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Ayswaria Wariar: Completely devoted to Mohiniattam
- Vijay Shanker, Mumbai

June 22, 2012

Vadodara (Gujarat) based Mohiniattam exponent Ayswaria Wariar has established the Nrithyodaya Charitable Trust towards the propagation and promotion of classical arts. She has performed for several prestigious festivals like Mohiniattam festivals in Trivandrum and Bangalore, Uttaradhi Festival organized by the Government of Gujarat, Soorya Festival, Mudra Festival in Tanjore, Hampi Festival, Deepcharika Festival in Indore, Dance and Music Festival in Doha (Qatar) to mention a few. With almost a decade of dedication towards both Bharatanatyam and Mohiniattam, Ayswaria talks about her journey as a dancer, teacher and choreographer.

How were you initiated into dance?
Dance came naturally to me. In fact, my mother Sribala Menon is an accomplished Bharatanatyam exponent and she was my first teacher. Later, I also learnt from Dr. Sucheta Chapekar. I never thought that one day I would become a professional dancer. I learnt Mohiniattam under Udyogamandal Vikraman and Kalamandalam Saraswati.

You started with Bharatanatyam. Why did you shift to Mohiniattam?
I teach both Bharatanatyam and Mohiniattam but when it comes to performances, it is mainly Mohiniattam. Since I hail from Kerala and Mohiniattam is a style, which has not too many performers unlike Bharatanatyam, I felt it is better to concentrate on Mohiniattam. It is a style that needs more recognition and is continuously evolving. I also feel Mohiniattam is more suitable for my personality.

What were the technical difficulties you faced when you started learning Mohiniattam?
I was quite young and concentrated strictly on Mohiniattam as I knew that here is a style that is completely lasya oriented. Hence I needed to be more flexible pertaining to the swaying movements and the lyrical grace that needs to be maintained. I learnt Mohiniattam from Udyogamandal Vikraman for twelve years before doing my masters in dance.

In which dance style did you do your masters?
I completed my Masters in Dance in the Bharatanatyam style under the guidance of Guru Sucheta Chapekar from the Pune University, Centre for Performing Arts. While I learnt the theoretical aspect from the University, I learnt the practical aspect of dance from Sucheta-ji. It was not difficult to learn again as I had my initial training in Bharatanatyam from my mother.

Can you tell us about your training under Kalamandalam Saraswati?

There were two reasons as to why I wanted to learn Mohiniattam from Kalamandalam Saraswati. Firstly, I wanted to learn the basic adavus as taught in Kalamandalam and secondly, she is also my mother's mentor. Learning the adavus again was a process of re-learning and re-inventing myself as a Mohiniattam dancer, as ultimately the complete structure of the dance is based on the adavus and if that it executed properly, there is a stylistic impact on your performance. Besides the adavus, I learnt the traditional invocatory Cholkettu and a Swati Tirunal padam. As everybody knows, Kalamandalam is the most renowned academy for both Mohiniattam and Kathakali.

What did you learn from Kavalam Narayana Panicker?
As you know, he is an established lyricist and an authority on theatre arts. Hence, I could learn a lot from him pertaining to the music system and the theatrical aspect of three styles, mainly Koodiyattam, Kathakali and Nangiar Koothu. He was also instrumental in writing the lyrics of the padam for my choreography on Lakshmana's wife Urmila. His deep knowledge of both the sahityam and the lyrics helps me understand various characters with better insight.

What inspires you to choreograph and what is the process?
It is here I feel that divine intervention does play a part. When I start, I have certain ideas but when it comes to implementation, it takes a lot of time and it is not easy. For instance, Kalidasa's Meghadootam is suitable to the Mohiniattam temperament pertaining to both love and nature. Since Sanskrit theatre is the forte of Kavalam-ji, I could derive the essence of both Sanskrit and poetry with a touch of beauty in it, which is again suitable to Mohiniattam style. My forty-five minute production on Urmila is based on the lyrics written by Kavalam Narayana Panicker, where I portray the complete character of Urmila as she suffers from the pangs of separation for fourteen years since her husband Lakshmana is in exile in the forest along with Rama. I feel this is an unusual presentation of my choreographic work.

I have choreographed Kalidasa's Meghadootam in Mohiniattam style, Shankaracharya's Soundaryalahiri in Bharatanatyam and Mohiniattam styles, Gopalaka Pahimam incorporating the 'stree kathapatras' and the varied emotions.

Can you tell us about Nrithyodaya Charitable Trust?
Under Nrithyodaya Trust that is registered under the Gujarat State Sangeet Natak Akademi, I established the Nrithyodaya School of Classical Dance with the intention of teaching dance to poor children who are interested in learning but do not have the means to do so. My students are trained to perform along with me in the dance-dramas I choreograph.

Besides performances and teaching, what else do you do to propagate Mohiniattam?
Being privileged to be junior fellow of Sangeet Natak Akademi, I have been doing research on the indigenous elements of Kerala music and tala with relation to Mohiniattam under the able guidance of Kavalam Narayana Panicker. Mohiniattam definitely needs greater exposure, and I am completely devoted to it.

Most Mohiniattam dancers are heavily built. How have you been able to maintain yourself?
I am quite particular about my diet and my regular rehearsals keep me on my toes and fit too. I believe it is very important for a dancer to be in perfect shape and form.

Are you happy with the way your career has shaped up?
My husband's work is based in Vadodara, and I am quite happily settled there. The wonderful response I get in Vadodara is very encouraging and I also travel for performances and workshops to Kerala and other places. I am happy with the performances that come my way. I do not run after them. People see me perform and I get more and more invitations to perform. I am happy with the support I have received from my parents and my husband and I feel blessed.


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