Dancer reaches zenith; debut highlights years of study and practiceYoung Mackenzie “Mac” Gill left her hometown for college last week having graduated two 12-year courses of study in 2012: Traditional academics through the River Falls School District and classic Indian dance through local instructor Jocelyn Gorham.
By: Debbie Griffin, River Falls Journal
Young Mackenzie “Mac” Gill left her hometown for college last week having graduated two 12-year courses of study in 2012: Traditional academics through the River Falls School District and classic Indian dance through local instructor Jocelyn Gorham.
Gill displayed her well-polished skills in bharatanatyam, a major form of dance in India, during a July 21 arangetram at the Phipps Center for the Arts in Hudson.
The dance debut lasted about two hours, complete with live musicians and costume changes.
Traditionally, dancers are required to study for 12 years before performing an arangetram -- it takes a long time to perfect the gestures, body movements and facial movements of bharatanatyam.
Gill said, “I had six solo dances and one with the littler girls who are studying with Jocelyn.”
Gorham specializes in Middle Eastern and Indian dance and teaches at the Shakti Dance Studio at the River Falls Academy building.
People may remember Gorham performing locally with the Isis Aurora Dance Collective or the Devanritya Dance Ensemble.
Gill says she started taking lessons at age six, after Gorham had visited her family home to buy a wood-burning stove. The two began talking about Indian dance.
“It started out mostly as curiosity,” said Gill.
She kept up the weekly lessons, saying the ‘early years’ of learning it involved a lot of practice telling a story through dances that were short and simple. Gill describes some of the dance as emotional and all as expressive.
She admits to being nervous-but-excited about the recent performance. The young dancer said it was challenging to concentrate on getting the steps right while also remembering to smile, relax and have fun.
“The dance is a prayer to the gods,” and is still performed in temples today, explains Gill.
Bharatanatyam’s roots date back 2,000 years to South Indian temples -- it is also described as a highly spiritual and dedicatory dance.
It expanded from temple to theater but is comprised of the same three parts in either place.
First, there is the pure technical dance, which establishes a base vocabulary to build rhythms and patterns. Second are highly stylized gestures, postures and body language used to convey the meaning of the song lyrics. Third is the dramatic storytelling.
The dancer aims to use them in harmony to uplift the audience and themselves to a higher level of contentment and spiritual consciousness. Each part of the word itself also has a different meaning.
Bha-bhavam means expression; ra-ragam represents music; ta-talam is beat or rhythm; and natyam stands for dance.
Color pictures of Gill in action at the debut show a brilliantly colored sari, the traditional costume for a ‘debut dance’ in bharatanatyam. It can be with pants or a skirt, and both include a bangle -- bells around the ankle.
Also traditional are a headpiece; red vegetable dye on the hands and feet, where it resembles a sandal; as well as a red circle in the middle of the palm and on the fingertips. Custom also dictates the heavy face makeup.
Gill said a red dot in the middle her forehead is known as the bindi, a “third eye that looks backward into the self.”
The dancer said the past several years of study have focused on getting the details correct -- practice became more intense as debut time approached.
The arangetram is traditionally the first time teachers presents their students to the public, and it isn’t scheduled until the instructor thinks a student has mastered the techniques.
Asked what’s next, the young dancer said she’ll continue to enjoy swing dancing and plans to learn ballroom dancing, too. She’s attending college in Madison and doesn’t know what, if any, dance troupes may be there.
Gill hasn’t traveled to India yet but hopes to someday. She’ll be studying Japanese and has considered pursuing a career as a librarian in Japan.