My name is Emma Balnaves and I have been a teacher in Shadow Yoga (one of the traditional forms and philosophies of Hatha Yoga) for over 20 years.
In 2019 I completed my first film Agniyogana, a documentary inspired by a desire to share the essence of my teachings.
With Pure Dance, I would like to expand my cinematography and address the quest I pursued, with my husband Sundernath (also a Shadow Yoga master and teacher), over 20 years ago.
This spiritual and physical journey led us to a very ancient dance. A sequence of postures, which, when properly and regularly performed, can lead to inner freedom. A place inside you, free of anything but yourself. A peaceful space where all actions are just.
This film will be the story of how we uncovered this Pure Dance, researched it and shared it (and continue to do so), because, in these troubled times that we are all facing, I feel that helping people find inner freedom is quite simply, the best thing anyone can do.
A story about teaching, researching and sharing. This is a story that takes place today but started over 20 years ago.
This is the story of a treasure, uncovered through years of uninterrupted yoga practice, meditation, discipline and faith.
Not a treasure made of precious stones or money. Something far more valuable.
Nrtta sadhana, the Pure Dance, is the wild dance of creation, sustenance, and destruction. This dance of life is a reflection of the living principle, a reminder that everything in this world, that the world itself, is an ever-evolving shape.
The Pure Dance is a sequence of postures that re-creates the infinite outflow of the energy of life. Apparently simple, yet deeply sophisticated, it implies rising up and lowering down, expansion and contraction, hands and feet.
It is a form of meditation. It will actually put you in a natural state of Sahaja Avastha or Transcendental Meditation. It is also an offering to the Nataraj –the cosmic dancer aspect of Shiva.
If Yoga manifests the ability to differentiate the soul from what is not the soul, then the Pure Dance is the very essence of yoga.
The quest started in the 1994, with a song. While still running a yoga school in Sydney, Sundernath met a master of Hindu astrology who taught him a song called the “Shiva Tandava Stotra of Ravana”. Three years later, he was offered a book by a complete stranger. “There will come a day when this book will serve you on your journey”. The book was the “Pashupata Sutram” and at the heart of it, the Nrtta sadhana, the Pure Dance was described.
To explore it further and hopefully meet masters, it was decided to go to “Chidambaram”, a massive temple built in the 12th century in South India and dedicated to Lord Shiva in his form of Nataraj, the dancer.
In the Temple, Sundernath immediately noticed the eastern gate: the 108 karanas -the dance positions- were carved in the tower. But the head priest did not know anything about them. So Sundernath waited under the tower.
A wandering sadhu noticed him and brought him to one of the buildings of the temple: the Hall of the Thousand Pillars. There, he pointed to another set of carvings in a particular arrangement. There lay the treasure: the key positions with their hidden rhythm, in their sequential order. The sadhu demonstrated these positions and gave guidance over the day. Then he bid goodbye and left. Sundernath never met him again.
There were years of experimenting with the positions and refining the moves. It was a physical quest but also intellectual and spiritual research, looking at drawings and sculptures, discussing with the artists, watching theatrical performances, and looking up for similar moves in other cultures.
Sometimes very basic ones: how do you reproduce a posture of Nataraj dancing with his four arms, when you have only two.
Then there was more traveling, more temples (in particular the Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu), more discussions with sadhus and artists.
With this documentary, my aim is to travel, going back to all these places, bringing the audience on a journey to Chidambaram and other Pashupatinath temples in India and Nepal. My wish is to meet and talk with sadhus, priests, and also the artists (sculptors and painters) who, still today, keep carving and drawing the positions of the Pure Dance.
This work will also obviously include footage and documentation on the Pashupata Sutras, the Nataraj and other related paths.
She has been teaching since 1995 and is the co-founder of Shadow Yoga.
Emma was introduced to yoga in her early teens when she became intrigued by the mystery of the practices and the feelings they evoked inside her.
After graduating in visual communication, majoring in photography at the University of Adelaide and working in the creative arts in Sydney, New York, and London, Emma committed herself to a life of teaching yoga.
Decades of in-depth study followed with research in yoga, Ayurveda, and other internal arts. Emma began incorporating the full spectrum of the yogic process in her teaching.
In 1998 both Sundernath and Emma began extensive travel – teaching and training internationally.
In 2019, Emma completed her first film Agniyogana, a documentary inspired by a desire to present a better understanding of all aspects of the practice.
2021: New Wave Short Film Festival – Official Selection
2020: Rishikesh International Film Festival – Hall of Fame
2020: ARFF Paris– Around Paris International Film Festival Best Documentary Honorable Mention
2020: Amsterdam World International Film Festival – Official Selection
2020: ARFF Paris – Around Paris International Film Festival Best Documentary – Official Selection
2020: DRUK – International Film Festival – Winner
2020: Rishikesh International Film Festival – Best of Fest
2020: American Documentary & Animation Film Festival – Official Selection
2020: Saint Luis Obispo International Film Festival – Official Selection
2020: Lift-off Global Network Tokyo – Official Selection
2021: Madonie Film Festival, Region of Sicily – Best Documentary
Pure Dance will be Emma Balnaves’ second film.