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Interview: Ildikó Gulyás – An Indian Classical Dance Performer from Hungary

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Her name is Ildikó Gulyás. She teaches Bharatnatyam, an Indian classical form of dance in Hungary. She is an example of dedication, determination, and strong willpower quite visible form her exemplary performances in her country and a good number of disciples who learn dance and music from her.

Welcome Ildikó to Blogcritics. How would you briefly describe your journey towards music?

I have qualifications in western music – i am basically a music teacher and choral conductor – but I was teaching in school for two years only before I left to India. I had my initial training in Bharatanatyam in Hungary, along with some lessons in Carnatic music-vocal.

In 2002 i received the ICCR scholarship and i was officially a dance student of “Kaladiksha” run by my guru Padmashri Meenakshi Chitharanjan. Meanwhile I joined Music Academy Madras –Teacher’s Training College, where I studied Carnatic vocal and attained my Certificate in 2004.

I also joined Mrudangam classes at the Academy and also went for private classes to Padma Bushan Umayalpuram Sivaraman.

I returned to Budapest in 2006. Since then I teach and perform Bharatanatyam, and for short term Carnatic vocal as well. I still continue to sing in choir to keep in touch with western music – this keeps my voice and ears in training. We have many concerts and I have travelled with this choir from Japan to Argentina.

At what age you find yourself inclined towards music and later how did you get inclined to Indian Classical Dance?

I started to learn classical western music at the age of six. My parents put me into a musical elementary school, where we had every day music classes as part of the syllabus. We also sang in the school choir. Later I played the flute also for six years and I went to a music high school, where I could continue my music classes every day and take up some piano for my entrance exam for higher musical education.

From where did get have your western music qualification, when, and what are they?

I finished college in Budapest in 1998. My subject was music and solfeggio, a methodology for teaching music to children between 7-14 in elementary schools and music schools. I had a history of music and piano as compulsory subjects. Choral conducting is similar to leading an orchestra, but here we work with a number of singers, tech them, direct them musically, build up a concert, and conduct it. Choral singing is quite popular in Hungary.

What is Bharatanatayam, in your own words?

Bharatanatyam is not merely a dance. The word dance means something completely different to an Indian (or any eastern raised person) than it does to one who is nurtured in western culture. In the west, dance is either an entertainment or amusement, or a tool for self-expression. But the cultivation of dance or natya in Indian culture has been always the vehicle of bhakti. The entire repertoire of Bharatanatyam, the songs, poems, are all based on this. To be able to be a true devotee a dancer should be a perfect human being – as much as she can.

Bharatanatyam is the best form of art to polish one’s personality to become such a perfect human. It is polishing me from every side. It gives exercise and grace to the body, sensitivity to the soul, concentration and memory to the mind. Through Bharatantyam one can learn not only a dance style, but gain a holistic knowledge of music, rhythm, languages, puranas, visual arts, and the depth of Indian philosophy.

How would you describe Carnatic Music?

Music is the most sophisticated among the arts. It is conceived through the ears and appeals directly to our mind. Therefore it is the highest of the performing arts. For this reason everywhere in the world music can wake up the inbuilt divine qualities of humans and with its special vibrations elevate us to the highest state. This is particularly true for classical music and for Carnatic music, the most ancient system of music which has not been diluted over thousands of years. Carnatic music is the purest form of music.

As a student I was fascinated by the systems of ragas and talas. It is wonderful how a raga can show its personality even with a slight shake, a difference in intonation, or how we take a note. When a raga takes its rupam, it will become powerful and can lead the musician and listener from sorrow to happiness, from loneliness to dissolution, to god and community, an entire journey through life which has a purifying quality.

The tala system of Indian music is unmatchable. No parallel is found in any other systems. For me when I hear the sound of the mrdangam or any Indian percussion instrument, when the musician is playing intricate and sparkling rhythmic patterns, it all conveys to me the power and vitality of life, and the perfection of the entire world. It is a direct expression and representation of the universe and universal power and joy.

What were your main performances and experiences in India?

I had my first solo performance in 2003 in Chennai Narada Gana Sabha. Later I took part in many group performances and dance dramas directed by my guru. I had solos later during the December festival at Chennai Brahma Gana Sabha and also got the opportunity to perform at the famous Chidambaram Natyanjali Festival in 2006. 

What are your major activities now?

Since my return I teach and perform Bharatanatyam. I have a small but dedicated group of Hungarian students and we are also capable of giving some group performances now. I took up dance classes at the Indian Embassy Cultural House this year. I also invited a few Indian performing artists to Budapest and organized music and dance events. I feel it is important that the Hungarian audience should see high-quality Indian classical dace/music from Indian performers.  I also sometimes give interviews to radio or television on Indian dance and music.

What is your message to our readers on Blogcritics?

Everyone should cultivate dance or music in some way, even if it is not easy or one meets great difficulties. Because only these arts can make resonances in people’s souls and unite us. If we lose it then we see emptiness and loss of happiness. More about me and my work is on my website.

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  • Neeraja Sridharan

    That is excellent. Great to know ur interest in Indian Classical Music and Dance. I am sure you will be able to speak a lot about Indian and Western Classical Dance. The next time during the Margazhi Mahotsavam (December Fest) you must give a special talk on this topic in the Music Academy Madras. These lecdems will be very useful for students and those who have deep interest in dance and music.

  • Chanchal

    I am so happy for your success in life.