Dance and Painting

Associate director and choreographer Madhuri Upadhya talks about dance and painting. Read on…


While my academic education has been in Fine Arts my extensive practice has been in dance (performing arts) for the past 20 years. It would be interesting to look at the principles of the two. Around 1st century BC the Sadanga or Six Limbs of Indian Painting, were evolved, laying down the main principles of the art.

  1. Rupabheda The knowledge of appearances.
  2. Pramanam Correct perception, measure and structure.
  3. Bhava Action of feelings on forms.
  4. Lavanya Yojanam Infusion of grace, artistic representation.
  5. Sadrisyam Similitude.
  6. Varnikabhanga Artistic manner of using the brush and colours.


Indian Dance is based on three main principles-

1. Mode of presentation Dharmis, Loka and Natya (natural and stylized)

2. Types of styles Kaiseki, Sathavati, Arbhati, Bharati

3. Types of performing Aangika, Vachika, Aaharya and Satvika (body, words, costumes/make-up/sets/props, essence)

I would also like to observe on what is common among the two forms-

  • Both have an audience
  • Both play with bhava and rasa
  • Both have elements of space, time and force
  • Both have movements

While a dance performance is time bound, it also involves more audience than a painting at one time. While there is a minimal distance required for anyone to view a dance performance, painting can be very tangible. Dance can also be heard as music accompanies it thereby making the experience very human and varied.

What would be interesting for me is to interpret principles of painting through dance giving me a completely fresh perspective to my approach.

Rupabedha– Knowledge of appearances comes with constant observation and practice. During our college days we would spend hours in the bus stop or railway station sketching and understanding the human form. Understanding perspective, energy of a space, choosing objects in space for a composition, placement of people and supporting objects in a painting, different types of body types and playing with their strengths for space manipulation is almost like playing in a playground to me. Although a direction is necessary, I feel when there is a certain detachment to the outcome is when the process and freshness of an art work is maintained

Pramanam-Correct measure and structure of the human form is crucial as it’s a powerful medium of expression. Study of anatomy, head is 1/7th a body, palm is the length of a face, number of joints in a limb, flexibility and mobility of the torso, design of the human body and it’s connections becomes vital. It’s extremely interesting to incorporate properties in my choreographies as my approach is very two dimensional. I always imagine a prop with a picture as a reference and I love to create surreal visibility in dance to tease my audience.

Bhava– If there is a way to move in a painting and frame a dance piece I would!! One should be able to touch music, hear a painting, smell rhythm, dance within a canvas, feel colours and move time. Practicing bhava while painting has made me question barriers of perspective, reality and illusion. Thereby opening channels of interplay of Rasa-Bhava between the artiste and audience. Sometimes I even indulge in a bhava along with the character, leading the audience to a world of my own!!!

Lavanya Yojanam– Artistic expression is very subjective and personalized. For the longest time in my journey it was about acquiring knowledge, observing and understanding grace and artistic representation. My fine arts background has taught me that resources for art comes from everywhere, but a fine eye for choosing the elements could create wonders!! There is a certain harmony and aesthetic balance of energy, movement, colours, light and rhythm required for every moment. Distorting or reassembling could result in clashes of energy and expression which could also be the choice of the artiste.

Sadrisyam– We learn by imitation, imitation from nature, imitation from great masters and imitation from life. For me my paintings have always influenced my choreography in dance. The structure is that of many beautiful still frames in motion. I have painted on the subject of puppets for almost 8years and my dance work ‘What do puppets do’ is an inspiration from that. Even my creation of chittara, myriad patterns on stage exploring 2 perspectives is an inspiration from my paintings. There is a strong role reversal recently with my dance choreography ‘Matsyaangana’ inspiring my next series of paintings

Varnikabhanga– Colours take the centre stage in a spot light, in my life. Colours move me and defines who I am every single day. Artistic manner of using colours almost comes naturally. I think colour- shades, texture, mood, symbolism and expression with colours as a medium has been my strength. I would earlier use a lot of contrasting and bright colours but off late have toned it to  shades of the same family with one contrasting tone.  I even visualize the feeling, a coloured light creates on an audience when it touches their skin.

When I am a painter I sign my painting and when I finish my dance presentation, I take a bow. Hoping the experience of both lingers on and invite more people to understand the reality of an artiste’s mind!!!


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