Seetha – a three in one dance drama
September 13, 2006
Producer Uma Ganesan's choice of subject for Ekaantha Seetha was inspired by newspaper reports about women from small towns who cope with alcoholic husbands, struggle to educate their children and support themselves financially. It is a celebration of women of extraordinary courage and character from the epics, history and contemporary realities through dance and music. The production that runs to three hours has been choreographed by the Dhananjayans. It spans three different time zones – the first episode is based on Ramayana's Vaidehi as the "Veera Arya Kanya," the second on historic Rani Lakshmi Bai and the third on a modern day heroine Aparajita.
Starting with an opening song on Ganesha, an Abhang in Marathi, the dancers chanted and danced down the aisle, holding aloft Ganesha, and carried him up on to the stage.
A brief 5 minute pause and the story of Rani Lakshmi Bai of Jhansi (played by Sujatha Srinivasan) unfolded. At a time when widows were forced to jump into their husband's funeral pyre, the brave young queen went into war to fight for the freedom of her people, for her own life and that of her infant son. She died a heroic death and sowed the seed of the freedom movement. The language used in this segment is the Hindi of Subhadhra Kumari Chauhan. The young girl getting trained in war games and the fight scenes elicited appreciative applause, but somehow, the bravery of Lakshmi Bai did not quite come through.
After a 10 minute intermission, the last segment took off. After pages from the past, the scene swings to present times. The daughter Aparajitha wants to study more, but the mother says enough of studies and drags her off to get her married. Scenes from the market place as well as lives of other beings in society were portrayed. TK Thiruchelvam's drunken movements as an intoxicated husband received rapturous applause! L Narendra Kumar as the local bully and Madhusudhanan as the tea boy were natural. Ratna Kumar, who played the sutradhar along with Shanta Dhananjayan in the previous 2 episodes, plays the part of Aparajita's mother. Using Kathakali movements, Dhananjayan is the teacher who urges Aparajitha (played by Pavithra Srinivasan) to continue her education and enlighten repressed women to fight the shackles of society. The Tamil lyrics are by Subramania Barathi and Prof. S Raghuraman.
Music for the production has been scored by TV Gopalakrishnan. "Classicism is maintained throughout - Carnatic music for Vaidehi, Hindustani for Lakshmi Bai and a more contemporary mode and use of pentatonic ragas for Aparajita." The tastefully designed costumes are by Lakshmi Srinath and script conceptualization by Ranjitha Ashok.
The dancers include Suhasini Muthukrishnan, Seetha Karippath, Krishnakshi Sharma, Anusha Natarajan, Swarna Radhakrishnan, Gopukiran and M Venkatakrishnan.
Guru VP Dhananjayan plays the roles of Valmiki, Gul Mohammed and the teacher in the three episodes. Despite a tight schedule, he took time off to answer queries about the production.
did you take to choreograph Ekaantha Seetha?
This is yet another challenge for Shanta and me from CCA and its dynamic producer Uma Ganesan. It is only on her insistence we undertook this project, which otherwise should have been handled by youngsters. From the day one of CCA, we have been associated with it and we flagged off CCA fifteen years ago with our Bharatanaatyam duo performance.
the challenges you faced in the choreography?
An epic story - classic story and classic language of Samskritam, a very recent history in Jhansi with folk songs in Hindi and a contemporary scene with a simple story of a small town situation, today’s scenario, not only in human behavior and environment, but an atmosphere of confused culture, where old values are followed, yet the modernity creeps in. So, I had to be very judicious in selecting the mode of music and movements. The three episodes fall in the category of Uttama, Madhyama and Adhama or Satwa, Rajas and Tamus. The biggest challenge was composing passages without any basic line of music first. A music composer who is really interested in Naatya and its finer nuances, and who could spend time while we choreograph the mood and movements, would have helped reduce the challenges.
It is easy to have composed music before commencing the choreography. Fortunately or unfortunately, all my collaborative and successful dance creations have been the other way. On one hand, it is very challenging to create moods and movements like painting on a blank canvas; on the other, we have the freedom to sculpt the body and mind as the imagination wanders. We have worked with Pt. Ravi Shanker, Pt. Vijayaraghava Rao, D Pasupathi, and several other versatile musicians who were totally involved while we choreographed and also sat through rehearsals to do finer tuning. Here the music composer had to meet the challenge of tuning to the twist and turns of the choreography. Genius that he is, TV Gopalakrishnan took up the challenge with gusto to create music for the moods and movements by watching the video of the rehearsal. I would still have preferred the music composer sitting through the choreography like Pt. Ravishankar or Pt. Vijaya Raghava Rao.
Do you think
people have the patience to sit through 3 hours?
behind certain movements… like Kathakali for the teacher role…
I thought the Kathakali technique is suitable for a mature person like a Guru, where I can employ Naatya Dharmi to keep up the dignity. Bharatanaatyam, somehow when we do not have much rhythmical passages, becomes a bit lokadharmi, which is alright for other modern characters. My role as a Guru should stand out from the others, which I think people realized. And I also had in mind that a bit of Kathakali would please the Keralite audience too.
last segment choreographed by you and did the dancers contribute to it?
I must acknowledge the contributions of our senior disciple Sreelatha Vinod who is an unparalleled Bharatanaatyam artiste. She has helped us during choreography, music recording and rehearsals and was a great source of help to us throughout this production. Each of the brilliant artistes/dancers has contributed to the choreography. Though many of them are our students and disciples we do recognize and value their suggestions and brilliant ideas given wherever called for.
looking forward to your US trip as part of a big production?
is dedicated to S Manjubhashini, freedom fighter and founder of Bala Mandir,
a children's home in Chennai, in this her centenary year. The production
tours North America from September 18 to November 20, 2006. The US premiere
is in Cleveland, Ohio, on September 22, 2006 at the Tri - C Metro Campus