Natyadarshan defines Sense, sensibility and sensuality

PERSPECTIVE When the medium of expression is the human body, how is ‘right’ defined? The seminar organised by Kartik Fine Arts searched for answers in the Natyadarshan Event. Here is the report on the event featured in The Hindu .

Sensuous and sensual are terms often used indiscriminately, the usage giving connotations not differentiating between “relating to affecting the senses rather than the intellect” and “arousing sexual or other physical gratification. ”

Deliberations during the three-day seminar mounted by Kartik Fine Arts at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan on the ‘sensual and sensuous in dance’ conducted by Priyadarsini Govind, voiced some of the mental reservations, for unlike sculpture, writing or painting, the medium of expression in dance is the human body, the most wonderful and the most vulnerable instrument. Even more so is the female body on which dance history in India has been written. Confusing the issue further is the aim of spirituality in dance, the path to which, for many teachers, is paved through mortification of the body.

While speakers moralised on the ‘rightness’ or otherwise of specific javalis and padams, few noted the fact that sensuousness is not in the given something, nor can it be put on as a garment for it is an evoked state-of-being brought about by the dancer through her art.

How many of the star dancers of today would qualify to be as Balasaraswati, after a rousing performance in England, was described by the critic — “She could be Mrs Nobody from India.” Commenting further on her phenomenally suggestive art, he derisively contrasted western dance as “creating mosaics for the myopic.” What is stressed is that state of bodylessness when, detached from the dancer’s persona, the body becomes just a vehicle of expression. Then the erotic message too acquires a spiritual dimension, and as Bala maintained, one attains the spiritual through the erotic.

In her keynote address Mrs.Y.G.Parthasarathy referred to Indian sculpture and literature as never squeamish about the sensuous, and the sensual. But the aesthetic treatment of the theme eschewed any form of crudity. Kalanidhi Narayanan in her very succinct reference demonstrated the sringar/bhakti connection through one line of the song “Krishna nee begane baro” interpreted to commnicate vatsalya, sringar and finally the spirit of total devotion.

Pertinent point Leela Samson stressed the pertinent point that it is the manner of the dance interpretation rather than the message in the libretto that can uplift or become banal. And the lengthy introductions with immature English translations of the exalted poetry of Kalidasa or the Gita Govind only make the exquisitely aesthetic sound obscene. She demonstrated a Kalidasa passage strung to Madhup Mudgal’s score in Vibhas, of majestic Siva setting off to be married in his preferred garments of stark tiger-skin-and-ash-clad getup, glowing with the deep desire to marry Parvati.

Leela’s Ardhanariswar represented through androgenous Siva, uniting Siva and Shakti, like the eternal search of the river ending in the Seas, the ultimate oneness transcending gender. It was in the Todi Javali “Mayaladi Mandukatti” where one experienced the most erotic message of physical love transformed into aesthetic imagery of contained suggestive abhinaya.

T.M.Krishna articulately brought out through delightful taped snippets of music by great masters like GNB, Madurai Mani, Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer how sensuous music need not derive from the sahitya alone — nor from particular ragas or the tempo of the music. It springs from the depths of the inner musician’s experience evolved through years spent of sadhana, and its non-verbal form could be just as sensuous.

Starting with T.Brinda/Mukta’s “Kannane en Kanavan” to the maestro Semmangudi’s alap in Kharaharapriya eddying round notes feeling like swirling in spirals of sensuousness and his Khamas “Marubani talalenura” evoking exquisitely aching sensations of love, Krishna concluded with own involved singing of the Javali in Khamas showing how sensuousness in the abstraction of music communicates with an immediacy not distracted by any visual image.

That the stylised strength of the strictly natya dharmi technique in Kathakali communicates the most erotic moments in an artistic language blending mukhabhinaya and gestural vocabulary was demonstrated by Guru Sadanam Balakrishnan through sringar passages from Uttara Swayamvaram and Nalacharitam. Referring to the Jeevaatman/ Paramatman sringar philosophy, he wondered who could be Jeevatman and who Paramatman in a Ravana/Mandodari or a Bhima and Hidimbi interaction!

Chitra Sundaram now based in the U.K. spoke briefly about the contradictions through history of middle class moral values when associated with a culture whose religious myths has voluptuous Gods and Goddesses performing acts like Brihaspati chasing his own daughter. For many, contradictions of propriety and the lack of it are swept away in the immediacy of the daily grind.

The Bhakti movement contradicted the Sanskritic culture, Bhakti emerging as a complete rasa with sringar as its ornamentation. For the young dancer, de-personalising the dance by drawing attention away from the dancer is always difficult. Chitra’s demonstrations from her works “Magnificent Obsession” (based on the varnam, ‘Mohamaana’) and “The Immortal Sin” (Siva as Bhikshatanar) showed two facets of bhakti ,one involving Sringar and the other violence.

Aesthetic lec-dem The Odissi duo of Nrityagram’s Surupa Sen and Bijayini Satpathy treated the audience to a most aesthetically designed lecture/demonstration. Dance is a celebration of the body’s resonance with the rhythms of the Universe. The Odissi technique with its body movements of the isolated torso and the S formation contributes to a special sensuous appeal which when used to interpret sringar themes from the Gita Govind, calls for a high degree of internalised strength and aesthetics. The sheer control while depicting sambhoga sringar in the rendition of the Ashtapadi, “Kishalaya sayana tale,” gave its own message on how aesthetically sensuality can be portrayed in dance.

Interventions from Hema Rajgopal, Ratna Papa as moderators, and disappointingly less from younger dancer/teachers made up the proceedings of the first two days. How one perceives and responds to the sensuous and sensual is so subjective and tailored by socio-political agendas and environment that no absolute yardsticks can be applied.

Eminent personalities were honoured at the Natyadarshan event.

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