Sari, the Unstitched is innovative and indigenous
- Dr. S.D. Desai
Photos: Dr. Harsh Shah

February 21, 2017

Whereas the naked eye sees the gross form of an object, an artist’s inner eye perceives its commonly invisible beautiful form.  Daksha Sheth in her contemporary dance production Sari, the Unstitched captures the flitting kinetic sensuality of the female human form enhanced by the complementary visual beauty of an artisan’s imagination and skill at each of the sari’s evolving stages. Her inaugural dance piece at IceCraft’s maiden Classical Dance Festival at AMC’s new elegant Bodakdev Auditorium, Ahmedabad, on Feb 18 is conceptualized as much with inputs from the mind as from the soul.

What turns the one-hour piece into a compact dance drama with a tightly controlled structure is the parallel the choreographer and the director see in the evolution of a sari from a cotton seed to a six-yard fantasy to the fascinating evolution of a human being from an embryo state.  In the process of portraying the overlapping two processes, both the choreographer and the director so weave together their work like the tana-bana, the warp and the weft that you cannot tell one from the other. The direction is by Devissaro, her unassuming Australia-born husband, who has also designed music and stage for the production.
When they got briefly interactive at the end, the spellbound viewers, including performing artists, got to realize what it takes to put a production in shape. Taking pride in what she called ‘a house production,’ Daksha revealed “Sari was part of my being all three years of its making.” Both used to discuss and research its minutest details. From one stage to the next, “we used to have doubts,” Devissaro casually observed, “and finally took the production to the audience when we had none left!” One gets reminded of the ‘encore’ anecdote Nobel Laureate Saul Bellow was good-humouredly fond of at interviews.

Stages of evolution keep playing up the human element in the performance. Processes of sprouting, carding, spinning, weaving, dyeing, mass production, draping are interspersed with human elements. Intertwining threads are likened to the threads of life. Threads uniting tantalizingly suggest union of beings. Come the stage of dyeing, colours of life unfold. A young woman at riverbank is blindfolded by a bold young romantic with a red cloth band. Romance ensues. Colours stacked on head as it were are brought. Spread in the air as in a daydream, they evoke the joyous holi mood. Finally the choreographer in a gossamer silk sari comes on the stage and, following a short prasaadhana piece sitting, in controlled lyrical movements and mudras still in the likeness of the earlier processes and in lightness matching her sari, she has the rest of the performers in full abandon responding to her. A standing ovation with rapturous applause was a warm compliment they spontaneously received. 

Devissaro came to India with his western orientation in music, particularly with his proficiency in playing the piano. Here he learnt dhrupad, baansuri and pakhwaj. Enchanting traces of them all can be intermittently traced in varying segments. Music and lights, subdued all the while, and stage setting become integral parts. Strong roots of Kathak keep agreeably juxtaposed with Kalaripayattu and aerial movements. In all its elements, the folk, the classical and the contemporary intermingle. Tanned strongly built masculine images of male dancers, often in loincloth, dramatically contrast in their movement with the softer feminine images of female dancers.
Preceding the performance, there was a two-hour workshop conducted by Rita Kapur Chisti, reputed textile scholar and editor of ‘Saris of India’. Quite a few pretty young women elegantly walked into the auditorium, draped in the style they had chosen at the workshop, carrying with them the air of Darjeeling or Coorg or Maharashtra and so on, and with a gleam in their eyes revealing identity.

Dr. SD Desai, a professor of English, has been a Performing Arts Critic for many years. Among the dance journals he has contributed to are Narthaki, Sruti,  Nartanam and Attendance. He guest-edited Attendance 2013 Special Issue. His books have been published by Gujarat Sahitya Academy, Oxford University Press and Rupa. After 30 years with a national English daily, he is now a freelance art writer.