In the Studio | En Studio

Janak Khendry

By Megan Andrews, David Hou
  • Janak Khendry Dance Company in rehearsal / Photos by David Hou

Janak Khendry is an internationally renowned classical dancer, choreographer and the artistic director of the Janak Khendry Dance Company. He has trained extensively in four distinct dance styles of India: bharatanatyam, kathak, sattriya, manipuri and also in western modern dance. Khendry’s choreographic career started in 1961 in Hyderabad, India, and he has performed around the world, including five command performances for two past Presidents of India. Khendry has a Master’s degree in sculpture from Ohio State University. His works have been exhibited and are in private collections in India, the United States, Canada and Europe.

Janak Khendry Dance Company presents GANGA from September 17th through 20th at the Fleck Dance Theatre, Toronto.

In addition to your training in four different Indian dance styles, you also trained in modern dance. How does this complement your Indian dance practice?

I studied modern dance as part of my Master’s degree program in sculpture at Ohio State University, Columbus. The focus of my modern dance study was Graham, Limon and Cunningham techniques. What fascinated me about the modern dance was the floor technique of Graham, the emotional impact of Limon and the powerful-expanded movements of Cunningham. I have studied several Indian dance styles and with study of each new style I become aware of the potential of the human body and the beauty of each new form. The study of modern dance was a very special experience because it was completely different than any dance style I had studied before. In my current choreography it gives me a great deal of understanding of the movement and flexibility to merge different dance styles. If used properly and with understanding then all dance styles complement each other.

With respect to your training as a sculptor, how does this background influence your approach to choreography?

The study of sculpture has given me very deep understanding of form, space and movement, which I use in my choreography with great freedom. In my choreography I see the human body as a moving and alive sculpture. Due to my study and knowledge of sculpture, the space has become very important for my choreography. My choreographic works can be viewed from front, back, sides and above. Each view is equally interesting.

For the past eighteen years, you’ve been conducting research into ancient Indian scripture, seeking philosophical ideas to take up in your dance work. How have you developed these themes choreographically?

At this point in my choreographic life, I want to create works that have a universal message. The reason I am searching information in ancient Indian scripture is because the sages who compiled these scriptures had a universal vision. The themes I have handled so far have been about non-violence, human equality, self realization, life, light and creation - to name a few. Though some of my works are connected with the different religions of India, I do not look at them from the religious point of view. I never use the word religion in my work. I always search for the real message that is below the surface. It is that search below the surface that takes so much research time for each of my works. After extensive research and reading, several hundred verses are selected - which are very carefully edited keeping the most essential ones, then a script is prepared. The most challenging part is giving a concrete and sequential form to an abstract subject. Once we are satisfied with the script and are confident that the audience will receive the message we are trying to convey, a copy of the script is sent to the music composer.

How do you work with scholars and researchers? I want to understand more concretely this aspect of your preparatory work.

I work very closely with the scholars, anywhere from two to four years, depending on the subject we are dealing with. We meet quite frequently for three- to four-hour sessions and discuss the subject on several levels and I constantly take notes. They recommend books and I also keep searching for books on the subject. Most of the subjects I have been choreographing recently are very abstract subjects. To present them as dance works is a huge challenge. I have to create a sequential order for the audiences to understand what I have created. To be able to do this, I have to have the inside-out knowledge and understanding of the subject. These subjects have different meanings at different levels and to understand them, the serious discussions with the scholars are imperative. One cannot always find all the information in books, so one has to depend on the accumulative knowledge of the scholars. I have been very lucky to have contact with some of the most brilliant minds in the field.

You like to work with dancers from different disciplines. For GANGA (The River Ganges), how many dancers are involved and what are their primary training backgrounds?

Yes - I love to work with dancers of several different disciplines. For me it is a challenge to create dance movements that all dancers can perform comfortably and with ease. The dancers I work with are very special to me because they carry forward my creative dreams to the public. They become a very important part of my life. For GANGA I am working with seventeen dancers of African, modern, bharatanatyam, kathak, odissi, mohini attam and kathakali dance styles. They are excellent dancers. The dancers themselves enjoy working with colleagues of different disciplines.

Do you consider GANGA to be a work about environmental awareness or is this angle secondary to the river’s historical and cultural significance in the dance work?

GANGA was started for its historical and cultural importance and I have found the most incredible amount of information about the river on many different levels. I have travelled and photographed the entire Ganga (Ganges) route of 1600 miles and have been fascinated by its unparalleled beauty, power, moods and colours. During this journey, I also saw to my horror that in certain places this magnificent river has been turned into sewage. Now the environmental issue has become as important as the historical and cultural aspect.

I would like to add that my working relationship with everyone involved with my creative work is very special. My scholars, music directors, dancers, designers, lighting director and photographers are very special to me. From the beginning I share every piece of information with them, I ask for their input and they become a very important part of the creative process and they give me their best.

*A bilingual photo essay on Khendry’s creative process for GANGA appears in the September 2009 issue of The Dance Current.

Janak Khendry Dance Company presents GANGA from September 17th through 20th at the Fleck Dance Theatre, Toronto.

Learn more >>www.jkdanceco.org

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