Rachel Priyanka Perris is a dancer-scholar who has been studying classical dance for years, and is now a researcher of Gaudiya Nritya, a classical dance form of Bengal. She has won many international awards, performed on stages abroad, and is currently doing her M.Phil in Gaudiya dance. In a conversation with The Daily Star, the bright artiste shared her passion, challenges and aspirations.
You have been dancing from a very young age. What still drives you to do more?
Rachel: The credit for that goes to my family. My mother always encouraged me to dance. My parents also took me to films and plays from a very early age, and I developed a liking for my culture. And that I think has led me to focus on Gaudiya dance, which is a classical dance form of Bengal. I came to know about it when Professor Mahua Mukherjee conducted a workshop in Dhaka in 2004. I took a lot of interest in it, and I'm still continuing my work in this field.
Gaudiya is not as popular as some of the other classical dance forms. What are the challenges and advantages of working on it?
Rachel: There are challenges, definitely. Because people don't know about it, so it takes a little time for them to warm up to it. A lot of people think it's a religious matter; but the word Gaudiya comes from Goor (sweet), and from the Gaur region of Bengal. My guru has revived the dance form. So I have to tell people that this is what it is. But the advantage is that no other traditional dance form is in Bengali. Like, Kathak is predominantly in Hindi, Bharatnatyam is in Tamil, but it is easier for them to extract the essence of it, because they understand the language.
What has been your motivation to pursue higher studies in Gaudiya dance?
Rachel: I have been in love with dance from my childhood. When I found out that you can also study about it and make a profession of it, I was not going to let that chance slip. When I went to India to study, I realised dance is not just entertainment; it's also a form of soul-searching. I strongly feel that our country is culturally very rich, but people don't know about a lot of it. If we can incorporate all that into one, we can show the world a complete picture of our culture.
The most memorable of your performances ...
Rachel: The tour of Oslo with Nrityanchal will always be special, to perform at the Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony when Dr. Md. Yunus received the award. The day after, there was a concert that featured celebrities of the stature of Sharon Stone, Angelica Houston, Lionel Ritchie and Rihanna, I'll remember that one too. The other one would be my solo performance at the prestigious Uday Shankar Dance Festival.
Your vision and aspirations with Gaudiya dance?
Rachel: I want people to look at dance as more than an entertainment form, but as an education. There is a lot of influence of the West in our dance and music; there is nothing wrong with that, but knowing your roots is important. If a department of dance is established in our universities, and Gaudiya is a form taught there, it will be a dream coming true. I want the world to know Gaudiya as the dance of Bengal, not of just Kolkata or West Bengal.
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