Deva Gunaseelan: Classical Indian Dance’s Flow Master

Posted by on Apr 13, 2012 in Artist's Profiles | No Comments

“We are all brothers and sisters,” says Deva Gunaseelan, principal dancer and choreographer of The Gunaseelan Dance Company, “despite our differences, dancing expresses the divine in us, it transforms, inspires and educates us.”

Scholar, yoga instructor, theatre advisor, costume/prop-maker and painter, among numerous other advanced talents and skills, Deva presents his expansive, energetic dance works regularly in many venues, internationally and here in Toronto. Based in Cabbagetown with wife and company administrator, Kavitha and young daughter Rajitha, Deva Gunaseelan is the creator of The Flow Technique, a modern approach incorporating Yoga principles and practices, kinesthetics and contemporary themes, to the rigorous Bharatanatyam form of classical Indian dance, which enables dancers of all ages, sizes and levels to experience the joys of dancing, without injury to the body.

Originally from Chennai, South India, Deva began his studies in classical dance at age five. His first teacher was his Mother, Mrs. M. Gnanambighal, dancer, soloist, choreographer and professional vocalist of Carnatic, or South Indian music. Her father was the famous Guru Konnor Mahakavi V.V. Murugesa Bhagathavar and the coordinator of CSI Educational Schools, India, and her teacher. Deva is a seasoned performer of some twenty years.

A Theosophist, Gunaseelan studied the revised dance modality as taught by Rukmini Devi Arundale, a Brahmin woman, who in the 1930’s modified this ancient dance form by removing some stylistic and thematic components, notably the “Sringar” or Tantric aspects considered objectionable in some circles of the day. After the departure of the British from India in 1948, classical Indian dance was reinvested with many religious aspects specific to Hinduism.

Arundale founded the Kalakshetra School of Dance, in Chennai, South India, which taught all aspects of Bharatanatyam; balance, grace, intelligence, hard work, steadiness, special instruction in expressions of the face, clarity of speech, singing and more. She was greatly influenced by Anna Pavlova, the Great Russian ballerina and The Theosophical Society of India, which espoused a Universal Brotherhood of Humanity, without distinction of caste, sex, race, creed, or colour. Today, Bharatanatyam and other Indian dance forms, such as Kathakali, are performed all over India and internationally, by people of all religions, races and genders.

The central expression of arts in India is contained in the concept of Bhakti, or devotion. The Carnatic music that accompanies it is inseparable from the dance form. In Bhakti, Bharatanatyam, “Bha” (Bhava or expression), “Ra” (Raga or melody) and “Ta” (Tala or rhythm), celebrate the divine, manifest in the body. It consists of graceful and elaborate gestures or Mridu Angaharas, sentiments called Rasas, emotional states referred to as Bhavas and actions or Kriya. Deva works with each individual dancer incorporating classical and modern aspects of dance, as he assists them in bringing to bear their unique expression of all the elements of Bharatanatyam, Kathakali and dramatic story telling.

Gunaseelan uses diverse, universal themes, folklore and modern concepts in the development of his choreography. He and his company have danced for peace and dedicated an evening’s programme to the 9/11 tragedy. He has also performed Tamil “Street Dances” or Theru Koothu and many other South Indian dance styles. Gunaseelan has a fine reputation for his unique approach to dance, his very active and extensive community involvement and his generous and compassionate teaching technique.

“We have both dancers and students of all ages and professions and we encourage people of different levels of fitness to come to classes as well,” Deva states enthusiastically. Gunaseelan wants his students to enjoy themselves, especially young ones. He and Kavitha both feel the universal aspects of dance are necessary for young people to experience. “They need to be given positive encouragement to express themselves,” said Kavitha, “to set them in the right direction.”  Kavitha, smiling, admits that although Deva may be a man of few words, he expresses much of himself through dance.  “It’s hard sometimes to talk about personal things with him, he dances instead of talking!”

To sign up for classes or for more information, call 416.944.2392 or

emailgunadance@yahoo.com.

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