Attakkalari: An arena for learning
- Padma Jayaraj

September 7, 2016

Jayachandran Palazhy, the founder and artistic director of Attakkalari, one of India’s premier contemporary dance organizations, staged his productions in Regional Theatre, Thrissur. Hailing from Thrissur, his path breaking journey through the fields of dances took him beyond India. After making his mark on international stages, he is now based in Bangalore as teacher, researcher and choreographer reaching out to the youth for artistic expressions in the midst of stressed lives.
Attakkalari commemorated a decade long efforts in holding its Diploma Program in Movement Arts & Mixed Media, a feature of the institution.  The 2-hour long performance gave a window view to contemporary dance. The new horizon beyond the familiar terrain proved intoxicating. The people of Thrissur more at home with classical dance forms, enjoyed a new form that largely eluded their grasp.
The event began with a traditional piece, Alarippu, which highlighted the angika aspect of Bharatanatyam. The group performance introduced it as a unique form, a prelude to Contemporary dance, highlighting its vocabulary. The stamp of the choreographer is visible in the nuances of gestural grammar, riveting footwork competing with the nattuvangam in tune with the symphony created by mridangam and violin. The first part couched in 4 beat cycles and the second in 5 beat cycles gracefully punctuating recorded music seemed like a moving installation in changing patterns.
A thillana, invoking Devi, the divine mother followed. Composed by Puchi Srinivasa Iyengar, and originally choreographed by Rukmini Devi Arundale, the performance is modified for a  group item. Set to raga Paras and adi tala, the quick footwork resonates predominantly in the recital. The orchestration of jingling feet and moving arms in ever-changing similar and contrasting configurations move in kaleidoscopic patterns in a vista of shifting colors. Choreographed by Minal Prabhu in Kalakshetra tradition, the moving limbs powered by rhythmic reverberations display a special harmony. Combining the dance items, video clippings showed the activities of Attakkalari.

Attakkalari’s Diploma in Movement Arts & Mixed Media, program has contemporary dance as a major subject. “Contemporary dance employs movements that are often invented fresh by processing memory, experience and imagination, thus helping us to make sense of our life today. Contemporary dance strives to achieve originality, innovation, creativity and interdisciplinary ways of creating performance works.” The young graduates of the program complete their training in contemporary dance techniques exposed to the methods of many visiting faculties from abroad.
The third item inaugurated the new feature. ‘Cocomoble’ choreographed by Carlo Pons Guerra is a contemporary dance piece. Originally from Spain, he lives and works in U.K. ‘Cocomoble’ celebrates a foreign artist’s tryst with the spirit of India: its rural charm enveloped in colors caught within the whirlwind of speed in a mega city. Carlo speaks of sighting a group of rural women in flowing colorful sarees adrift amidst the relentless current of traffic in the city of Bangalore. The dance evokes life in an Indian city: interspersed with wandering animals, different types of traffic jostling neck to neck, the city’s humanity weave their life’s embroidered patterns in fleeting yet innumerable designs. The dance recital is a playful representation of the enigmatic beauty in the heart of chaos.  The lyrical quality of light designs, ballet movements mixed with a body language in contemporary idiom and strains of western music create a magical realism in abstract form. Even when meaning eluded, the sensory experience was overwhelming.
‘Links’ is a remarkable contemporary dance piece choreographed by Stefano Fardelli, an Italian known throughout Europe for his work as a dancer, actor, choreographer and teacher. ‘Links’ draws our attention to the invisible links that separate and bind us trapped within our checkered existence. The lighting creates the architectural designs of a cityscape. The use of cords in varying colors cutting across, functions like a ribbon dance defining space within the constraints of an urban milieu. And the elastic physical movements of dancers explore the mystery of existence and the zest for life dancing within in a multidimensional arena. Swaying within the resonance of music created by a mix of drums and percussions, Links, a metaphor for life, stretch on and on signifying inevitability.
‘Writing on the Water’ choreographed by Attalia Egerhazi, a ballet master from Hungary, is a  highly evocative work on a universal dilemma. The ephemeral quality of life is painted on the stage on an unbelievable canvas and the futile attempt to write on water becomes a metaphor for life with spiritual underpinnings. Music is integral and prominent. Soundscape dominates. Pitter patter come the rains and grows in torrential intensity.  On the stage human forms in subdued lights, represent life’s creations caught within the flooding flowing waters. Swayed by its immensity, quivering under subtle lighting, life is affected in all its manifold existence. Buffeted by merciless currents, flung to different shores, caught within its flooding ebbs and flows life is battered and scattered heaving under an unknown power. Its poignancy is overwhelming. And then the rains subsided, the flow slowed down. The music and the movements of dancers came to a halt. It was a profound experience.
‘Aahikanta,’ the final piece based on Kalaripayattu, gives an insight into contemporary dance as an art. Indian dance chorographers use its feats in modern productions. Aahikanta, pushing beyond the limits, is presented as a mirror turned to life where even mock fighting is bonding, striving to build up relationships. How the body transcends the boundary is explored by the artists in defying gravity, creating fluidity, venturing beyond in its characteristic flights. Facial expressions adding a charming dimension comes as a pleasant surprise in this artistic rendering. The choreographers Raamkumar and Sreerag have combined other martial feats as well to create an alluringly poised fusion. Woven together in an exciting choreography set to traditional orchestra, panchvadyam with the majestic rhythms from mizhavu drumming and the mellifluous beats of edakka, Aahikanta is visually stunning and aurally captivating.

The next day was a workshop and audition. Jayachandran was introducing the alphabets of contemporary dance to a group of eager youngsters. I watched how his ballet movements helped to shake off rigidity, learn fluidity while the mind drives the body to expand, to reach infinity. I wish them well in their efforts to climb greater heights.

Padma Jayaraj is a freelance writer on the arts. She is a regular contributor to