When Pleats Dance: A run through the glorious ages and styles of Bharatanayam Costumes

Among all the salsas, freestyle forms and the mixed bag of foreign and pop-culture sprouts such as Bollywood style dancing, we’ve somehow lost the sight of our ever so graceful traidtional dance forms such as Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi and Kathak…

Perhaps in an attempt to re-ignite the interest of the young folks or given them a beautiful window of opportunity to learn, Natya Vriksha’s coming up with an exhibition ‘When Pleats Dance’.

The exhibition seeks to trace the history and evolution of Bharatanatyam Dance Costumes over four decades, through mannequins, photographs and costume displays, based on the private collection of costumes and jewellery of renowned classical dancer/choreographer Geeta Chandran, showcasing traditional and contemporary dance costumes.

For the uninitaited, Bharatanatyam is a simple derivation (in Sanskrit) from the four most important aspects of dance. These are: Bha from Bhava meaning emotion, Ra from Raaga meaning music or melody, Ta from Taala meaning rhythm and Natyam meaning dance. Thus Bharatanatyam is the dance that encompasses music, rhythm and expressional dance or Abhinaya and strictly adheres to the Natyashastra (the scripture of classical Indian dance), as explained by Nrityagam.

Here’s a link to a video from Geeta Chandran’s YouTube channel that sees her narrate a tale of Lord Shiva:

The exhibition shows how the cycle-cut pyjama and saree style dance costumes and other early traditional costumes, yield to costumes with a more contemporary touch to match the changing choreographies of classical dance.

The exhibition unveils the process of dance-costume designing through drawings, sketches; fabric samples, colour stories, etc., curated by designer Sandhya Raman at Art Gallery, Kamaladevi Complex, India International Centre, 40 Lodi Estate, New Delhi. Entry is open and free, with a collaboration by Natya Vriksha, Desmania Foundation and India International Centre. 

Danseuse (Padmashri) Geeta Chandran has evolved an atypical holistic style of classical dance that occasionally borders on the contemporary. The costume’s ability to set the requisite tone at the start of a performance, is a moment of discovery, both for the audience, as it is for the dancer. Separated as costume theorised and designed over four distinct decades, the exhibition links dance, aesthetics and sociology, to narrate a different story through familiar and unfamiliar imagery that form four creative dioramas. The ingenious use of traditional fabrics in the costumes in various design styles, is further embellished with numerous drapes, making for a most remarkable design and visual journey. The dancer’s innovative choreography and desire to enhance her visual vocabulary and aesthetic construct, throws further light on creative collaborations which form a compelling narrative to this novel display.

To illustrate the link between movement and costume, dance demonstrations by senior dancers of Natya Vriksha have been scheduled at 6:30 p.m. on June 12th, 13th, 19th and 20th. Through the performances, curator Sandhya Raman wishes to show / demonstrate how movement brings  costume design alive for dance. Thus, Sandhya Raman’s endeavour in ‘When the Pleats Dance’ resonates with the synergy between the Dance and the Costume. Sandhya Raman cut her design teeth at the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad and has worked with dancers of national and International repute. She has worked with Malvika Sarrukai, Mallika Sarabhai, Leela Samson, Jonathan Hollandar, Aditi Mangal Das, Anita Ratnam and Geeta Chandran amongst others.


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