strikes one on meeting Sharon Lowen is her large,
lovely eyes. She looks like a fair Indian maiden, and
not a foreigner. The renowned Odissi danseuse has
assimilated and internalised Indian art and culture
to the extent that she is more Indian than many of
us. During the last 25 years, she has brought out the
exquisite grace of Odissi through her performances in
India and abroad.
is one of the few artistes who have a strong academic
background. She is a Fulbright and Smithsonian
scholar, with an M.A. in Dance from the University of
Michigan. She was not content with learning Odissi
only, and, to understand Indian dance, she took
training in Manipuri, Mayurbhanj Chhau and Seriakella
Chhau forms, too. Abhinaya is her strength,
and she performs Odissi without altering even an iota
of its form or style.
left-handed artiste, along with being a performer,
wants to contribute towards improving the
appreciation and understanding of Indian dance.
has written scholarly articles, held hundreds of
lecture-demonstrations, and performed in
universities, schools, museums and art centres,
besides teaching as a visiting professor at
universities in the USA. Belu Maheshwari met
her recently for an interview. Excerpts:
is the most memorable experience of your childhood?
magic of attending hundreds of performances presented
by artistes from all over the world. My parents were
sensitive to all arts and cultures. They took me to
theatre, dance performances, music recitals, and
puppet shows. I imbibed so much. They helped me
develop a holistic personality.
you feel art education is essential for the young?
Only bookish education is not sufficient for the
overall growth of the young. They should be exposed
early to sports and the arts. My daughter went to the
theatre when she was one -week-old. I cannot
understand why young people do not come to watch
performances. Parents should teach them auditorium
manners. Live performances are not like your TV
rooms, where people can walk in and out, go crunch,
crunch while eating chips. Why only children, even
adults in India need to learn how to behave during a
performance and show respect to art and artistes.
you come from a family of artists?
My father is a chemical engineer and my mother has a
Masters in clinical psychology. They later started a
business. My mother, even at 60, loved to tap dance.
Among my siblings, my brother is a surgeon, while my
sister is a modern dancer, writer and poet in
America. Now my daughter Tars is also in the USA.
did you become a dancer?
was fortunate to be exposed to classical dances of
the world, I got interested in the pure form. As
India has a rich tradition of dance, I thought of
coming here. I was fortunate to get a Fulbright
scholarship to India and I started learning Manipuri.
I was focused in my studies of the East and to
understand this culture I even went to theatre
the progression to Odissi dance a natural step?
went to meet Kelu Babu (Padma Bhushan Guru Kelucharan
Mohapatra). He saw some promise in me and said if I
continued I could become a good dancer. I found him a
very good teacher, generous about imparting his
knowledge. I found Odissi had wide scope for abhinaya.
I even learnt Mayabhan Chhau, which is basically a
male form of dance. It provides flexibility and
strength to the body. The dances of East India have a
lyrical quality to them, they have a rich tradition.
I have also learnt ballet and modern dance.
language not prove an impediment to communication,
especially with the accompanists?
has its own language, so communication with
accompanists is not difficult. Most of my
accompanists are Oriyas and they have been with me
for a long time. I have also over the years picked up
many Indian languages in order to understand their
poetry, like Sanskrit, Oriya, Hindi, or Telugu.
Poetry in these languages fascinates me, I try to get
into it. Anyway, poetry is not literal. It has many
is the difference in the teaching of dance in India
training in India is more individualistic. In the
USA, it is taught in large classes. Indian dance can
ideally be taught through the guru-shishya
parampara. By a strict definition, this parampara
has declined here also.
attributes were that the guru was a father-figure --
a mentor, guide and philosopher. The shishyas gave
their body and soul to be moulded by the guru.
the West, there is an emphasis on training, preparing
the body and choreography-- every movement has to be
synchronised to perfection. Here it is abhinaya,
laya and taal -- your own interpretation
of the words.
is required to rise above the ordinary as a dancer ?
can learn anything technical, like the movements. To
be a cut above, you have to delve deeper, understand
the very concept of dance, the history, the
meta-physics, the philosophy-- everything has to be
absorbed. I feel, after you reach a certain position
or level in a field, you have a responsibility to
make the form grow, spread and contribute.
other difference do you find in the art scene in
India and abroad?
artist(e)s do not push, if they are good they will
rise. Here the scene is entirely different, so much
manoeuvring and under-cutting goes on. Then, in the
West, there is lot of interaction among artistes;
here there is hardly any. Another difference is there
you have professional event managers and personal
managers. Unfortunately in India, it is personal
contacts which matter. Here the system of feudal
patronage still holds sway. The maharajas have gone
but new culture czars have come up.
have been a part of the dance scene in India for a
very long time. What are the changes that you have
have been around for ages. The artistes were first
trying to popularise art; they were not competing
with each other. Now art has become popular,
respectable. Now we are competing for the same
programmes. There is terrible pressure to outwit
another dancer for a slot.
norms do you follow?
feel to be a good artiste you have to be a good human
being. In my 55 years of life, I have matured,
understood life. I feel I have more to give to my art
now. My norms are that I will not ask for programmes.
I never cut another artiste. If it is my due, I will
are your other interests?
time to time, I like to work in theatre. I have
worked with Einstein Repotery Company, I have been
part of Videshi Kalakar Utsava for 6 years. I
choreograph for films and television in India, the
USA, England. I have featured in a Telugu film.
would you define yourself ?
say that I like what I have achieved for myself. I am
a competent choreographer, a team person, a good
dancer. I enjoy structuring things, creating. I start
my performance with Veena Vadini Varde Mangalacharan.
This 1945 poem by Suryakant Tripathi Nirala is what I
empathise with. ‘Cut the shackles that bind.
Shower us with light as you remove darkness and
illuminate our way. Teach new steps and new sounds.
Give fledgling birds new voices and wings to
are your beliefs? And what is the motto of your life?
underestimate yourself or anyone else. Try to reach
your highest peak of excellence. Do not do things you
are not comfortable doing and never be afraid. Fear
brings out the worst qualities in a human being.