by Sam Kumar, Chennai 

December, 2001

A fascinating dance drama, 'Living Tree' was staged by the Cleveland Cultural Alliance recently at the Music Academy, Chennai.  The Spastic Society of Tamil Nadu presented the show as a fundraiser.  Chennai witnessed the premiere of the show earlier this year prior to its extensive tour of United States.  The story was based on an ancient folk tale of a young girl whose affection for a mango tree endures as she reaches adulthood.   

The cast was a group of classical dancers with years of stage experience.  Their skills as well as their dedication showed in their magnificent performance.  It was a pleasure to watch them execute effortlessly and gracefully some of the complex movements throughout the performance.  The dance sequence at the wedding, the bride's carriage and the villagers vandalising the tree were delightful.   

Mahalakshmi played with perfection the central role of the girl in eternal love with the tree.  She excelled in her brilliantly agile dance steps as well as apparent emotional outpourings.  The negative role of the crafty sister-in-law who sabotages the heroine's bond with the tree was well played by Krishnakshi.  Dramatically revealing her hatred she excelled with a delightful stage presence.  C.A. Joy performed the role of the village medicine man with aplomb.  Called in to revive the subconscious man, the medicine man and his faithful assistants rendered a frenzied dance to the wild beat of the drums in one of the best sequences.   

The music is written by talented Narashimhan, a professional violinist in Carnatic as well as western classical music.  He has scored music for a number of movies as well as performed extensively in Europe and US.  His versatility and experience was evident in the way his gentle but introspective music guided the dance as well as the emotions of the audience.  

The evocative and sensitive choreography by G. Narendra, an experienced dancer trained at Kalakshetra, was pleasing as much to the eye as to the mind.  The message of preservation of nature was conveyed aesthetically using a wide range of Indian classical, folk and modern dance styles.  Freely mixing different styles he gave the production a broad international quality.  Narendra has performed extensively in India and abroad and has choreographed critically acclaimed productions.  Living Tree will certainly add to his list of successful accomplishments.   

The lasting relationship between the girl and the tree is established in gradual steps.  However the dance sequence between the man representing the tree and the girl is excessively drawn-out.   The overtly physical representation as well as its lengthy presentation reduced the spiritual connection with Nature to a romantic experience.  A suggestive and subtle depiction would have been more effective.  Announcing the story outline at the start of each scene proved to be a distraction.  With a simple story line and a literal dramatisation, detailed announcement for each scene was not essential.  

The stylish settings, which included the huge tree in the background, was tasteful and apt.  The sensitive and responsive lighting further enhanced the ambience. Overall Living Tree was a stimulating and thought provoking experience.  

Sam Kumar is a Chennai based writer and photographer who loves all forms of classical art.  Painting and traveling are his other passions.