TEACHER PROFILE: NIHARIKA SENAPATI
Melbourne-based dancer Niharika Senapati, discovered Countertechnique early on in her career and since then has never looked back. Having worked as a dancer for Anouk van Dijk at Chunky Move, she studied Countertechnique intensively and organically became a teacher in 2014. With a fun-loving nature and honest love for dance and the moving body, Niharika shares with us her discoveries - from her humble Countertechnique-beginnings until now. By Madeline Harms.
Tell me a little about where you are from.
I come from quite a worldly family, everyone is spread out everywhere. My parents are both from India and throughout my childhood we moved around a lot. The sense of travelling between countries and cities is quite present, and has been like that for generations. Which is a lucky and privileged situation!
What was your first experience with Countertechnique like?
In my final year at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA), Anouk and Nina Wollny came to Perth and did a workshop with us. I remember how much I loved the feeling of the movement and it felt weirdly familiar on my body, even though I had never done it before. I remember Anouk talking about the body as a volume and that was the first time I had ever heard anyone refer to the body with this idea before. This particular concept was mind-blowing to me! But it wasn’t until my first project a year later that I really got into Countertechnique. Then I was just a complete nerd and absolutely loved learning the structure, creating exercises for myself and talking to myself out loud so I knew exactly what I was thinking about! It’s a little embarrassing but I just loved it.
How was your transition into professional life?
It all went unexpectedly smoothly! I graduated from WAAPA in 2011 and started to work with Anouk van Dijk at Chunky Move shortly after. It was a four day audition and was such an interesting exercise in confidence. In a way I nailed the first two days because I was so carefree and let all the channels be open, but as soon as I started to judge myself I struggled. However, to my surprise Anouk offered me an apprenticeship position for the first work and we have continued to work together since.
How does Anouk use Countertechnique tools within her choreographic work?
Countertechnique and her choreography are separate from each other, but they compliment each other very well. If you have done a lot of Anouk’s choreography it is easier to understand the technique, and if you’ve done Countertechnique a lot it’s easier to find your way through her choreography. In that sense they are intricately connected.
The more Anouk and I work together, the more we know about each other, and the more we exchange about Countertechnique. The tools are super present in the room and interlinked with the way that we learn, rehearse and perform the work. Sometimes the tools do become so interlinked with the movement, that they merge together. For example, the physical movement may be drawing a circle in the air with my arm, but in my mind that action becomes “wide-arm-pit”. Also, the sense of double presence in being aware of yourself and the space around you is always present when you’re performing. So in that sense, yes, the tools are super present in Anouk’s work, but yet again the tools are yours to use whenever you need. It’s your prerogative when, if and how you want to use them.
How does Countertechnique help you in your own performance career?
I think the continuous reiteration in Countertechnique that everything you do is (part of) a process has just radically changed the way I approach performance. The performance is another chance to practice whatever you’re doing or it is an incubated version of something that you practiced before. However it isn’t governed by success or failure, but is more of an articulation of the process that you’re undergoing. If you allow yourself to, you can undergo a change in your body and self from the beginning to the end of a performance. In a way it doesn’t matter what the choreography is, but just the fact that you are open to the present and becoming ever more aware of what is around you throughout the performance. It is also a constant renegotiation of where processes reveal themselves within the performance, from the relationship with the movement to the relationship with colleagues on stage.
Also, I used to struggle with articulating dance and essentially through Countertechnique I learnt how to verbalise the experience of the body. Dancers have extreme body intelligence, but it does take practice to know how to articulate that in verbal language. This has helped me particularly when working with actors, whose job is to create material in words. It’s interesting for me to be able to go into those processes, knowing that I can articulate the experience quite beautifully.
What is the main focus of your classes?
To have a really good time! Teaching a class is like hosting a party; it’s about providing the snacks and playing the right music at the right time and having the right conversations in the right moment with the right people. Simply creating an environment where people can have a good time. I have become quite good at tuning into the energy in the room, reading what is going on and transforming the space into something light, positive and fun.
How do you keep your classes fresh?
Keeping my music playlist fresh! I am a musical dancer and that’s how I feel the energy. Through the music I can access different rhythms in my body. I have always been driven by sound - it is the number one remedy for excess tension and playing fun music that you just want to dance to will bring a good time. I also like to play games a lot! I like to think about what tools I want to use during the class and then create games for the beginning of class that will allow the tools to be better understood in a fun way.
What is one last important thing you would like to share that Countertechnique teaches you?
By studying Countertechnique you become so aware of your thought patterns. You can catch yourself in situations that if you are unaware, can lead you down an unhelpful thought path. But if you are aware, you can turn your focus to where it needs to be. Lately I’ve been asking myself “how did I get here?”. Nothing ever happens completely out of the blue, of course there are exceptions, but generally most things happen in a ‘slow-fade’. It started from something very small a long time ago, but only later do we see how it worked out. Bad thoughts, or things that get in the way of your confidence, didn't just magically come to your mind - there was probably a moment in time that got you thinking about it in the first place.
There is a level of practice that can be done to start to observe that process from the beginning, so that you’re aware of it and can be in control of yourself. You always have a choice and you can find something else to be concerned about. I mean it’s easier said than done, but with practice it will get easier!
Find out here where Niharika is teaching next.
In July 2018, the Teacher Profile Interview Series will feature Teacher Countertechnique Charles Slender-White
The Countertechnique Teacher Profile Interview Series was initiated in October 2017. Madeline Harms is an Australian dancer and writer, currently based in Mainz, Germany. Learn more about Madeline on her blog Travelling Dancers.