A photographer focuses her lens on Indian dancers and their costumes

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Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: What you wear can say a lot about you, but if you're a dancer, it becomes crucial. It's part of your performance. Just think of Indian dancers, for example, and their beautiful saris. Photographer Briana Blasko spent five years going across India, documenting dancers and their costumes. She now has a book out called "Dance of the Weave," in which she showcases the many beautiful photos she took on that journey. So, five years, just going across India, looking at textiles and dancers. What an intense focus. Tell us about some of the people you met, and the stories they told you.

Briana Blasko: Yeah, it was a really long journey I went on. [Laughs] I think one of the important stories is about the--it's actually about the process of making the color indigo, blue. And...

Werman: Which comes from a plant, right?

Blasko: It comes from a plant, yes. It's a very large, bushy plant. So there's only a few families in India still making the color indigo, and I visited this one family. And it's a two day extraction process, and the plant is harvested, and then it's put into huge pools of water, and the plant is soaked overnight. And then the next morning, the plant is removed from the pools. And men get inside these pools and they do this kicking movement, it's like they're doing a dance. And they do this movement for about one and a half to two hours, it's the oxidation process. And at the end of it, some chemicals are actually put into the water, but the water is boiled down into what is the indigo cakes that is sold into the market. And it was one of the most fascinating things to see, the making of a color.

Werman: And as you said, the process of making indigo itself sounds like a dance. Where does this cloth, then, kind of get picked up by dancers? How do the weavers and the cloth makers connect with the dancers, the artists?

Blasko: It's a huge subject. There are so many different dance forms in India, from the eight classical dance forms, to the many martial art forms, to the various folk and tribal dance forms. And each of these particular dance forms connects to different textiles. And what I was interested in in the beginning of this project, was looking at the geographical connection between a particular dance form, and then also looking at that textile that's woven in that same region.

Werman: So can you give us like a mini tour of India, just give us like three fabrics, and how they are associated with different styles of dance?

Blasko: Sure. I started--I spent a lot of my first year in the south of India, and one particular dance form, it's a classical dance form called Bharatanatyam, and it's from Tamil Nadu. And there's a beautiful country fabric that's made in silk and cotton, but the silk one is particularly important to this dance form. And it's a beautiful brocade; there's often--temple borders can be on the palu, and the edge of the textile, or birds or different stories from mythology are actually woven into the fabric, the borders of these fabrics.
Kerala is also a state in the south of India, which I found particularly interesting. There's a lot of dance forms from Kerala, but they have a very simple, beautiful white, cotton and gold mundu fabric, which is important to the Mohiniyattam dancers.
And I was also particular interested, going up now into the northeast of India... but it's a beautiful, golden fabric called muga silk, which is cultivated and woven in Assam, in the northeast. And it's a very important fabric for the Sattriya dance form. So there's an island called Majuli in Assam, and these monks practice the Sattriya dance. And they very--it's a very prized fabric for them.

Werman: It's odd, though. When I think of textiles in South Asia, I think of the fast clothing industry, of the horrible working conditions in places like Bangladesh; the Rana Plaza disaster. But you show us this artisanal, high quality, small-output tradition of textiles, and with this amazing context of dance at the same time.

Blasko: Yes. And although I fell in love with hand loom weaving on my early visits to India, and that was something that I wanted to showcase as much as I could in the book... But the reality of that idea very much fell apart. That wasn't really the reality in villages. I mean, it's often quite expensive, to where a lot of these hand loom fabrics, although they're very beautiful, not everyone is wearing them. I think hand loom weaving will continue for a long time, but the clientele will become more and more niche.

Werman: Briana Blasko is a photographer. Her book, "Dance of the Weave," has just been published. She's been speaking with us from San Francisco. Briana, great to meet you. Thank you so much.

Blasko: Thank you, Marco.