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 Yangon, June 27 and July 3, 2005

The dance is not a dream,
it is Janak Khendry’s life

By Aung Kyaw and Moe Moe Oo

"I DO not dream of becoming a dancer. I am a dancer and have always been a dancer. Dance is the ultimate reality, not a dream, of my life," said Mr Janak Khendry, who has been devoted to dance for more than forty five years.

He has given more than a thousand performances in various parts of the world including five command performances for two past Presidents of India, Dr. Rajendra Prasad and Dr Radhakrishnan.

He said, "I did not decide to learn dance, but dance decided to become the most important part of my life."

He was born in Amritsar, Punjab, India. His formal dance training started when he was nine years old. For six years he studied Kathak dance style from Pandit Mahadev Kathak and for two years Manipuri dance style from Mrs. Aruna Gandhi. His Bharatanatyam dance training started in 1955 and is still going on. He has had the great honour of studying Bharatanatyam under the greatest Gurus of the 20th century - Swami Muttukumar Pillai, Mr. TK Narain, Mr. and Mrs. US Krishna Rao, Mrs. Kalanidhi Narayanan and Guru Kittapa Pillai. He also studied Modern Dance for two years at the Ohio State University.

He excels at choreographing works based on very rare philosophical subjects that have never been tried as dance works, blending several different Indian classical dance styles and creating a new and powerful dance vocabulary. He said, "One needs the knowledge and the understanding of several dance styles and very strong powers of observation, to be able to create a dance vocabulary. The subject you are (cont.)choreographing, and the dancers who are performing, and their training play a vital role."


His professional choreographic career started in 1961 when he was invited to choreograph a dance drama BASANT for Tagore's centenary celebrations. With the passage of time Khendry's works are becom?ing deeper in their philosophical approach.

He said, "There are the several reasons why my works are becom?ing deeper. In my way of thinking there are two ways an artist can work - either horizontally or vertically. The horizontal process is that you keep on doing what you are good at and comfortable with. The vertical process is that you keep climbing the steps of creation – sometimes you fall down or miss a step - but you keep trying and keep climbing.

I have chosen to climb the steps of creation vertically. Besides I do not like to create works based on the subjects that have been danced. At this point in my dance career I want to create works that have some universal mes?sage that I can convey to my audiences around the world through my dance creations. I also feel very strongly that we human beings have to reach out and touch each other and develop a better understanding for each other."

When Khendry is not creating, he is constantly choreographing the tradi?tional Bharatanatyam repertoire for the Janak Khendry Dance Company which has more than 125 woks in its active repertoire.

 

 

 

 

 

He said, "My choreographic process starts with the selection of a rare philosophical theme that has never been danced before but has a universal message. After that comes the extensive process of research from one to four years or more, depending on the complexity of the subject. My choice of the music director is the next step. After the creation of the music, l listen to it for several weeks without creating a single step."His recent works have stressed the messages of non-violence, self-discipline, human-equality and peace.

Khendry is recipient of several very prestigious grants and awards: Nizam's Grant and Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in India. In Canada he has received Toronto Arts Council; Ontario Arts Council; Laid law Foundation; Ministry of Culture, Citizenship and Recreation; The Canada Council for the Arts and Canada's Year of Asia Pacific grants.

His four-day visit to Myanmar, the neighbour of his motherland, last month was his first and was really short. But he made good use of it by lecturing at a workshop on Indian and Myanmar classical dances at the Yangon University of Culture, learning Myanmar cultural and traditional dance and visiting Bagan, the archaeological treasure house of Myanmar.

He said, "I loved Myanmar and I had the most interesting and culturally fulfilling experience. I was touched by the kindness of the people, the art and the ancient monuments in Yangon and Bagan. I found the classical dances beautiful, graceful and very well presented. I was very impressed by the discipline and the standard of the students of the University of Culture in Yangon.

"I would love to come back to Myanmar, perhaps for a longer visit. I would very much like to present some of my dance creations. Also I would like to spend extended time with the dance students and the excellent faculty of the University of Culture."

 

 

 Calgary's News & Entertainment Weekly, November, 2005

A Vertical Artist

by DIPTI CHAKRAVORTY

GAYATRI & MOODS OF THE RHYTHMS
Janak Khendry Dance Company

 

Presented by Raga Mala Music Society
Friday, November 18, 2005
University Theatre (U of C)

When he is not rehearsing, he is composing. When he is not touring, he is researching. Janak Khendry, artistic director of Toronto’s Janak Khendry Indian dance company, wishes a day had 48 hours so he could perform, choreograph, travel and teach without constantly racing against time.

The veteran dancer, whose career spans more than five decades, will be touching down briefly in Calgary with his troupe to perform two of his works. Khendry typically delves into difficult, esoteric subjects – some historical, others deeply spiritual – and for this performance he’ll be bringing Gayatri, his dance based on the sacred Gayatri mantra (a Vedic prayer to sharpen the intellect).

Khendry says he has dreamed of dancing to Gayatri ever since he was a teenager living in Amritsar, India. At five, he learned the mantra from his mother, reciting it diligently without quite understanding its power or significance. Years passed, and Khendry finished his graduate studies in sculpture and art history at Ohio State University, but the idea of presenting Gayatri through dance still nudged him occasionally.

However, giving creative shape to a 24-syllable mantra with no storyline was a bold, challenging venture – something no one had attempted before. It wasn’t until one day in Toronto, where he was working on The Life of Mahavira, a work about the founder of Jainism, that inspiration struck like a bolt of lightning. "I might sound old-fashioned," he says. "There is always a right time for things to happen.

"When you’re dealing with works like the Gayatri, you have a serious responsibility to keep the sanctity," he adds, on the phone from his home in Toronto.

To ensure factual accuracy, he hired a scholar who helped with the research.

In the planning stages, Khendry debated whether the piece would be performed solo or as a group. His dilemma ended soon after when he came across a passage on Gayatri is Chaturanga, or its four limbs, and realized the work should be choreographed for four dancers.

Once the research was complete and music recorded, Khendry listened to the score over and over again until it seeped into his psyche. Standing in his studio, he imagined he was in a temple. He extended his auspicious right arm to begin the ritual of paying obeisance to the Supreme. From there a stream of movements flowed in synchronization and the 73-minute piece was entirely built on right-hand choreography.


In his choreography, Khendry dips into Bharatnatyam, Kathak and Manipuri, blending the South and North Indian styles to create a fusion unparalleled by others. But some of his pieces also have traces of modern dance, reflecting his studies in Columbus, Ohio, where he learned the Graham, Limon and Cunningham modern-dance techniques.

Every year, he choreographs two or three new works and revives old ones. While themes and music remain the same, dance routines change. Moods of the Rhythms, the other piece to be performed in Calgary, debuted about 10 years ago. After about 20 performances, it was shelved to make room for new productions until Music Gallery in Toronto recently invited the company to revive it. Khendry re-choreographed and presented the new version this past fall.

Moods grew out of a simple question Khendry put to a friend: "Indian ragas (music themes or melodies) have moods and emotions, what about Indian talas (rhythms)?" Khendry picked basic rhythms of Bharatnatyam to depict a whole gamut of emotions – the three-rhythm Tisram for pathos, four-rhythm Caturasram for fear, five-rhythm Khandam for anger, seven-rhythm Mishram for love and nine-rhythm Sankirnam for laughter.

Khendry says he’s always experimenting outside his comfort zone. Perhaps it’s the secret of his staying power.

"I believe there are two ways an artist can progress," he says. "One is the horizontal way – you do what you do best and you keep doing it. There is nothing wrong there. As a creative artist, where do you take your art? You keep climbing. You slip, you fall. You keep climbing till you reach the top. That’s the vertical way and that’s the way I work."

 

 

 

Toronto, December 20, 2004

Janak Khendry Dance Company “Upanishad”

Paula Citron, Arts Reviewer

Choreographer Janak Khendry did the impossible with his beautiful show “Upanishad” which completed its run at Premiere Dance Theatre this weekend. He took the beloved last section of the Indian holy book the “Vedas”, and rendered it into movement. The Upanishads are questions and answers between a guru and student which gives direction to the path of enlightenment. Khendry’s combination of dance, music, narrative, costumes, lighting, video and computer animation was a mystical experience for the audience, as well as a stunning work of art.

Amazing Khendry, 66, was both a dancer and the voice on the soundtrack. Ideas, worked through with Upanishadic scholar, Dr. Tulsi Das Sharma – were explained in voiceovers over composer Ashit Desai’s gorgeous, atmospheric music, which were then enacted out on stage in combination of Bharatanatyam influenced dance and hand gestures by the thirteen member company. Khendry also designed the costumes while Bradley A. Trenaman gave him a lighting design to die for. This work must be shown again.

Volume 12, Issue 3 / September 2009

 

ONLINE INTERVIEW BY MEGAN ANDREWS

“My choreographic process starts with the selection of a theme, followed by two to three years of extensive research with the help of important scholars in the particular field. This expands my artistic horizons and gives me tremendous knowledge of different subjects. Then I look for a composer and discuss the theme with him at length. I am always present at the recording of the music. When I have the music, I listen to it for three to four weeks before I create a single dance step.

“The way I look at creativity, there are two ways of working – horizontally and vertically. Following the horizontal way, an artist keeps doing what he is good at, but the vertical way is the way of discovery. Every step you take up the ladder, your horizon expands; you discover your own new potential. I follow the vertical way.

“One of the most important aspects of my choreography is to create visual aesthetics through dance movements, costumes and lighting. I involve my dancers, my lighting designer and my stage manager from the very beginning.

“For my current project, Ganga, I have sought the help of two scholars, Dr. Tulsiram Sharma in Toronto and Dr. Vir Bhadra Mishra in Varanasi, India. In this work I am presenting the 4000-year history of the Indian river Ganges, on cosmological, philosophical, romantic and economic levels. Over time, one of the purest waters on earth has been turned into sewage in certain areas by dumping chemicals and filth. I want to make a point that we human beings are destroying our natural resources on this beautiful planet of ours.”

Janak Khendry, artistic director and choreographer

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 est danseur classique et chorégraphe de renommé internationale, et directeur artististique de la Janak Khendry Dance Company. Il a une formation approfondie en quatre styles distincts de danse indienne : bharatanatyam, kathak, sattriya et manipuri, ainsi qu’en danse moderne occidentale. Sa carrière de chorégraphe est lancée en 1961 à Hyderabad, Inde, et il a dansé partout dans le monde, y compris dans cinq spectacles commandés pour deux anciens présidents d’Inde. Khendry détient une maîtrise en sculpture de l’université Ohio State. Ses sculptures ont été présentées et comptent parmi des collections privées en Inde, aux États-Unis, au Canada et en Europe.

Mon processus chorégraphique commence par le choix d’un thème. Ensuite, il y a deux ou trois ans de recherche exhaustive à l’aide de sommités dans le champ particulier du thème. Cela ouvre mes horizons artistiques et j’acquiers des connaissances approfondies de différents sujets. Je trouve ensuite un compositeur et nous discutons longuement du thème. Je suis toujours présent lorsque la musique est enregistrée. Une fois l’enregistrement en main, je l’écoute pendant trois à quatre semaines avant de créer un pas de danse.

« Selon ma perception de la créativité, il y a deux méthodes de travail : une horizontale et une verticale. En suivant un parcours horizontal, l’artiste crée toujours ce qu’il sait bien créer. Le parcours vertical, cependant, mène vers la découverte. À chaque nouvel échelon, l’artiste élargit sa perspective, il découvre un nouveau potentiel personnel. Je suis engagé dans un parcours vertical.

« La création d’une esthétique visuelle par l’entremise de la danse, des costumes et des éclairages est un des aspects les plus importants de ma chorégraphie. Dès le début, je mets à contribution les interprètes, l’éclairagiste et le régisseur.

« J’ai consulté deux chercheurs pour mon présent projet, Ganga: M. Tulsiram Sharma, PhD., à Toronto et M. Vir Bhadra Mishra, PhD. à Bénarès, Inde. Je présente l’histoire de 4000 ans du fleuve indien Gange, de points de vue cosmologique, philosophique, romantique et économique. Au fil du temps, à la suite de déversements de produits chimiques et de déchets, une des eaux les plus pures de la terre est devenue, à certains endroits, une eau d’égout. Je veux souligner que nous détruisons nos ressources naturelles sur cette belle planète que nous habitons. »

Janak Khendry, directeur artistique et chorégraphe

Janak Khendry

Toronto’s Sculptor of Dance

by Samantha Mehra

 

Artistic director, choreographer, teacher, sculptor, researcher and interdisciplinary artist – for one with such a layered responsibility, his calm is remarkable.

Janak Khendry, Hyderabad, 1960

Janak Khendry is the founder and director of the long running Toronto-based Janak Khendry Dance Company. In conversation, he easily shares his life of rich experiences, and when revealing some of his professional accomplishments to me in the limited time we have, I know they make up only a sliver of his complex history.

Born in Amritsar, India, Khendry’s desire to dance was satisfied at age six, on the condition that he also complete his education. His mother, Vidya Vati, was a stay-at home parent; his father, Brij Lall, was a businessman in several capacities: the owner of the first starch factory in India, which provided starch to textile mills in India and Egypt; a contractor for building bridges and maintaining riverbeds; and, during WWII, a film distributor. His propensity for pursuing several avenues would later be mirrored in Khendry’s artistic career. Leaning back in his seat, looking skyward, Khendry describes his parents as liberal thinkers: “Both were encouraging of dancing,” he reflects. “My family was not a very traditional family; we were free thinkers, so if I wanted to dance, then I danced!”

 

 

Janak Khendry, Hyderabad, 1960

 

Khendry’s training path took him to multiple places in India, and to several gurus, each of whom trained him in the forms that became his choreographic vocabulary.  “The word guru means ‘weight’ or ‘heaviness’ with knowledge,” he explains. Indeed, the gurus with whom Khendry studied gave him a level of dexterity in the many styles they offered him. In Khendry’s initial dance years, he trained locally for six years in the Kathak style with Pandit Mahadev Kathak, until he met Aruna Ghandi, from whom he learned Manipuri. Before the age of sixteen, he was developing a versatility in several traditional dance styles, which was further enriched when he crossed paths with the dance form Bharata Natyam on a trip to South India. His foray into that world would have a lasting impact as Khendry’s guru and the historical information he provided came to shape Khendry’s approach to choreographic themes and give him an appreciation of ancient Indian texts.

Khendry had always innately desired to study in South India with a master teacher. Khendry’s dreams were realized after consulting dance instructor Mr. T.K. Narian at the Government School of Music and Dance in Hyderabad. In 1955, Khendry travelled to Chidambaram and later Kattumanar Koil in South India to study Bharata Natyam under eighty-two-year-old Guru Swami Muttukumar Pillia. The adventure was a welcome challenge to the burgeoning dancer, who went through ten to eleven hours of training every day – from learning basic steps in the morning, to cultivating his Abhinaya in the evenings. Abhinaya, which means “to carry forward meaning”, is the dancer’s interpretation of the accompanying lyrics, and is informed by observing and then portraying human behaviour.

“I went to South India, which is 2000 miles away from Amritsar, I didn’t know a word of Tamil, and my teacher knew not a word of northern languages, so we always had a translator,” he remembers. But despite this language barrier, his teacher was able to instil in him the intricacies of specific Indian texts and their relationship to dance by taking Khendry to the Chidambaram temple. “He would take me to the temple on certain festive days and casually explain pujas [showing reverence to deities]; he would describe who the god or goddess was and slowly began my interest in Indian mythology and philosophy.” During these excursions his teacher would point towards the images of gods surrounding them, explaining their positions and poses which are reflected in the Bharata Natyam technique. “The east and west gates of the temple had all 108 Karana carved there. Karana is the cultivation of the movement; you find the pose and take the pose,” he pauses, thoughtfully. “This started my interest in sculpture.”

 

Janak Khendry teaching a pose to a visiting Russian delegation, Hyderabad, 1960

Khendry had always had an interest in the visual arts. Upon returning from those pivotal years of training, he joined the sculpture program at the Government College of Fine Arts in Hyderabad, where he became the first student to pass with honours since the college had opened forty years earlier. Though he was successful there, his training had been focussed on traditional and figurative sculpture, leaving much more terrain for Khendry to contemplate – the concept of abstraction did not exist in that world. Wishing to explore new territory, he applied to five American university Master’s programs in sculpture, finally choosing Columbus, Ohio, as his destination.

Never one to resign himself to one practice, Khendry joined the sculpture and dance departments at Ohio State University. Here, he was first introduced to the dance techniques of Martha Graham, José Limón and Merce Cunningham, all of whom inspired him with their individual dynamics and their innovative approaches to composition. “In traditional Indian dance, there is no such thing as floor, and Graham was the master of that. The Limón technique had such romance, and Cunningham had power, dignity and elegance,” he says. The impact of this newfound training influenced Khendry’s Master’s project in sculpture titled, Graham – Floor Technique, a series of sculptures representing fourteen poses of Graham’s floor series. 

After graduating, Khendry intended to join Wayne State University to pursue a doctorate in sculpture, until the City of New York intervened. Ten days before he was to begin his program, friends invited him to New York for a brief holiday.

Janak Khendry, Government College of Fine Arts
in Hyderabad, 1959

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Janak Khendry, New York City, 1978

 

“We came up to the Lincoln tunnel and I said, “My God! This is my city!” He was compelled to stay. Securing a job with the Indian Mission to the UN as an assistant protocol officer, his first assignment was to assist Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, sister to Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India. While he was busy meeting ministers, secretaries and the Nehru family, Khendry was still finding brief moments to keep up his dance training, but had no space in which to continue sculpting, until he was invited to The Sculpture Center in New York. Eventually, he left his political job and became gallery director there, where he stayed for thirteen years. He also managed to continue studying dance; in 1968, he met New York-based gurus Krishna Rao and Chandrabhaga Devi, who were to be his gurus for the next thirty-five years.

The Janak Khendry Dance Company was incorporated in New York in 1978, and Khendry continued honing his skills as a choreographer; by this time, he had already choreographed close to twenty-five works. That same year, he was invited to be a guest curator at the Allentown Art Museum in Pennsylvania. In addition to curating, Khendry was commissioned to choreograph two new pieces for the same exhibition, The Sensuous Line, which explored the connectivity of dance, sculpture and painting; yet again, he found a space for dance and sculpture in a creative endeavour. Never one to sit still, in 1979 Khendry moved himself and his company title to Toronto where he and long-time friend Herschel Freeman opened a glass gallery on Hazelton Avenue in Yorkville – then the heart of the hip scene in Toronto. After nineteen years, the gallery settled into its current residence on Toronto’s Dufferin Street, which now also houses his dance company. In addition to finding success locally, the company has toured its works to the United States and India.

An inner voice seems to act as the creative inspiration for Khendry’s works. An internal impulse inspires an awareness of a subject, a philosophy, or place which he then tirelessly explores as a dance work. For the last fifteen years, Khendry’s choreography has investigated Indian scriptures and historical concepts, from the relationship between wind and water, to the Upanishads, to the history of the river Ganges. For such detailed subjects, the process is not a simple one.

Khendry’s choreographic output does not magically manifest itself in a studio; conversely, the choreography emerges after four years of intense research, a result of Khendry’s tackling large philosophical subjects and ancient Indian texts and concepts. In order to responsibly convey this material, he must understand its depths.

Kala Vageesan, (mirror image) Reshmi Chetram, Sinthujaa Jeyarajah, Taniya Papinazath, Mala Pisharody, Kala Vageesan and Janak Khendry
rehearsing Khendry’s Ganga, 2009
Photo: David Hou, courtesy of The Dance Current

First, he consults his research advisor, Dr. Tulsiram Sharma, who, with his vast knowledge of Indian scriptures, can provide insight, history and clarification. “Dr. Sharma, who has been my research advisor for the last eight years, has the knowledge of Indian scriptures at his fingertips,” says Khendry. “You ask him a question, and he recites the mantras! It is a very special relationship.” Then, the research process becomes a process of elimination. For Upanishad (2004), Khendry selected eleven of the 108 Upanishads texts, from which he then chose 2200 mantras. From this vast selection, a gradual editing process brought the mantras down to eighty that were eventually used in the production. Khendry also works with composer Ashit Desai, sending him notes and then a final draft of his vision. Khendry crosses the ocean and meets with Desai in Mumbai and for two days they discuss and exchange ideas before Desai begins recording in the studio. Clearly, Khendry has found deep connections with several practitioners, which speaks to their longevity as collaborators.

Once Desai has created his musical score, Khendry listens to the music repeatedly, without moving, for three weeks, as it begins to seep into his body. Slowly, he starts making choreographic notes, which account for about fifty percent of the choreography; the rest is created in the studio. Once he gathers his dancers, Khendry sits and speaks about the work he is going to set so that the concepts being explored can be absorbed by them as well.

Khendry is trained in four distinct Indian classical styles and he uses them as a base for his creativity. While he is opposed to the term “fusion”, he does acknowledge his blending of techniques, but says that this harmonization must be done in a responsible way. “I have nothing against merging traditions. The artist has the full freedom to do what he or she wants to do, but if you’re merging two or three styles, you should know them all,” he clarifies. “If you don’t, then it falls flat.” Indeed, Khendry sees the vocabulary as a launching point; he cites his training in Bharata Natyam, Manipuri, Kathak, and recently Sattriya dance, as well as his encounters with modern dance styles, as the grammar he uses in order to move forward. Approaching choreography, Khendry sees himself immersed in a vertical, as opposed to horizontal, process. “Horizontal progression means whatever you’re doing, you keep doing ... but where does it take you?” he says. “With a vertical process, you take a step, your horizon widens … Your own self-awareness takes you into the vertical.” This vertical progression accounts for Khendry’s mastering of four dance style vocabularies, and the magical re-rendering of them on stage in order to perform philosophical subjects.

In 2004, the company presented Upanishad, a word meaning “sit beside me”. The piece explores the archetypal relationship between teacher and student, outlining the meaningful way in which a teacher shows his/her student the direction forward without forcing the path. Upanishads are the last sections of the Vedas, ancient Sanskrit texts that are the foundation of Hinduism. With narration to guide the audience, Khendry re-imagined the Upanishads in dance form by choreographing danced “questions” for a large cast of dancers to ask their teacher, who in turn dances the answers, thus embodying the teacher-student relationship that Khendry himself had been so inspired by. The questions in Upanishad are of an infinite nature, ranging from “What is the origin of living beings?” to “What are man’s planes and states of being?” After doing such intense research, Khendry realizes his goal of selecting abstract ideas from rich ancient texts and sculpting them into a transmittable form on his dancers’ bodies for all to see and understand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Janak Khendry, Sinthujaa Jeyarajah and Aarthi Sankaran
in
Khendry’s Upanishad, 2004

Viba Maliayandi, Mala Pisharody, Aarthi Sankaran and
Sinthujaa Jeyarajah in Khendry’s Upanishad, 2004

In 2009, the company presented Ganga, a work featuring dancers from a wide range of traditional styles. Ganga was inspired by a 5,000-year history of the River Ganga (or Ganges), and follows the mythological tale of her birth in the heavens, her descent to earth, and her transformation into the river. One of the challenges Khendry enjoyed was using a versatile group of performers and erasing its differences on the stage, creating a new vocabulary using the dancing bodies of Kathak-, Odissi-, Afro-Caribbean- and Bharata Natyam-trained dancers. And, given Khendry’s laborious research and feelings of responsibility to accurately portraying what he describes as the “soul of Indian culture”, the piece is saturated with detail. In the third section, Adoration of Ganga by Sapta Rishi (or Seven Sages), Khendry’s attention to minute detail unveils itself. “I became aware that everything that is connected with Ganga is the number seven, and seven according to Indian numerology is a very auspicious number.” He located multiple occurrences of the number seven in the Ganga story, noting that she was worshipped by seven sages, surrounded by seven storms on her descent to earth, and split into seven streams. Realizing this, Khendry choreographed Adoration for seven dancers, each taking a turn to present a salutation to Ganga; the dancers also complete a revolution around the circle seven times. The spectrum of the dancers’ costumes, and even the division of the program, are also strategically centered around the number.

While the audience and the ancient texts are of import to Khendry, it is the dancers who are the most important to him. When dancers walk through his door, they become a very significant part of his life. He feels an immediate responsibility for them. “I share everything with them. Any new projects, from the day the ideas come to me, the dancers are the first ones I talk to.” As things progress, I carry them with me.” Kala Vageesan, a senior dancer with the company since 1998 and who danced the part of Ganga, articulated how Khendry’s respect for the dancers translates in the studio. “Some [choreographers] never ask our opinions ... they say something and we have to do it ... [Janak Ji] asks opinions of us all the time,” says Vageesan. As for her longevity with the company, much of it has to do with her respect for Khendry’s innovative vision: “I have danced with so many people, and finally I stuck with this because of Janak’s creative choices of the subjects, music and ... his combination of dancers from different styles.”

Khendry is abuzz with creative energy. Next year his company will present KAAL-TIME, which considers the concepts of the big bang, the creation of galaxies, and the emergence of the earth. “I have always been aware of time ... now that we’ve started the research, all of a sudden it’s becoming very eminent how important time is for everything in life.” Khendry is also in the

            Mala Pisharody, Kala Vageesan and Taniya Papinazath in Khendry’s Ganga, 2009

early stages of a production for 2012 of John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost for which he has consulted two Milton scholars: Dr. Tulsiram Sharma, and British author Phillip Pullman of Golden Compass fame.

While he will continue to sculpt philosophies and ancient Indian texts for Toronto audiences, he will be an eager onlooker of the Indo-Canadian dance community, particularly the newest crop. Khendry smiles contently as he thinks of his time in Toronto, and the promise of the newest generation whom he feels is tackling important social issues in their work, something which his generation did not address until more recently. “Somebody once asked me, ‘What is the future of Indian dance?’ I said, ‘It’s the brightest it has ever been’,” he says adamantly. “And you can quote me.” 

Janak Khendry

Samantha Mehra (BFA, MA, PhD Candidate) is a Toronto-based freelance writer, dancer and scholar. Samantha contributes reviews to The Dance Current, maintains a dance-related blog (canadance. blogspot.com), and has pursued her interest in archival work through volunteering at Dance Collection Danse. She is enrolled in Canada’s first dance doctoral program at York University.

Special thanks to Miriam Adams (Co-Founder/Director - Dance Collection Danse)

 

  2011
  by Ajit Jain

Janak Khendry is the definition of multifaceted maestro. He is a consummate choreographer, artistic director, dancer, sculptor, cognoscenti of Italian Renaissance art, designer of costumes, jewelry and glass object d’art, and an esteemed collector of medieval, early modern and modern Indian paintings and sculptures.

At his Janak Khendry Dance Company, he is teacher, choreographer and dancer, specializing in classical Indian dance styles like Bharata Natyam, Kathak, and Manipuri, all learned, as he says, under renowned and taskmaster gurus.

His training and experience is firmly rooted in his mastery over Indian dance forms, but he has subtly incorporated the techniques of modern dance, he says, "such as abstract expressions, attention that I pay to my own body, dignity, and elegance. The existential modern modes appear to me to be fully integrated in my choreography."

He says it is not the fusion of eastern and western dances in an ordinary sense that interests him; but, rather, a "search for cross-cultural grammar and vocabulary in east-west dance styles".

Extrapolating on his choreography, he observes: “In our creative process every step you take widens your horizon of thinking and creation. To choreograph a dance work does not mean putting few movements together. Every work one creates is a small universe in itself, the universe of sound, movements, emotions, color and space.”

He recalls how 20 years ago he “decided to go deep into the roots of Indian scriptures — with a universal message, that had never been choreographed as dance pieces before.” He delves into the realm of history and philosophy of religions - where others dared not venture.

His Panchakalyanaka works highlight the spiritual, ethical, mystical, and religious dimensions of a universal message. They include highlights from the life of Mahavira; the Gayatri mantra; Buddha and Women Liberated: How women persuaded the Buddha to allow entry of women into his monastic establishment; the Upan-ishads; and the Ganga: the quintessential Indian sacred river.

He values these works not for their intrinsic artist merits but also for his own “spiritual development”. He is all set to choreograph two more works in a similar vain: Kaal-Time in early 2012, and John Milton’s Paradise Lost in 2013.

He is also a sculptor of repute. He uses that in his choreography, which is a flow between dance and sculpture. The tactful use of repose, the formation of human statuettes and figurines through slanted lighting, are a few of the notable features of his choreography.  It is a given in Khendrys productions that they have brilliant costumes specially designed by him - anew for every one of his creations — to suit the characters.

“I design all the costumes after extensive research of each character and the colors associated with it,” he says.

Aesthetics, he explains, “play a very important part in my creative work. A dancer is the physical personification of a particular character, he or she is portraying and for that reason the costumes play a very important part in my presentations.”

One of his outstanding contributions has been his dance series Creation and Communication. To date, he has presented close to 175 artists from across the world. It, he says, “has consistently proven to be a most valuable and effective tool for understanding the current happenings in the dance world.” As part of this series, he has presented on stage Inuit dance renditions, ballet, modern western dance, Caribbean, African, Indonesian, and Indian classical dance in various styles and techniques.

And through his talks and dance demonstrations to Toronto schoolchildren in his studio, he is reaching out to very young people to bring awareness in the whole society of non-western dance traditions.

Recognition of his efforts in dance and choreography has come to him frequently enough over the past 15 years. His company was invited by the government of Mexico to perform and to present Canada at the International Dance Festival. He has visited Myanmar on a dance and lecture tour, and also received an invitation from South Africa.

 

Prime Minister Stephen Harper with the India Abroad Power Group

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Janak Khendry
Premiere Jean Charest and Janak KhendryPremiere Jean Charest with the India Abroad Power Group

 

Thursday January 26th, 2012

ONSTAGE

GOING OUT WITH A BIG BANG

Years-in-the-making dance piece deals with

both the world's beginning & end

 


By Luis-Enrique Arrazola

The divergent elements of modern physics, Indian scriptures and contem­porary dance fuse togeth­er in Janak Khendry’s world premiere of Kaal — Time, a unique dance project based on the existential themes of time’s beginning and end.

Kaal, which is the Sanskrit word for time, chronicles the existence of the universe through eight separate acts — from its conception at the big bang to its prophetic denoue­ment during the apocalypse — through the combination of South Asian and modern dance styles.

“My body knows many lan­guages and also mends two subjects like that,” Khendry says of the Toronto show, which debuts this week as part of Harbourfront’s Next- Steps series. “I’m not doing a traditional Indian classical dance performance. It’s on a very different level.”

Perhaps not coincidentally, Kaal — Time is being staged in 2012, a year marked as the world’s last according to the various prophecies of Nostra­damus, Indian scriptures and the resetting of the Mayan calendar. But while Kaal ex­presses the so-called apoca­lypse through a performance of three male dancers clad in ominous black costumes, Khe­ndry still believes the world will make it into another year.

“We might have very serious nature problems but, I don’t think the world is going to end,” says the artistic director, choreographer and founder of the Janak Khendry dance com­pany, which is now in its 33 rd year. “You see, according to Indian scriptures we’re a little more than halfway through.

‘My body knows many languages’

So we have at least one-third of more time left.”

Although Kaal is set to hit the Toronto stage for only three days, its short debut is a far cry from the years of re­search required by Khendry to produce the performance. For the veteran dancer, it’s not about the time involved during production but rather the pro­cess of creating something that shows the inextricable link be­tween art and spirituality.

“I’ve done some very dif­ficult works and then this subject [Kaal] has been in the back of my mind for several years,” he says. “Working with [the idea of] time I have really come to realize that there’s ,a right time for everything. I as  a person — intellectually, intel­ligently, artistically — was at that level to create the work.

The 72-year-old’s artistic process is meticulous, beginning with years worth of re­search on ancient Indian scrip­tures and the works of West­ern physicists, which are then interpreted into a script. After commissioning a musical score from Ashit Desai in India, Khe­ndry seals himself in his studio for three weeks to absorb and understand the music before undertaking the choreography.

The painstaking process is Khendry’s way of climbing his self-described "ladder of creativ­ity," reaching new artistic plains by taking a “vertical path.”

“In my opinion you either work horizontally or verti­cally. Horizontally you keep doing things you’re very good at. It’s fine but that’s not for me,” he says. “So I decided to choose a vertical path. Each step you take higher, your hor­izon widens and it keeps doing it. Sometimes you slip, but you should try again.”

Kaal — Time runs Jan. 26- 28 at Harbourfront’s Fleck Dance Theatre in Toronto. For more information, visit jkdanceco.org.

National Post

FRIDAY REVIEW May 11, 2012by Ranee Kumar

Divine Dimension to Dance

Janak Khendry feels that divine intervention guided his journey in dance, from learning Bharatanatyam to working on ‘Paradise Lost'.

Talent is one thing; perseverance with an objective another; but dedicating one's life literally to the pursuit of a passion is yet another rare phenomenon. Janak Khendry belongs to the third category in the field of dance. Sauvé, immaculate, and artistic in demeanour, Khendry's journey into dance and his life thereof will never cease to intrigue us and often leads us to question the existence of certain realms that are established spiritually but not applicable to a rational mind. For, how else can one explain why an Amritsar born and bred Punjabi boy developed a penchant for dance (not the local bhangra) with a fervency that mounted with age as he frantically learnt Kathak and other dance forms, while the inner search continued.

Performing in Pakistan

In India and in the twin cities for a brief while, this Toronto-based dance maestro in a tete-tete says, “Surprisingly, my family fell in line with my passion and encouraged me to take up dance. I was the first Indian male dancer to perform at the inauguration of the first Consulate General of India in Lahore, Pakistan. So too, I was fortunate to be the first Punjabi boy to dance on the occasion when Chandigarh was built. But there was this inner urge in me that kept telling me that I had to go in search of my real guru and the form that would satiate my thirst,” he pauses and recounts how things fell in place all of a sudden. Khendry's brother happened to take up a job in Hyderabad and in one of his early visits to see him, Khendry chanced upon a maestro who directed him to a veteran guru in Bharatanatyam in Tamil Nadu. “Till then, I had no clue about this dance genre. Whatever it was, I packed my bags and left for Chidambaram. I knew not a word of Tamil. Yet, when I first landed in front of Guru Muthukumara Pillai and looked straight into his eyes, I felt like I found my soul mate in taatha. He moved over to Kattumannar Koil and I went after him. When I first set foot on the soil, I felt the earth underneath my bare feet vibrate with a life like familiarity. There was a bond to this place in some previous birth of mine. I found my home where I stayed for two years with my octogenarian guru learning the rarest of rare pieces in the genre. I had no choice but to come back to Hyderabad as my guru fell sick. I joined the dance course under Narayanan who headed the department of dance in the music and dance college at Hyderabad. I performed at the opening of Ravindra Bharathi. There I came across a dancer couple from USA and for the next 36 years, my life was a pursuit in higher dance studies in the US,” he makes for a crisp memoir. Presently in Canada, where he runs the Janak Khendry Dance Company, he along with two other dancers pioneered Indian classical dance to carve a niche on the world map. “At that point of time when Indian dance was not known abroad, our own government of India or the ICCR too did not grant recognition to Indian dance as such,” he says ruefully. A researching mind, with an artistic bend, Khendry's choreographies are highly spiritual and take nearly a couple of years to materialise. For instance, the theme of Mahaveera titled ‘Panchkalyanika' was a search into Bihar region. “I had to get to the root of the Jain psyche. I encountered a righteous ire from the community for trying to tinker with their spiritual guru's philosophy. But finally when the ballet was staged, the Jain diaspora was at my feet,” he says.

Inner voice

Khendry continues, “Prior to this, I must reveal a vision I had at one of the Jain mandirs. An inner voice egged me on to turn into a vegetarian before I touched this subject and I could literally hear someone speak from a tomb like silvery structure which rose in front of me.” The ‘Gayatri' was yet another theme that was his life's desire, says Khendri. He had learnt the Gayatri mantra at the age of five from his mother. The 24-syllable, four line verse has a profound message that he was able to decipher through dance years later. This show was staged 35 times across seven countries. Another one on women's liberation was (not a socio-economic theme) an intimate look into Buddhism which initially banned women from seeking salvation. “My project for December 2013 is John Milton's ‘Paradise Lost' for which I'm working with two scholars of two different nationalities across the globe. It has been my fortune to be blessed with proper guidance at the apt moment whenever I visualise a theme for my dance. This is nothing but divine intervention to clear my path,” he says with conviction.

R.K


 

©Janak Khendry Dance Company, 436 Dufferin Street, Toronto, Ontario, M6K 2A3, Canada, 416-530-2889,  

 

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