• By Alok
Vivek Kinra is an internationally renowned dancer, choreographer and teacher of the Indian classical dance form of Bharata-Natyam and he has performed successfully in India, Russia, China, Singapore, Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand. He has an ecstatic quality of passion and precision in his dance, which makes him memorable and sets him apart.
Since early 1990, Kinra has been teaching in Wellington, New Zealand. In early 1992, he established the New Zealand Academy of Bharata-Natyam and is its Artistic Director. It also plays an important role in cultural awareness and identity in New Zealand’s ever growing multicultural society.
During his illustrious dance career in New Zealand, which has spanned over two decades, Kinra has created numerous new thematic dance productions with a blend of traditional and innovative concepts, which he has performed with the dancers of the Mudra Dance Company. His performances have consistently been received with rave reviews and large audiences. He was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit (MNZM) in 2010 Queen’s Birthday honours for his huge contribution to the New Zealand dance scene.
Recently he has received the Absolutely Positively Wellingtonian Award for his outstanding contribution to Wellington through his work with Indian classical dance. On the occasion I XPRESS took the opportunity to share some experinces and wisdom on this fabulous traditional Indian calssical art from by Vivek Kinra himself-
Questions- After becoming the Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2010, you have now been awarded with the ‘ Absolutely Positively Wellingtonian Award’ how do you feel about these achievements ?
I have become a vehicle for passing on the knowledge of a great dance tradition to the next generation of New Zealand born Indians and I feel extremely humbled by it. I came to Wellington on 9th February 1990 and have enjoyed working and living in this beautiful city for the past 25 years. I would like to thank Wellington City Council for the recent Award.
This honour is gratefully accepted. I feel it is an achievement not only for me but for the Indian community as a whole. I would also like to thank all my supporters and all my students who have enabled me to follow my passion and establish my dance Academy the New Zealand Academy of Bharata-Natyam and my Dance Company the Mudra Dance Company.
Question- You have been generously sharing this dance art form for ages now, what gives you the most satisfaction, the performer or the preacher (teacher) in you , why ?
It was always my dream to dance and to fulfill that over the years has been very satisfying. But as I move through Life and reflect on the twilight of my performance career, being able to impart my knowledge onto the younger dancers and seeing them blossom on stage has become immensely rewarding.
Question- How do you see the future of the art form of Bharat Natyam in India and also overseas and in NZ ?
The future is bright for Bharata –Natyam both in India and overseas. Institutions like Kalakshetra in India have produced a number of fine exponents over the years that have settled around the world imparting knowledge and introducing the art form to millions of people. I think it is important to maintain the Sampradaya- tradition of the glorious Indian Art Forms like Bharata-Natyam and incorporate these into modern society.
Question- Why have you chosen Wellington as your home to share/teach this exciting, breathtaking art form of Bharat Natyam ?
It was a sheer coincidence. I first came to Sydney,Australia in 1988 for a short trip. It was during my second trip to Sydney in1989 that I was approached by Mr. Dayal Narsai Govind of Wellington if I would be interested in starting a school of Bharata-Natyam here. I was hesitant, but agreed. I first left India at the age of twenty two to experience the wide world. It is the life style here in New Zealand along with kind heartedness and friendliness of Kiwis which made me stay back.
Question- What motivates the young generation Indians to come and learn this art, specially from you ?
I think when I first started in Wellington it was the parents who wanted to ensure their children had some Indian culture, but as the dance school has developed it’s not only the parents but also friends of the dancers who see the Mudra Dance Company in action and want to become involved. I think in any art form to be the best you have to learn from a reputable and well respected Teacher who is an expert in the art form.
Question- How much are the westerners interested in your art form, do you have western pupils ?
I have had a number of western students along with other Asian Students. Even though the art form comes from South India, there are students of all Indian back grounds and religions enrolled at the dance Academy. Currently there are 4 pupils of western background at the Academy.
Question- What qualities do you see in your learners to be a good dancer ?
The most important characteristic for a student is to have enthusiasm and perseverance. Some dancers have natural ability and talent. If you combine this with a love of dancing, then they will be successful. It may take some dancers longer to pick up the intricate details of the dance form, but they have to love dancing from within to be successful.
Question- What is your ultimate goal as a performer and a teacher ?
As a teacher I want to get as many students to perform an Arangetram. A Bharata -Natya Arangetram is a ceremonial debut. It is the maiden public performance of a full repertoire serving as a milestone for the successful candidate. It is a ritual proclaiming that the student has achieved proficiency in the art form. As of now I have conducted 40 Arangetrams here in Wellington. As performer I want to transcend the dance form and invoke aesthetic ecstasy in the audience .
Wellington City Mayor Celia Wade-Brown says: “Vivek is a cultural ambassador whose creative work plays an important role in teaching other Wellingtonians about the value and beauty of Indian culture”.
“He has the fluidity and purity of water with the brilliance and fineness of crystal. When he’s danced for you, you stay danced for. It will be a long time before I forget this young dancer’s performance.”
Ann Hunt, The Dominion, 1990
“In Kinra’s performance, one gets the impression of the universe dancing along with him. To watch Kinra dance is to become aware of just how much the human body can express and accomplish, and the human being can experience and feel. ”
Sherril Robinson, The Press, 1993
“Dance critics up and down the country have, over the last decade , exhausted their supply of superlatives to describe and praise the work of Kinra.”
Jennifer Shennan, The Evening Post, 1999
“Utsav is billed as a celebration of Indian music and dance. It could be seen to celebrate cultural diversity in New Zealand. The huge support that Kinra and Mudra have gained over the years is evidence of this.”
Jenny Stevenson, The Dominion Post, 2003
“Kinra’s dancing is always immaculately focused, yet he connects us to that remote time and place in metamorphosis that is simply one of those mysteries of fine performance. We don’t know how it happens – we just know that it does happen.”
Jennifer Shennan, The Dominion Post, 2008
“But the star of the show is Vivek Kinra himself. His ability to display authentic classical dance moves with such fluidity and seamless grace is second to none. … Vivek Kinra, undisputedly brings a rich and complex art form to life. The love duo portrayed by Balagurunathan and Kinra is truly enchanting and very charming. When Vivek Kinra dances his inner sublime transcends. He is dance, he is love, he in this state, is Krishna.”
Greer Robertson, Theatreview, 2011
“Kinra’s beauty and intense spirituality took one’s breath away. He is both master and servant of the art form he has dedicated his life to and we are better for it”
Ann Hunt, The Dominion Post, 2013