V: Seminar on choreography
December 28, 2005
The 3 day seminar
convened by Radhika Shurajit for Kartik Fine Arts, had women choreographers
as the theme. Dance guru Shanta Dhananjayan inaugurated the function on
Dec 22, 2005. Gurus Indira Rajan and C V Chandrasekhar were honored for
their contribution to Bharatanatyam. In those days, recitation of fast
jathis added to the attraction of a performance, so when Indira Rajan reeled
out complicated jathis at super speed, the audience gasped for breath!
Talking after her, guru Chandrasekhar joked that his voice would sound
weak in comparison. He expressed his appreciation that dance costumer D
S Aiyellu and Bharatanatyam guru Rhadha are to be honored with the Sangeet
Natak Akademi award.
Rukmini Devi is considered as one of the earliest and greatest choreographers. So the first presenter of the seminar was aptly Leela Samson, Director of Kalakshetra, who presented some excerpts from Rukmini Devi's dance dramas. She has been trained under the direct supervision of Rukmini Devi.
was guided by philosophical content, so her choreography was marked by
this understanding of life. She was meditative, spontaneous, innovative
and destructive, yet instinctive. She was generous in parts, allowing trusted
associates to innovate. But group work was meticulously crafted, pushing
the dancer to her every immaculate move. She was also humourous, deliberately
provocative in parts on one hand and amazing on the other. The dance should
make you think, be a joy a watch and joy to execute." A group work featuring
Andal and her sakis to music composed by Papanasam Sivan was presented
to accompaniment by the Kalakshetra musicians (who performed an invocatory
number even though it was a lec-dem and not a performance). In this piece,
how Rukmini Devi brought the main character in and took the group out of
the stage is seen.
Later choreography became more complex with lots of space covered by dancers. The spontaneous gypsy dance happens suddenly in Kanappar Kuravanji and lasts all of 3 minutes in a 2 ½ hour dance drama, but it expresses the joy of the common people. The last excerpt was the building of the bridge in Mahapattabhishekam, choreographed by Athai in 1970. The use of rare sollukattus and appropriate music by Rajaram, gave the suggestion of movement. This item was appreciated with deafening applause!
Why is it that with such a wealth of information available, all the Kalakshetra lec-dems seen over the last few years have nothing new to offer? The audience could have been treated to what influenced Athai's thought process when choreographing a dance item, how she developed her choreography, her usage of Kathakali elements and other inspirations in her dance dramas and so on.
The next presenter
was Anita Ratnam, who opened her presentation with the pithy phrase of
being "both brave and foolish to follow such a dynamic group presentation
like Kalakshetra's." Asking for the auditorium lights to be switched on
for a more informal atmosphere, Anita began by talking along with her dance
ensemble running onto the stage and performing the breathing exercises
of Tai-Chi. Having evolved her own personal movement vocabulary called
Neo-Bharatam, Anita stressed that, "What is unsaid, and the sub text, is
what interests me. As a performer, I have always followed what my heart
says, not the head." Returning from the US in 1990, Anita who had worked
as a solo artist till then, realized that being on stage as a soloist did
not interest her at that time. Her group work took off from there starting
with 'Panchajanyam' in 1993. Theatre, she explained, is a vital source
of inspiration for all classical dancers. "It has taught me great discipline,
a spirit of democracy and constant focus, something the youngsters of today
Anita next demonstrated how she uses the unstitched cloth as a motif – a tirashila to introduce the character of Andal from her production called 'Naachiyar.' Here the golden screen became the entry curtain, a garland when draped round the neck, a flute, a mirror, the inner sanctum, a river and so on. After 'Utpala' in 2004, Anita felt more comfortable to return to solo work. Internal psychosis and dissonance began to interest her. Blending world myth with personal mythology, something started in 1998 with 'Daughters of the Ocean' is the direction she wished to pursue. That's how the collaborative work with dancer Hari Krishnan (from Canada) on the Buddhist goddess Tara came about. Anita has been on the quest "to find new stories, with stress on how to tackle the personal myth, how to dovetail it, and make it more meaningful for me."
How to take an idea and put it together on stage is a challenge. Her guru Adyar Lakshman told her not to forget Bharatanatyam, but Anita uses it as a springboard for her choreography. The challenge is to keep the fire going without compromising, with the awareness of the responsibility when using certain traditional elements. Having watched many shows abroad, she was also inspired to use space - the larger space, universal space and personal space.
"Why does one
need to do this? For me, as a choreographer, because I have questions,
I create; because I have questions, I choreograph. That's why I continue
to stay in dance! Most people associate me with group work. But I'm slowly
drawing away and letting the group exist on its own. The idea is not to
duplicate a solo into a group work. The question is, as a solo artist,
can I create and exist on my own? I feel that this is the time to do it."