“ Except for the stars with assured audiences, dancers know that the margam, however well-honed, and in the best style, has few takers, unless framed differently. Apart from the natural changes that come in with the times, and personal growth in life and art, dancers are compelled to recognise that the tag of novelty is vital. ‘Mammudha,’ not ‘Manmatha’. Packaging is all.
How do artists satisfy their own urge to create without forcing themselves to do something offbeat for novelty’s sake? Bharatanatyam artists Sheejith Krishna and Gayathri Balagurunathan from Kalakshetra have been recognised for their group and individual choreography. Gayathri has also worked with the innovative Sarabhais at Darpana Academy, Ahmedabad.
Both have premiering works this season: in ‘Masquerade’ at Kalakshetra, Sheejith transforms Alexandre Dumas’ novel into Tamil dance drama, while Gayathri’s ‘Aran Adal’ is her take on the eternal theme at Hamsadhwani. After ‘Mammudha’ premiered this season, lawyer K.S.Anirudha is best known as the lyricist and mastermind behind the dance drama.
All three snatch time between their rehearsals and shows to share their personal take on that eternal conundrum: so what’s new?
Sheejith begins, “Bharatanatyam is as much my language as my spoken tongue, to interact with students, audiences, and myself. As I try to communicate better with it, the ‘new’ happens, naturally. But this ‘new’ has to fascinate me first.”
For K.S.Anirudha novelty is variety in presentation and brevity in content. “Today if someone narrates the whole Ramayana in two hours for ‘En Pallikondirayya,’ the audience will either sleep or exit.”Less depth and layers, but how many viewers are knowledgeable enough to regret that?
“Whether people understand or not, I like to stay within the classical, the aesthetic,” Sheejith interpolates. “But what’s classical? Once they called Therukoothu folk, now it’s classical,” Anirudha argues. “Be truthful to the grammar of the form, and do everything you like within it,” Sheejith counters. Gayathri laughs, “You need sound foundation in the grammar for such new take offs! Trying new things is not just to please others, it’s to learn so much more.”
Familiar but unperceived
A new world opens when alphabets are combined to make words, sentences and paragraphs. “Finding the language makes you identify its spirit and pull it out into light,” says Sheejith. ‘New’ can be something familiar, but hitherto unperceived.
Sheejith believes that Bharatanatyam is not confined to Hindu thought, mythology and epics alone. Any ambience or culture can be depicted by this universal genre. Anirudha who has used multi-arts and multi-genres in his work warns, “Not unless it sheds Carnatic music.” Sheejith has to agree. Has he not used an orchestra for his ‘Masquerade’? Its Mohanam is something else.
With greater exposure to the global world, novelty is an elusive, even illusive concept. Fusions, blends, blurring borders are all natural corollaries of widening frontiers. From her Darpana days Gayathri knows that even old wine in new bottles will have different flavours. “In Mrinalini and Mallika Sarabhai’s choreography, Kurukshetra echoed female foeticide, dalit oppression and terrorism. We found our identity as individual dancers from different stylistic backgrounds as we drew our feelings within that boundary.” All three agree that media support is essential for survival.
Think different and you instigate change and progress. A Thota Tharani Ganesha is a splash of colour, unlike anything from temple wall or Thanjavur painting. “But it makes you think, you can’t take it for granted,” agrees Anirudha. This demands an open mind. “For any experiment I expect sympathy, tolerance and ‘biaslessness’ from audiences,” he insists.
Adds Gayathri, “And the patience to watch!” She believes that clarity in thought and getting that thought in the body will find its target. “Do it for yourself first,” warns Sheejith. “Work hard,” comments Anirudha, and muses, “But mediocre work is also practised hard. So who’s to say what’s good?”
Sheejith answers at once, “Definitely I’m doing good work. I trust my intuition. I’ve to be clever like a journalist or politician to communicate my message, can’t cheat. The audience — lay or informed — has to take something back: values.”
“Aha!” exults Anirudha. “You’re coming to my side: make it accessible, lokadharmi.” Gayathri laughs, “I believe in spirituality, meditative spirituality beyond creeds. It will touch hearts, unfailingly.”