I was privileged to attend an extraordinary event this week in Berlin, what Bharatanatyam teacher Rajyashree Ramesh has coined ‘The Berlin Margam’ – a meeting between she and her student Eva Isolde Balzer, ‘graduating’ after seven years study of the classical South Indian style of dance theatre.
‘The margam is a classical repertoire of dance pieces that forms a basic choreographic structure in Bharatanatyam. Historically speaking, the teacher presents a student for the first time to the public upon completion of a margam. The debut contains sociocultural elements like speeches of experts and guests of honour, ceremonial aspects, the honouring of the teacher, etc. Considering its European framework here, Eva’s performance is conceived to illuminate the artistic perspective of dance as a stage art, thus transforming some elements.’
The margam was discussed as a path of transformation and translation, taking into account its relevance and practice today in an European context. Unfortunately in Germany Bharatanatyam suffers a Eurocentric gaze that maginalises it as ‘culturally specific’, ‘ethnic’, ‘exotic’ or placed in the past as an ‘ancient relic.’ Together with Rajyashree Ramesh and Indian Dance Historian Avanthi Meduri, the dance was presented as a historical continuum in a constant process of change.
Eva Isolde Balzer trained previously in contemporary dance and acting and works professionally across Europe, focussing on intimate and inter-disciplinary performances, with a special interest in decolonialisation. I was fortunate to see some of Eva’s other performance work with the excellent Johanna Devi Dance Company in Berlin last year (links to her website and video trailers, below).
Training since 2006 with Rajyashree Ramesh, Eva ‘understands this as a learning process in an epistemic tradition that offers an alternative to Eurocentric dominant practices.’ This critical perspective is further enhanced through her studies in cultural anthropology at Freie Universitat.
The performance was outstanding, garnering a standing ovation for Eva and the superb vocalist Manickam Yogeswaran, expert in Carnatic music, and the musicians R.N.Pratap, Paramalingam Senthil, and Ampalavanar Srinivasan.
The second half of the programme was a symposium, exploring hybrid identities, art and embodiment, looking beyond exoticism. The speakers are listed, below. But what became clear was the significance of this unusual event, and its part of this long continuum, constantly in the process of change.
MARGAM PERFORMANCE WITH EVA ISOLDE BALZER
Dance: Eva Isolde Balzer
Nattuvangam: Rajyashree Ramesh
Vocals: Manickam Yogeswaran
Violin: Paramalingam Senthil
Percussion/Ghatam, Morsing: Ampalavanar Srinivasan
SYMPOSIUM: ART AND EMBODIMENT – LOOKING BEYOND EXOTICISM
Invited Speakers: Prof. Shivaprakash (Director, Tagore Centre of the Indian Embassy), Ashish Mohan Khokar (Indian dance critic and dance historian), Dr. Avanthi Meduri (Indian dance historian), Prof. Martin Puttke (former artistic director of the Deutsche Staatsoper Berlin and the “Aalto Ballett Theater Essen”), Prof. Phillip Zarrilli (scholar and artistic director of The Llanarth Group).
Supported by Werkstatt der Kulturen.
Link for Eva Isolde Balzer:
Link for Johanna Devi Dance Company:
Link for Manickam Yogeswaran:
Link for Rajyashree Ramesh: