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Miracle on wheels
Photos courtesy: Miracle on Wheels

December 5, 2017

Syed Sallaudin Pasha, trained in Kathak and Bharatanatyam at late Guru Maya Rao's institute in Bangalore, has for the past three decades carved a niche for himself by forming India's first inclusive dance company promoting the talents and abilities of people with special needs. It has been providing an equal platform for artists who are differently-abled along with abled artists. Their special needs are no different from the rest of the society. As Pasha says, they have extraordinary talents which are often ignored. The company brings them into limelight and showcases their skills across the nation and abroad.

Sponsored by My Skill Foundation in Kuala Lumpur for the first time, Miracle on Wheels company had an engrossing performance at Civic Centre. The Foundation arranged five more shows in different cities of Malaysia. For the past six years the Foundation has been rendering yeoman's service by providing young boys support, 'transforming lives of high risks youth', bringing them on right path to lead a normal life. 'Tears of Joy,' a brief documentary screened before the performance gave audience a glimpse into the lives of young people who after their wayward life - joining gangsters, attacking people, skipping classes in schools, moving in bad company - have their lives changed with help from the Foundation. The performances by Miracle on Wheels were one more apt choice to expose the youth to how the differently abled can overcome their inabilities and perform on wheelchairs with tremendous confidence bringing joy to one and all. My Skill Foundation has now acquired land and received financial assistance from the Government to build a permanent home for the youth for transforming their lives.

Accompanied by his wife Mahira, who is a trained Bharatanatyam dancer, Pasha had brought six choreographic works with differently abled dancers dressed in colourful costumes performing seated on wheelchairs, rotating at a frantic speed, to recorded music and excellent lighting. Currently most popular Kollywood film Bahubali has caught attention of audiences world over besides India. Drawing inspiration from Bahubali, Pasha has choreographed attention gripping war sequence, enacted dynamically by artists. Mahira with sword in her hand leading the wheel-chaired warriors evokes 'vira rasa' with war drums and sound of swords. The royal umbrella brought in to cover the brave warrior woman created colourful visual. In mere ten minutes the artists displayed their capacity to perform war scene impressively.

Bahubali on wheels

Shiva Tandava on wheels

Introducing Shiva Stotra in Bharatanatyam style, dancers ran across stage in wheelchairs, executing Bharatanatyam hastas and moving wheelchairs like adavus, basic feet movements of Bharatanatyam. Creating human pyramid, a young girl towered over other dancers on wheelchair bending creating a bridge between two artists, enacting Ganga flowing from Shiva's matted locks, and taking sculptural pose of dancing Shiva. The recitation in Sanskrit was flawless and the visuals stunning. Pasha introduced each number and also introduced the artists, some of whom could not hear or speak. And the artists with mime showed their appreciation of response of the audience.

Using the shlokas from Kalidasa's Kumarasambhavam praising the divine couple Parvati and Parameshwara, the dancers executed Abhinayadarpana shlokas with hand gestures, moving at a breakneck speed on the wheelchairs and extending arm movements creating square in the space. The Bharatanatyam form materialized before one's eyes with perfect synch to the accompanying music. That a classical dance form could be performed so imaginatively was a praiseworthy attempt.

The two choreographic works which won instant rounds of applause were Sufi dance and Bhagavad Gita. Sufi dance by four wheel-chaired dancers in white costumes spread over like skirt and the cylindrical cap to the captivating song in praise of Allah displayed the circling of the Sufi devotees. One forgot that they were seated on wheelchairs, so engrossing was the movement and moving in circles as Sufi dancers do, and the trance effect through music and gestures of prayers were exquisite. The element of spiritual feeling permeated the dance.

Bhagvad Gita on wheels was extraordinary. The shlokas from Gita beginning with blind King Dhritarashtra asking Sanjay to narrate to him what was happening on the battlefield, and armies arriving on battlefield, Krishna as a charioteer of Arjuna with two supporting sticks under his shoulders, using them dramatically, Arjuna seated in covered chariot, declining to fight seeing his kith and kin, Krishna telling him the celebrated shloka Karmanyava adhikaraste, Krishna rising on shoulders of two dancers seated on wheelchair and raising the stick upwards, creating an illusion of Vishwarupa was an excellent imaginative choreographic stroke. The shloka Yada Yada hi dharmasya glanirbhavati Bharata struck the emotional chords of the audience. The performance of such dexterity was indeed magical, with the audience mesmerized by sheer virtuosity of the artists.

Sufi on wheels

Vande Mataram on wheels
The finale with Vande Mataram, soldiers dressed in khaki uniforms and caps waving flags, evoked spirit of patriotism. And with Indian national song Jana gana mana adhinayaka jaya he, the audience sprang to their feet singing with the artists. The program had begun with national song of Malaysia and concluded with national anthem of India. By the end, it was obvious that all were moved by the valiant effort of the artists and wonderful work by Pasha and Mahira. The differently abled artists had won over the audience.

No doubt the couple has done amazing work. It would help the troupe if only once in the beginning when introducing the artists, the national and international awards won are mentioned. Not to be repeated before each work, because audience is convinced from the very first number about group's virtuosity and determined will to overcome any hindrances. Having seen Pasha's work in India on different occasions, one enjoyed revisiting the works. My Skill Foundation deserves kudos for touring the troupe in Malaysia. The troupe's motto is seen transparently in its diverse presentation.

Dr. Sunil Kothari is a dance historian, scholar, author and critic, Padma Shri awardee and fellow, Sangeet Natak Akademi. Dance Critics' Association, New York, has honoured him with Lifetime Achievement award.

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