Seeking sanctuary, energy embraces me. I want to turn myself inside out to find primal roots. I dig thirsty roots for ancient, absorbing, eager, meditative whispers…” Thus began the dance theatre production, ‘Alekhya: Spilling Ink,’ which visualised ‘an inward and personal journey with no beginning or end.’ It was conceptualised and scripted by the United States-based dancer Vijay Palaparty with the help of theatre artist and literary consultant Jennifer A. Schaupp, co-choreographers Nalini Prakash and Padma S. Raghavan and dancers Ashwini Viswanathan and K.B.Madhusudhanan. Vijay’s intent in Alekhya was ‘to think outside the box’ and this he did by using the spoken word to punctuate and direct the visual representations of the journey.
The prism of the Bharatanatyam margam was the medium, and through this new facets in style and interpretation were explored along the way. Here was a new genre that held promise — promise of greater clarity of thought and greater dramatic impact. But ironically it was the cache of words that proved to be the weakest link. The poetry was too contrived and too wordy and the pace too monotonous to serve as gentle indicators of mood. Powerful words strung together simply overpowered the sentiment lying beneath.
There was also a problem with unexplained metaphors. For example, when the production opens with a passage about the search within, Vijay walks in with a pot but we do not know why. We realise later that it is a metaphorical pot to collect thoughts and energies. A beautiful metaphor wasted. On the other hand, the music, the dance and the lighting were delectable. The vibrant movement choreography whether in the tentative thattadavus at the start of the journey or in the exciting Kuchipudi- Bharatanatyam dialogue in the Atana Jathiswaram or in the contemplative Madurai N. Krishnan Thodi (Adi) tanavarnam, ‘Maye mayan sodariye’ made wonderful use of time, space and group dynamics. The interpretation steered away from mythology, pursuing the path of truth through meditation and prayer.
The Gayathri manthra and other chants and the ‘Letter to God’ within this piece were seamlessly woven into the beautiful tapestry of emotion. The varnam ended as it had begun with the dancers seated in a circle with arms raised in prayer and supplication. It was simple but eloquently contemplative. The accompanying musicians played with expertise and sensitivity. They were: Sasirekha Balasubramaniam (nattuvangam), Bhavani Kishore Kumar (vocal), M. Dhananjayan (mridangam), Kandadevi S. Vijayaraghavan (violin), T. Bhavaniprasad (veena), B. Muthukumar (flute) and K.S.R.Anirudha (special effects). Lighting was by Murugan. The final act was, in a sense, a silent finale packed with meaning. After the rigorous Brindavana Saranga thillana, the pot was brought back on stage, this time filled with a white powder. Each dancer took a handful and sprinkled it on stage. In silence. Literally spilling ink, you think?