Christopher Gurusamy's Ānanda: Dance of Joy: 'A Real Moment For Bharata Natyam In Australia'

Having made a name for himself as a classical dancer around the world, Christopher Gurusamy says it was "very special" to be back in Sydney for this show.

Christopher Gurusamy

Classical dance like Bharata Natyam (also spelled by some as bharatanatyam), takes discipline, commitment and passion – three elements that Christopher Gurusamy embodies in his years of dance practice.

Born and raised in Perth, Gurusamy has always loved dance and its ability to aid storytelling and self-expression. At the age of 18, he relocated to India to further his skills, becoming the first Australian to study at the renowned dance and arts institution, Kalakshetra.

Since then, Gurusamy has forged an incredibly impressive career around the world, performing as a troupe member of Leela Samson’s Spanda Dance Company, as well as taking to the stage as a soloist locally and abroad.

Coming back to Sydney recently for Ānanda: Dance of Joy, was particularly special for Gurusamy, who performed a two-hour solo show that took audiences on a powerful journey of movement, melody and rhythm celebrating the traditional format of Bharata Natyam with a contemporary, Australian voice and perspective. ’Ānanda’ is a Sanskrit word meaning the place in which one finds bliss.

Here, we chat to Gurusamy about his vision for the production, the choreography and his love for the dance form.

Christopher Gurusamy

Image Source: Supplied/Natya Ink by Sudha

How did you come up with the idea for this recital, as well as the stories and choreography you wanted to convey?

The pieces I chose to present for this performance were a selection of previous works that I re-worked and curated into one recital of dance. It has been a few years since I performed in Sydney and I have evolved as an artist in many ways since then. I mainly wanted to show the full potential of the form and how I work with it.

It was important to me to show that the form has the potential to straddle many worlds all at the same time, and that my performance practice can help to bridge gaps. Within classical forms, there is diversity and a range of techniques and methodologies that can be implemented and re-contextualised in many ways.

How long did it take you to choreograph and rehearse this?

Some of the works are my own choreography, some are those of my guru on which I have built through my performance of them. Bharata Natyam is very much a form based on a base choreographic framework in which you embed structured improvisation.

Some of these I learnt years ago and some I finished during the week of the audio recording in the studio. 

Ninnu Juda is a piece I learnt whilst training at Kalakshetra in 2010 and have loved for many years; what was interesting during the preparation for this performance was the process of unlearning and reducing the gestural elements of the form to reveal the character.

Origins was a piece I conceptualised and choreographed in 2023 for my full-length work, ‘Dreaming in Sand, Sky and Sea’, commissioned by Narada Gana Sabha, Chennai for its Natyarangam Festival. It is a very intense but meaningful piece for me as each time I delve further into it, I find something new to add to it, a new idea or thought or movement that I feel encapsulates the idea.

Of course, the beauty of music, dance and art is that there are various forms of interpretation. Was there anything in particular you hoped audiences would particularly take away from this show?

I have often tried to challenge this notion of my audience taking what I want them to take away and worrying people that they won’t understand. I would rather ask audiences to reflect and think, did the work make you feel anything? And if it made you feel something, then my performance did what it was supposed to! Sometimes those feelings can be deeply personal, sometimes audiences will boldly share those feelings. Over the years, I have grown a keen perception of how audiences respond in their multiplicity and seek to work with that in understanding how to imbue broader relevance into my performance - it is an inherent part of the rasa theory underpinning Bharata Natyam.

Christopher Gurusamy

Image Source: Supplied/Natya Ink by Sudha

You've worked in Australia but also abroad. How does it feel to have brought this performance to Sydney, and to have your loved ones sitting in the front row as well?

It was a very special to have senior dancers particularly pioneers like Dr Chandrabhanu OAM (Melbourne) Susheela Craig and Anandavalli present for the shows. Having their blessings and support as I endeavour to create my own legacy within the Australia arts sector is very special.

I think in ways I hope to play a huge role in the future of the form, as the first Australian-born dancer to go back to India and study the form in an institution like Kalakshetra with its household name, and make a name in the performance circles of Chennai’s concert circuit. 

However, there is nothing like performing in a place that has made you feel at home. Since my first show at Madhuram Festival in 2016, I have always loved Sydney and am so proud to call it my home. It was beautiful to see such a diverse audience attending this recital, and amongst them to see several people who have become close to me. As someone described to me, Ananda was a real moment for both me and for Bharata Natyam in Australia - which is both humbling and endearing.