Malavika Sarukkai’s Opening Address on inaugural day of Natya Darshan
On Jan 20, 2016 at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mylapore, Chennai

“Designing Space: The Creative Process”

Photo: Lokhii
I extend a warm welcome to the respected gurus, eminent artists, distinguished participants of the Dance Symposium, Natya Darshan, ‘Designing Space The Creative Process.’ A welcome also to the rasikas, dance colleagues, press representatives and the many friends gathered here this morning. This edition of Natya Darshan should have taken place in December, but keeping in mind the devastation and grief that engulfed Chennai and its people, we collectively decided to postpone it to January.

This dance symposium would not have been possible without the sustained support of Sri. Sabaretnam, Chairman of Kartik Fine Arts. I specially thank him for believing in my capabilities and inviting me to be the curator for the Natya Darshan Symposium 2014 and 2015. His continuous  support and positive attitude has made this event possible.

To Smt. Sudharani Raghupathy and Smt. Chitra Visweswaran, I thank them for their support as advisors on the board of Kartik Fine Arts.

Curating and conceptualizing the Natya Darshan Dance Symposium over two years has been exciting as it gave me a chance to gather together several creative minds around a concept. In this dance symposium as the last one I have included sessions of multiple disciplines thereby recognizing the importance of a plurality in approach. This in turn invites us to engage with an open mind.

"More, not less, is the capacity of the heart, more, not less is the capacity of Art," a quote by writer Jeannette Winterson. This edition of Natya Darshan is a celebration of the abundance of art and the response it generates.

Aakasa, ether, space is one of the Pancha Bhutas, Five Elements. It provides a fundamental  substratum of our existence. In turn it becomes the substratum on which creative ideas materialize.  Over centuries human beings have been driven by the desire to leave behind an  imprint in their lifetime. A creative imprint. This has prompted an amazing diversity of design in formal and informal spaces. To name a few- cave paintings, the towering architectonic temples and utsava murtis, the great variety of paintings be it on wall, paper, ceramic, palm leaf, the handlooms on which intricate designs are created, the artist who designs space with dance, the potter who  transforms clay to make it an object, the simple rangoli drawn on the earth, the wayside fruit seller who stacks fruits in triangles of color or even the beachside stall where bright green peppers hang in a garland ...... Space is designed and redesigned.

Designing space is at the root of artistic enterprise. Artists of different disciplines have over the centuries designed it reflecting a cultural ethos. This continued surge of artistic endeavor has provided an astounding creative diversity in India.

Designing Space as the fundamental concept for Natya Darshan grew from my long deliberations with space as a dancer. I found the meaning of space changed as I went from being a student of dance to a dancer, then artist. As I internalized my dance I found space take on multiple meanings. And it is from this perspective that the two Natya Darshan symposiums evolved. In my dance journey over several decades I found that inspiration for dance came from many sources. It wasn't good enough to create with the dance studio as center but one had to look beyond - observe life with curiosity and passion. I believe, it is this philosophy that reinforces dance with vertical and horizontal dimensions.

The Natya Darshan Dance Symposium presented over these two days is a continuation of the interdisciplinary dialogue of the arts started in 2014. Both the Creative Process Symposiums conceptualized by me are structured with the purpose of encouraging openness to other forms of creativity and provoking an interest on the “making of art.” By doing so I believe viewers will be privileged to get a close up look at art and the creative mind behind it. This forum is also a space where artists, dancers, dance enthusiasts, rasikas, general public can share their perceptions and responses.

"Designing Space - The Creative Process" will have illustrated talks on diverse subjects as Temple Architecture, and Traditional Weaving practice.  It will also bring together performing artists from various disciplines to discuss their work with reference to structure, symmetry, asymmetry, harmony, disharmony, alignment, motif and purpose. Questions of craft and art, profane and sacred, utility and resonance will be delved into. Is art linear in function and purpose or is there a simultaneity of expression and meaning we are missing? Hopefully with the distinguished panel of artists, speakers and participants there will be some light thrown on these areas.

In elaboration to the concept of design there will be a lecture on music design for dance by an eminent music composer, a short film made in tribute to a legend in dance costume tailoring together with an illustrated talk on contemporary costume design.

Last year, the concept for the evening programs was the line of poetry "The Lotus Blossoms" - Ullasita Vikasath Sarasijam. Artists brought to their performances each day a different interpretation of the same line. In continuation, this year the evening programs will be a celebration of the line of poetry “The Rising Light Fills Space” - Jwala Vyapnoti Aakasam. I see these two lines of poetry as complementary and together they complete the circuit.

I thank the artists for having specially created individual dance choreographies around this line. There will be 6 premiers presented over these 2 days offering the audience a rich variegated view of  interpretation and imagination to reveal the astounding potential of Indian classical dance.

As was the Natya Darshan seminar last year, this year too, it is a movement celebrating the   abundance of creative possibilities and the interconnections between disciplines. It is driven by the need to recognize the valuable creative mind of the artist. In these 2 days we hope to stand amazed by the sheer range of the creative mind. To look closely for nuances and embellishments the dancer finely works into the composition, to acknowledge that the weaver is not a mere craftsman but an artist in his or her own right, to acknowledge the anonymous sculptors who created masterpieces in stone and metal, and the many inputs which go into composing music for dance. To look, listen and reflect on the dazzling array of imaginative ideas that are given form and come to life in performance.

The logo designed for the symposium suggests the frame, open space and the bindu - potential  holding all possibilities. The exploration by the participants will be to fill the open space with design.

We are privileged to have remarkable participants and artists share their views and art. They bring a lifetime’s experience condensed into these sessions and we are indeed grateful to them. This symposium concludes with a Round Table discussion and does not have a keynote speaker. If there are members of the audience who have attended the sessions and wish to ask questions, please give in your written questions to the volunteers at the reception area wearing badges and we shall take as many questions as possible.

This symposium pays tribute to the “green heart of the planet,” the great trees. When we stop beneath them to gaze above, their high foliage etches space with astonishing design. We are reminded they are in essence the great designers of space, aakasa making us ever grateful for their gifts of bounty and their enduring presence on the planet through the centuries. In keeping with this idea, all participants will be gifted a thicket of trees to be planted in their name in some part of India. The good news is, the growth of the trees can be tracked by them individually!

Each morning opens with a short presentation of dance showcasing inventive personal choreography by young dancers.  Following this, there will be interesting lecture demonstration sessions across a range of classical styles by senior artists who will share their insights and journey, other sessions where artists speak on the intersection of dance with theatre. Each evening we shall have a Q and A session after the evening concerts where the audience will get an opportunity to hear the principal artist speak about their unique creations.

The year 2015 has left behind a wake of sadness. We have lost many great artists and people closely associated with the world of dance.  May I now request the audience to stand and observe a minute’s silence in memory of these stalwarts - Pandanallur Swaminatha Pillai, Pandanallur M Gopalakrishnan Pillai, Mrinalini Sarabhai, Udupi Laxminarayan, MV Narasimhachari, Leela Ramanathan, Karunambal Pillai, Shyamala Mohanraj, Jayalakshmi Alva, Adyar Rama Rao, Padmini Ramachandran and R Krishnaswamy of Narada Gana Sabha.
Thank you.

This Dance Symposium is  aimed at creating a space where  artists, participants and audience can share the joy of discovering connections in art, be inspired by art and rejoice in the spirit of art which  at its deeper level “builds humanity.”

A great source of encouragement for me while curating this Dance Symposium was the ready  support and participation by the dance fraternity without whom nothing would have been possible! Here I would like to acknowledge that all the artists confirmed for December, are here with us today except two participants who could not accommodate the revised dates. This indeed is fantastic! Thank you all.

I also wish to thank Jayshree Poddar for believing in my concept and graciously agreeing to specially create the fabric for the set design. She is unfortunately unable to be with us today. Thanks also to my friend, Minaakshi Dass for sending her team from India Heritage Desk to cover Natya Darshan. The brainchild of Minaakshi Dass, this portal is the first of its kind to build an active platform for promoting the arts.  

My thanks also to Sri Sekar Rajagopal and the committee members of KFA for their support. To  Lalitha Venkat, my thanks for her meticulous planning, constant follow up in coordination and for always being a phone call or a mail away!  To Victor Paulraj and Team Studio 7 for their enthusiastic approach, professional commitment and delivery, and to Murugan and his team for their assistance and support.

I would also like to thank my friend Anandalakshmy for translating the phrase ‘The Rising Light Fills Space.’ I wish to acknowledge Akhila Krishnamurthy and team Aalaap for believing in this Dance Symposium and bringing to it their expertise, in areas of logistics, artist management, booklet, logo design, PR and overall coordination.

Wishing you two days of discovery!!!!!