Honoring an icon
- Padma Jayaraj
e-mail: padmajayaraj@gmail.com

February 9, 2017

It is a year now since one of India's illustrious dancers Mrinalini Sarabhai passed away, leaving a unique legacy of dance for activism. The first edition of Mrinalini Sarabhai Memorial National Choreography Festival was held in Thrissur showcasing a three-day event at Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Academy Hall, on January 19, 20 and 21, 2017 organized by Hastha, an organization to promote the ideals and visions of the legendary classical dancer. The selection panel shortlisted four best choreographies from all over the country. The competition for the 'Best Choreography' and the 'Best Choreographer' got cash awards. A documentary film on the life and ideals of Mrinalini Sarabhai proved a beacon light for upcoming artistes. Eminent persons from sociopolitical fields, including her daughter Dr. Mallika Sarabhai spoke on the occasion. Darpana, her dance academy in Ahmedabad, staged productions of Mrinalini Sarabhai, The Ganga and Aspirations, choreographed for creating ecological awareness.

'A Choreographic Festival' evoked a sense of anticipation because of the novelty of words. Choreography has been part of theatre and dance productions in India in traditional format. As a contemporary art it originated in America in modern times. In India the modern choreographers reinvented a configuration with Indian sensibilities. Choreography is now the art of designing sequences of body movements to create a work where the non-verbal takes the centre-stage. Exploring the aesthetics of minimalism, enhanced by lighting and sound/music, human bodies sculpt changing installations to highlight power, depth and multiple meanings.

Rajhansa's A SELF BEYOND SELF is a contemporary Kathak choreography conceived and choreographed by Rujuta Soman. The Kathak production is cast against technological backdrop of graphics and light design. The theme is the journey of a dancer who overcomes her feelings of insecurities to reach a transcendent self. The mythical Swan of the Himalayas, come every year to an island for breeding. During such a journey, a flock is caught in a storm and they land in an islet near Mythila. There they encounter the native species, a group of cranes. The strange migrants and the natives weave a life that is similar to a humanscape that reflects the sense of insecurities that dominate in the first half. The nobility of the visiting birds transform and ennoble the attitudes of the native birds.

The second half, with the seascape and bird formations in the sky as in cinematic visuals, a beautiful parallel to the stage presentation with music and lighting, was really captivating. That the first human story and the story of the Swan-Cranes did not gel, affected unity of the production.

THE TRANSPARENT TRAP was physical theatre, choreographed by Shrikant Bhide of Dhyass. Reminding of Charlie Chaplin's 'Modern Times' without its parody, it brought out the stark reality of the menace of the plastic in modern life. The choreography highlights the trap that humans created for themselves. The visuals begin with the baby caught within the womb, strangely replicating the transparent plastic trap. The music and the light design create a sense of being trapped even before birth. The intimate association continues on an everyday basis for use.

Then the question of disposal creates the problem. Now all beings are affected by its menace. The non-degradable nature of the material makes it a killer of all living beings, chocking the very life of all flora and fauna on Earth. Without words, comments and solutions it highlights the crisis that humanity is engulfed in. It proved a powerful physical theatre and won the first prize.

BHIMA choreographed by Anitha Santhanam for Our Theater, is an experimental piece. The choreography is based on Koodiyattam, the classical Sanskrit theatre of Kerala with modern commentary, dialogue, and poetry. Music and lighting intervene to create the dramatic effect. Its theme explores the paradoxes and ironies in the life of Bhima of Mahabharata, the fate of a strong man in our political social milieu. Bhima, the mettle of heroic stuff ends as a tragic hero.

The Ganga and Aspirations of Mrinalini Sarabhai is a powerful plea for environmental concerns. The long line of dance for life's sake showed the Choreography Festival in a new light.

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