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Mayuri Upadhya: A big milestone for Nritarutya
- Lalitha Venkat

October 29, 2012

Mayuri Upadhya, Artistic Director of Bangalore based Indian contemporary dance company Nritarutya, shares her experience of choreographing a mega production for superstar Amitabh Bachchan's 70th birthday celebrations in Mumbai on October 10, 2012. A team of 80 dancers led by Mayuri Upadhya, performed to the tunes of the legendary poem "Madhushala" written by Dr. Harivansh Rai Bachchan and sung by Amitabh Bachchan himself.

How did you react when you first got to know Nritarutya was to perform at Amitabh Bachchan's birthday celebrations?
Every artist craves for his art to be seen, to be heard and feels bad when that does not materialize and even worse when it is ignored. Nritarutya performing at Amit-ji's birthday was history in making not just for my team but for many other reasons for all artists from Bangalore and South India. Two creative geniuses called Abu and Sandeep made it possible for a team down South to break into the mainstream Bollywood arena and present what we are known for, i.e. non Bollywood work. It was a dream project and very few artistes get such an opportunity backed with exposure. I felt and continue to feel elated and blessed.

What is your interpretation of Madhushala? How did you showcase the verses in your choreography?
Madhushala is a deep metaphorical poem on enjoying simple and truly rich moments of life. It asks one to look internally and not externally to experience happiness. It tells one that no matter where you are, which stage of life you are in, you can choose to exude a positive energy and be immersed in it and that rasa is madhushala... not a wine house/woman or a bar. It's about how man comes into the world and how birth and death is constant completing this cycle. It asks all to enjoy their journey and not worry about reaching the destination. In choreography, I intended to bring this out as interpretive as possible with a canvas like stage which changed with colors, shape, dynamics and movement. The dance vocabulary had clean lines, very rhythmic, filled with hastabhinaya- hand gestures, pattern motifs and imagery. Every paragraph had layers of design, set and drama added.

How did the mega production progress?
The poem is a classic and the real challenge for me was in being able to work over a production of such magnitude in a short span of time. We had exactly 20 days of work time and I was involved not just with choreography but also different aspects of the production from stage and set designing, costumes, styling the look of the characters to lights etc and that by itself was an enriching experience. We included multiple dance styles without diluting their forms. We had Mohiniattam, Indian contemporary dance, folk forms Dollu Kunitha and Kamsale from Karnataka, Theyyam from Kerala and aerial artists all divided into groups that presented themselves in different verses/ time in choreography and complemented each other to a harmonious unison.

Your reactions to the poem.
It's a timeless classic. Simple to read and comprehend with deep layers of interpretations. Mr. Bachchan introduced on stage, "My definition of a good poem is that it appears before you like a stranger who impresses you so favorably that you feel like befriending him, and the more you know him the more you like him. Good wine needs no bush, good poetry needs no explanation. Hence to the poem ...." and we began our presentation.

Did Amitabh-ji give you any specific instructions?
I had a personal briefing from Amitabh-ji himself before I began work on the production. He ensured that the universal philosophy of Madhushala is understood in depth by me. He said, "Madhushala is a celebration of life" with a smile. I was given utmost creative liberty to interpret the poetry as I wanted to. I asked him for memories of him and his father and the piece at every step has taken inspiration from my personal relationship with my father who I miss dearly too.

How do you feel about Nritarutya performing for an icon like Amitabh Bachchan?
It is the biggest milestone achieved by Nritarutya. It was an unforgettable experience working with the best collaborators under the watchful eye of Amit-ji and Sandeep Khosla. Amit-ji is very dignified, charismatic, intelligent and needless to say, inspirational. At the end, Amit-ji joined amidst the dancers in the centre stage and it added an illusionary maya to the the world danced in his happiness and he was radiating his energy like the sun right in the center.

How did you get chosen to choreograph for this event?
Hard work, talent, luck and destiny.

What are the future plans for Nritarutya?
Immediate plans... We are presenting a very talented UK based Kathak contemporary dancer called Aakash Odedra on Nov 8th in Ravindra Kalakshetra, Bangalore, in his touring production called 'Rising' in collaboration with British Council. Rest of the projects will be revealed in time.

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