The eyes that imagined…  
- Pratima Sagar, Hyderabad 

March 17, 2005 

She lead us to see through her kohl painted dark eyes… the divine eyes that conjured the world, the awesome gaze that vanquished evil, the alluring eye that inspired poets, and many an eye that spoke of passion and devotion…. eyes that can love, eyes that can endlessly wait and eyes that can seek the cosmic light… 

Danseuse Ananda Shankar Jayant thus weaves this blissful tale of Vision, showing the audience- the lucid liaison of the eye and the minds’ eye, what she herself christens as “sight and insight”. The dance production was indeed a unique work of art, one, because it was a rare theme to delve in the language of dance and, two, because it was produced for a purpose, a cause that not only complements the concepts of eye donations but also the in-depth scientific research on eye. The outcome-a symbiotic relationship between science and art, the former in a modernistic quest and the latter a creative reflection bridging the gap of what Vision means to mankind.   

When the LV Prasad Eye Institute egged Ananda Shankar Jayant to stretch her artistic thresholds to create this dance choreography, she began an inspired research. Of minds’ eye and its poetry and philosophy … and her insight came up with a concept choreography aptly titled “Darshanam- An ode to the Eye” 

“I fell back on the bedrock of Indian literature, of Sanskrit and Tamil writings, and was inundated with the variegated and myriad hues and shades that the eye has inspired,” says the dancer who ornately merged the multilingual production that evolved into a multifaceted depiction of the eye. The choreography was both convincing and comprehensible- staged in a manner devoid of any abstraction or mystification only to surprise the onlooker with pure beauty and grace. Simply, like unfurling petals of a lotus or shall I say, the heavy yet gentle opening up of an eyelid!! 

Thus the dancers, five in number, took on the stage unfolding a saga of Vision. Offering their reverence to the medieval dance treatises like Bharata’s Natya Sastra and Nandikeswara’s Abhinaya Darpana who interpreted the movement and expressions of the eye and its aesthetic responses in the codified language of dance, the dancers stepped up in black and beige coloured tussar silk costumes, with their eyes heavily painted in kohl, complimented with simplified dull gold jewellery. Well, as they danced, they actually looked like darting arrows… like the swift and sharp eyes themselves!!  

Now, talking of metaphors, the dancers traversed into the poetic world of Sanskrit literature- Kalidasa or Bhasa- they describe the heroine- like the one with fish shaped eyes or the one with deer like eyes… lotus like, bird like and much much more - Meenakshi, Mriganayani, Pankajakshi, Chakoraksh, Jalajakshii…she simply stole your heart with her graceful gaze!  Fleeting across the stage the five-some danced to the classical melodies drawing these varied forms of eyes - what when the dancers epitomized these classical heroines with their mesmeric eyes 

Or the goddess herself (!) when Ananda evoked the spirit of the supreme Mother, as described in the classic of Adi Shankara’s Soundaryalahari - eyes like the Sun and the Moon. The dancers drew the cosmic energy of the goddess on stage, and furthered it to depict Her echoing human emotions or what we call the Navarasas.  Interestingly, as Ananda articulated the verses with her fluid facial expressions, the choreography shows the other four dancers in the background enhancing the expression as though framing each of the Rasa in the minds’ eye of the devotee (as he (devotee) visualizes the manifestation of the goddess and seeks Her compassion)! “Sive srungarardre…”- with adoring half closed eyelid, the goddess fixes Her eyes on her lord - Siva…. 

Siva. The three-eyed cosmic dancer…depicting Him on stage with pure energetic dance invoked a heightened aura. The Bharatanatyam dancers backed by the compelling syllabic compositions of the nattuvanar Renuka Prasad raised the tempo to starry rhythms. Depicting the opening up of Siva’s third eye to annihilate the evil, “…Or is it the negation of one’s own maya - illusion?” - asks Ananda, as she connects each choreographic piece to the other forming a festoon. Interpreting a production like this specially becomes interesting because of the well edited script which, (unlike the obvious narratives) surprises the way varied subjects are put together ultimately to come to the focus- the eye and the minds’ eye!  

Like this one here - from the emancipated rhythms of Siva, the dance cadence now flowed into a sprightly theme picturising a fable of Siva’s devotee, Kannappa. The dancers took to the steps of a hunting tribe animating an interesting scene of the jungle. A brief dance to folk rhythms enlivened the tenor of the choreography, which gave way to a brief dramatization of this moving tale. Kannappa pierces his own eye to fix it to the bleeding eye of Siva Linga. “Can we too commit to donation and salvation? ” comments Ananda on stage. Bright!! In a subtle and smart manner, the danseuse promotes the humane cause of eye donation 

In over 40 minutes, the production as though in a continuous quest left the audience feeling for more! The tempo of the opus never falls or rises as in a melodrama, but smoothly and aesthetically traverses across timeless thoughts.  Like the Sufi poetry “Kaga kaga…” sung with all emotion and compassion by the vocalist and music composer Venu Madhav - O’ crow eat up all my body when I die but do not peck my eyes for they still - will wait to see my beloved!! Ananda with her poignant expressions left everyone stirred. She proceeded in solo to personify yet another plight of a devotee - Surdas, a visually challenged poet who beseeches Lord Krishna to grant him vision to realize the god. The production connects to a crescendo with a compelling act where Arjuna in the battlefield of Kurukshetra requests Lord Krishna to grant him a glimpse of His Viswaroopa- of vision and ultimate truth“Darshanam…” thus seeks the divine Light and offers an ode to god’s great gift of sight and insight to the mankind. 

The refined dancers- Mamata Madireddy, Manjula Dorairaj, Aarati Ballepu and Radhika Tirumala along with their guru Ananda, performed with all conviction and belief. The step design of the dancers, to their expressions and gestures, everything was perfectly timed and spaced. Ananda as a choreographer scaled newer heights. The connoisseurs present among the audience expressed their deep appreciation for a rare and timely treat, especially in a scenario where dance and dance dramas seem to have reached a saturation point!  

Stage and costume designer Ganesh Nallari (student of NIFT) too deserves a thumb up. He not only gave an appealing lift and subtle play to the otherwise traditional classical dance costume and jewellery, but also installed a backdrop and stage, which artistically put the dancers on a pedestal. A step up platform at the rear end of the stage enabled the performers to frame up dance sequences with visual impacts like Viswaroopa or the earlier where Siva emerges out of His Linga. Not to mention Prakash Savio’s light design that aptly played along the mood and design of the choreography. Percussionists TP Balasubramaniam and Sridharacharya, violinist Sai Kumar, flautist Uma Venkatesh collaborated in this production of Shankarananda Kalakshetra, along with a host of scholars and poets who helped Ananda and Jayant Dwarkanath in providing research material for the script.  

Premiered to mark the Indo-American Collaboration for Eye Research, the production is aimed to go places. Way to Vision indeed!!