Since independence, Indian classical dance has been instrumental in regenerating an interest in India’s cultural heritage. Based on classical traditions of Indian arts, various mythological, cultural and historical legends are performed through bodily gestures, facial expressions and dance movements. In Abhinaya or dramatic performance, costumes, jewellery, make-up and adornments along with dance movements play a significant role in recreating a blissful experience and visual delight on stage. Throughout the history of classical dance, costumes have played a central role in performances as they detach the dancers from worldly existence and bestow them an aura of a divine being or character. There have been endless varieties of fabric, pattern and dresses designed especially for different styles of dances originated in multiple regions. Briana Blasko, an artist-photographer who moved from New York to India in 2008, through her five years of research and photographic documentation, has tried to explore this very transformative relationship that the dancers have with their costumes.
In her photographic series ‘Dance of the weave’, Blasko documents the textiles and their manifestation in dance forms ranging from Kuchipudi, Bharatnatyam, Chhau and Kathakali, to Manipuri, Odissi and many others. Along with dance performances, the work not only focuses on dancers captured mid-motion but also captures the villages and regions where traditional Indian dance forms originated. The myriad hues, textures, patterns of the dancers’ costumes, captured in the photographs, unfold the religious and philosophical connotations associated with the regional aesthetics of each dance form. In one of her interviews, she says ‘Throughout my photographic career, dance and dance-like movements have been among the subjects I have chosen, along with fabrics and weaving, which I began exploring while studying photography at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. For “Dance of the weave” project, I visited dance schools and festivals — from a monastery on an island in the Brahmaputra River in Assam that teaches Sattriya dance, to an institute in Calicut that instructs students in the martial art of Kalaripayattu — to research classical, folk and tribal dances. I also visited weaving villages, documenting costumes, textiles and the dancers’ interaction with fabric through movement’.
In her dance photography, Blasko brings alive those moments in which the dancer’s movements resonates with the swirling rhythms of the fabric. Her photographic series is perhaps more about the weaving of the drape and its behavior during classical dance performances than the portrayal of the dance drama itself.
– Sameena Siddiqui
Briana Blasko is a portrait photographer born in San Francisco in 1977. She has a BFA degree from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts; and before her move to India in 2008, she lived in New York, photographing contemporary dance for the New York Times. Her work throughout the Indian subcontinent captures the human body’s intimate patterns of movement in all its myriad hues, textures and moods. Her love for the camera, and the relationship she shares with it, is deeply enmeshed in the landscapes and dances of India. Her photographs appear in numerous publications and books and have been exhibited at prestigious venues in India and abroad.
Briana Blasko’s latest book, ‘Dance of the Weave’, published by Penguin, is available here.