study in Chennai, a cultural, economic and educational hub in south India.

Three decades have passed, and now Delorme is a master of two classical dance styles — Bharatanatyam and Bharatanrityam — and he is rehearsing rigorously for his upcoming show at UC Irvine's Claire Trevor School of the Arts. He will join actor-director Maya Krishna Rao, Canadian choreographer Hari Krishnan and German dancer Johanna Devi for a performance at Winifred Smith Hall on Saturday.

This ticketed performance comes on the heels of day one at the school of "Dance Conversations: Theatres in Dance," co-convened by Ramya Harishankar and UC Riverside's Priya Srinivasan. The Irvine-based Ektaa Center, Arpana Dance Company and UC Irvine's departments of dance and drama are teaming up to host this first-ever two-day symposium, which has been a year in the making.

"We have been trying to do a number of things to be connected to the community, and one of those things is to be porous and open up to bring new and exciting ideas and people to the campus," said Joseph Lewis, dean of the Claire Trevor School of the Arts. "We are really excited because it's part of the school's mission to be a place where we create new knowledge, train people to create new knowledge, and provide access to and share that new knowledge."

Lewis is keen to look at lndian dance through a different lens and discover how traditions relate to contemporary, modern and postmodern thought. This, he remarked, is a great opportunity to better understand the art form.

Saturday will be marked by three free panel discussions — before the 7 p.m. show — with one following on Sunday. Conversations will center on the use of ancient gestures, performative explorations of Indian dance theater and the future of the craft within global parameters, including war and terrorism.

Harishankar said she has been keen to offer this type of event in an academic environment for years. "Dance Conversations," she noted, will construct a more "universal" dialogue, shared not only with cultural patrons but the community at large.

As the artistic director of Arpana Dance Company, Harishankar, a resident of Irvine, finds that Claire Trevor is the ideal venue. She considers the institution "unique" because it offers training in visual arts, dance, drama, music and other fields. Indian dance is similarly multidisciplinary and encompasses text, sculpture, theater and more.

She is pleased to know that some professors are offering credit to students who attend "Dance Conversations" seminars, adding that in the future, she hopes to attract a larger cross-section of departments — perhaps even engineers.

As a longtime Bharatanatyam practitioner and mentor, Harishankar said she's looking to have an effect beyond local dancers.

"I don't want this to just be a profession where I teach for 30 or 40 years and then I'm gone," she said. "It needs to be more than that. How are you making a difference in your own community? How are you adding value? What is going to happen to these arts when we are not here?"

Toward this end, she wants to build bridges among performers, local organizations and academics so participants can learn from one another. This is imperative, she said, to build an understanding of arts and culture, triggering tolerance and friendship, enhancing enjoyment and enabling increased interaction among communities. Such awareness, for example, has the power to broaden the view of India as a country that houses Bollywood, she said, and it's the same for other ethnicities as well.

And that's what Delorme plans to do.

He will present karnas, dance and theater units of ancient India that had mostly disappeared for about seven centuries. His guru, Padma Subrahmanyam, is credited with reviving the technique by poring over texts and studying postures of temple sculptures, which were then assimilated into movement patterns.

Delorme, who as a devout disciple is overjoyed to showcase her work, doesn't believe that dancing is an intellectual choice. Instead, it has more to do with an inner calling and connection.

"We had to do something together, dance and I," he said. "I was in need of dance. When we met, that was it. And it has remained a form that is absolutely compatible for me."

If You Go

What: "Dance Conversations: Theatres in Dance"

Where: Colloquium Room, 3rd floor, Contemporary Arts Center, Claire Trevor School of the Arts, 4002 Mesa Road, Irvine; Winifred Smith Hall, Building 710

When: Saturday and Sunday (look at website for individual times)

Cost: Panel discussions are free; $50 VIP tickets for performance and reception, $25 general admission for performance only and $20 tickets for seniors and UCI students with ID for performance only

Information: http://www.arts.uci.edu, info@arpanadancecompany.org or (949) 824-2787

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