The power of permanence
- Veejay Sai, Bangalore
Photos courtesy: STEM

September 26, 2009 

Indian contemporary dance has indeed come of age. There might be a hundred varieties of the same genre being interpreted by yet another hundred dance troupes in and outside India. While we leave each to their own, itís important to acknowledge any new work. Whatever said and done, Natya STEM Dance Kampni, one of the country's oldest contemporary dance companies has always managed to set new trends and break records, once again creating a landmark in the long and unwinding journey that contemporary dance has taken. 

'Vajra,' their latest production, explores new grounds in this genre. Contemporary Indian dance never got so chic. A small idea is all it needed to bring about this giant cultural collaboration of sorts. Umesh Ganjam, who is not only the head of the legendary Ganjam Jewels but is also a man of high cultural taste and aesthetics, worked and researched on the concept of the diamond. "Our family has been into this business for generations now. So it was an idea that was always there. We just needed the right kind of people to execute it with the right sense of aesthetics," says Umesh Ganjam. His tie up with internationally renowned dancer Madhu Nataraj and her STEM Dance Kampni, along with collaborators like music director Praveen Rao, a Ninjitsu master, Shyama Sangeeth by Tara Kini and textual references by scholars like Shambhavi Chopra, brought about a production like Vajra.    

Vajra is a Sanskrit word commonly used for the diamond. The diamond has always been a symbol of elegance, indestructibility, femininity and permanence. Taking these basic qualities of what the diamond stands for and inter-mingling them with the vocabulary of Indian dance and bringing about a mixed media presentation, Vajra transcends the very idea of what Indian contemporary dance could do when efficient collaborations make a sincere effort.  "The idea completely belongs to Umesh Ganjam. When he came up with that, my company and I worked around it and improvised it to bring about a visual performative representation of the same. We didn't want to take the stereotyped notion of the diamond like coal to gemstone or darkness to light, so on and so forth. Those ideas have been done to death. We wanted to explore different interpretations of it. Like Tantrism, Vajrayana Buddhism, the various philosophical, esoteric and spiritual aspects of what a diamond could stand for," says Madhu Nataraj. 

Vajrayana Buddhism was born in what is now the Swat region which rises in the Hindukush range of the northern district of Pakistan by the banks of the ancient river Swat. The habitants of this region were called Swatis. Buddhism arrived in its tantric form via Padmasambhava, the great monk who travelled all the way from India and then later introduced the same to Tibet. Practiced by Buddhist monks who studied kundalini yoga, Hatha yoga and so on, one of the core philosophies of the vajrayana practices states that the vajra or the magic diamond is the key to unlock the kundalini from the base chakra 'mooladhara' to the liberation chakra 'sahasrara' in esoteric yogic practices.  While a lot of information on Vajrayana Buddhism is extinct, whatever remains of it has been well researched, detailed and chronicled in what the world knows as the 'diamond sutras.' The current production also takes its visual acts from these diamond sutras. Vajra as a contemporary dance production can easily be rated as one of the best in its genre brought about by some of the best collaborations. "We consulted senior writer and scholar Shambhavi Chopra who told us that vajra is born out of the cosmic waters and that gave us a whole new dimension in our performative interpretation of the main idea," says Madhu. 

The whole production is divided into three segments. The first sequence opens with members of the dance group emerging out of a ring through slow rhythmic movements, much like the birth of a child from the womb.  Showing the idea of 'vajrayoni' or the womb of brilliance which encompasses qualities like fearlessness, fecundity and balance as a metaphor for the goddess who is being celebrated, the performers of STEM were  absolutely stunning.  The second sequence was based on the Raiko which roots itself in the Japanese martial art form of ninjitsu. The third sequence called 'the dance of light' explored the scientific technicalities of what a diamond stands for. The performers gliding on the stage in rhythmic movements playing around with the idea of reflection, refraction and more symbolizing the 108 facets which make a diamond and then delivering the concept of Shiva and Shakthi, prakrithi and purusha end on the note that 'if he is the light, she is the lightning.' Janardhan Raj Urs, Ponnamma Devaiah, Ramya Nagaraj (each of them senior enough and achievers in their own right) and a whole host of the STEM dancers performed to a packed hall. 

Taking an idea and interpreting a whole production via choreography and visualization with the right Indian dance vocabulary and aesthetic, Natya STEM Dance Kampni's production of Vajra surely did break new grounds in the field of Indian contemporary dance. Performing to an over-packed Chowdiah Memorial Hall in Bangalore, Vajra is all set to take a world tour and showcase the same to thousands of music and dance lovers across the world. 
 
 
Veejay Sai is a writer, editor and a critic, living and working out of Bangalore. He may be contacted at veejaysai.vs@gmail.com