Attitude en arriere
A position with one leg stretched straight out to the back while turned out and keeping the upper body straight and lifted
A bend from the waist in any direction, but especially forward or back
- Pointe Tendu
A position in which the working leg is stretched straight out in any direction with only the tip of the foot touching the floor
A position on stage in which the dancer faces one of the front corners with the legs crossed
A jump from one foot to the other foot, throwing the working leg out
Sangeet does a classic enveloppe, lithely pirouetting his body, turning en dedans (movement within a circle) on the supporting leg as the other envelops it. Then it’s a straight jump up to raise the tempo, twirling past the colourful ballerinas rehearsing for their upcoming musical Repertoire Ballet Evening to join the other male ballet dancers in a scissor-like formation. The boys are fashionably dressed in bright leotards, close-fitted jackets and crown capes. Sangeet, 35, the oldest in the troupe, is electric with his nifty and elegant movements. He’s been learning and teaching ballet at the Imperial Fernando Ballet Company in Delhi for over five years now. The school’s artistic director and choreographer, Fernando Anguilera, a sinuous and fiery stage artiste, moved to Delhi from Argentina and founded the institute in 2007 to promote classical ballet in India. “We have over 1,600 students and 13 studios in Delhi and Mumbai. The surprising thing is that a lot of men are now joining our classes,” says Fernando, who started learning ballet at the age of 9.
His first professional performance as part of the Corps de Ballet of the Colon Theatre Company was in Sleeping Beauty, after which he performed with international stars like Silvia Basilis, Eva Eudokimova and Ludmila Semeniaka. “One should begin young, but there are many talented men in India who are in their 20s and eager to learn,” Fernando says. His list of distinguished students now includes Bollywood celebs like Alia Bhatt, Sushant Singh Rajput, Shahrukh Khan, Isha Sharvani and Deepika Padukone, all of whom, it seems, have taken a shine to this disciplined stage art.
“You have to tranform the classroom into a 15th century Italian Renaissance court.... It’s a very royal dance.”
Vaibhav Gupta, 24, was learning jazz and contemporary dance in Delhi for three years till he gave them up for ballet about two months ago. “I want to go abroad and study ballet or take it up professionally. My parents don’t really support my choice, but they can’t go against it either because I’m on a scholarship.” So there are even scholarships being doled out to talented students (of course, after meticulous screening) at a few schools in India. But it’s hard work, the hours are long and the rigour demanding. Narayan Sharma (18), of the Central Contemporary Ballet School in Gurgaon reaches the studio sharp at 10 and devotes six hours to practice every day. “It’s the hardest dance form in the world. Professional expertise at some level comes only after 10-15 years,” he says. Manpreet Singh, another 21-year-old from Faridabad, has relocated to Delhi to follow his dream. “It’s all training and workouts and a protein-rich diet...you have to be willing to sacrifice family and friends,” he warns.
Indeed, small towns today seem a wellspring for ballet, enthusiastic students with a “heart connect” coming in from places like Ghaziabad, Meerut, Burdwan and others to the metros to follow their dream. “You have to transform the classroom into an Italian Renaissance court of the 15th century. Many classical ballet works are theatrical and use elaborate costumes. It’s a very royal dance,” smiles Nipun Sharma, a 17-year-old student from Meerut.
Sanjay Khatri, director of the Central Contemporary Ballet School in Gurgaon, says with good ballet schools opening up across India, the number of men joining up too is on the rise. “There are many who have trained through us, but currently we have around 15 boys learning at a professional level. One of our students, Prince, who’s really from a humble background, recently got chosen by the Kirov Ballet Academy, Washington, with a 100 per cent scholarship,” says Khatri, who’s himself studied ballet for over 12 years.
Khatri’s fluid allegros, allonges and arabesques (high-precision ballet arrangements) gave him the ticket to world concerts in Buenos Aires, London and Korea. But the turning point came when he got to dance with the American Ballet Theatre and the Universal Ballet Company in 2012, a first for an Indian. “To be a professional dancer, you need to be mentally, emotionally and physically strong. It requires hard work, determination and will power. But ballet is also a most glamorous, sensuous dance, and can be incredibly masculine,” he remarks.
With easy online access to performances of legends like Mikhail Baryshnikov, Faroukh Ruzimatov, Julio Bocca et al, many students have started looking beyond jazz, hip-hop and Bollywood. The Lewis Foundation of Classical Ballet in Bangalore borrows from the model of the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing in London. Founder Devang Bhanushali feels in India dance is still thought of as a cinematic or classical practice, so forms like ballet, especially among men, are also breaking stereotypes. “Even parents are more supportive nowadays...when they know you have the passion and this is what you truly want,” he says. But it’s still no mainstream plank. Old habits die hard in some corners of India. Rishabh Sharma, a 19-year-old from Delhi, says dance is still taboo for men in most middle-class families. “They say it’s a waste of time. But it’s my career...I can express myself only through ballet,” he says.
But is a danseur trained any differently from a ballerina? Swapnil Dagliya, founder of Pune’s Performing Arts and Contemporary Dance Ensemble, feels there are subtle differences. “The basic training is the same but, say, women will invariably take small steps on pointe, while men will take bigger steps and do the same combination. Men jump high and off the ground, while women focus on moving and turning across the floor,” he says.
Kokila Jayaram, founder of the Academy of Modern Dance in Chennai, feels ballet is the foundation in both cases, even though techniques are different. “We have 35-40 male dancers. While they have strength in their muscles, women with flexible hips are better at turns and splits.” So can ballet be a serious professional choice in India today? “Well, older men ought to be realistic...with the younger lot, of course, what often starts as a hobby sometimes grows into a bigger ambition,” she says. Binoy Joseph, a student at Performing Arts and Contemporary Dance Ensemble, feels with dance shows, competitions and schools promoting it as an art form, taboos are disappearing. “In the next decade, it’ll become quite common to see boys performing and teaching ballet,” he feels. At the end of the day, of course, it’s all about passion. As Uttam Saxena from Ghaziabad puts it, “Every time I’m on the ballet sets, I feel my soul is dancing, like I’m floating on air.” Many would say that itself is its own reward.
By Priyadarshini Sen with inputs from Leela Murali