BN and WWW caught up with Lavanya Rajagopalan, Director of Silambam Houston and talked about their upcoming production “Ritu“.
BN and WWW: Tell us about your production “Ritu”. What were the motivations behind collaborating with Joyce from the ballet school “Dancescape”?
Lavanya: Ritu is a journey through the seasons, choreographed in the idioms of Bharatanatyam and Ballet, with some folk and jazz elements thrown in for good measure. It is set to Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” and Kunnakudi’s “Ritu Raaga”. It is amazing how beautifully the music blends! And the choreography has come together very nicely as well.
I have been wanting to do something to expand the reach of Bharatanatyam in our own Houston audience, and I stumbled across Kunnakudi’s beautiful compositions in his album Ritu Raaga while browsing the iTunes store. It immediately put me in mind of Vivaldi’s classical compositions on the four seasons, and that was the springboard. I approached Joyce with the idea and she was fully on board, and it has been such a wonderful experience working on this production with her and her dancers.
BN and WWW: What is Joyce Beck’s background. Is this her first collaboration with Indian classical dancers?
Lavanya: Joyce Beck is the Director of Dancescape, a prominent dance school operating in the Pearland/Friendswood area in Greater Houston for the past 26 years, that offers classes in Ballet, Pointe, Tap, Jazz, Modern, and Lyrical. Joyce is a certified member of Dance Masters of America and The South Texas Association of Dance Teachers, Inc. She has trained locally with Suzanne Banbury and the The Houston Ballet Academy. She also trained in New York City and continues to return semi-annually to continue her dance education.
Silambam Houston has been happy to call the Dancescape studio space home for the past several years, and that is how the collaboration came about. Yes, this is Joyce’s first collaboration with an Indian dance group, and our first with a Western dance group!
BN and WWW: How easy/difficult was the choreography – Ballet and Bharatanatyam?
Lavanya: It was – challenging, for sure!! But also very inspiring, and so much fun. The girls all got into the spirit of it, and we all learnt a lot. Blending the very grounded, rhythmic dance style of Bharatanatyam with the flowing, lyrical movements of Ballet was quite a task. Also, western dance in general uses body movements to elaborate an emotion, while Indian dance uses hand gestures and facial expressions. So it is important to pay attention to the choreography in the sense that both styles should be displayed to their best advantage. Now we are very familiar with terms like arabesque, and bourret, and the Dancescape dancers are learning adavus!
BN and WWW: Yes, the juxtaposition of two art forms on the same platform is usually a treat to watch. So, apart from exchanging techniques and ideas, how did you approach the choreography?
Lavanya: We’ve tried to keep it simple and not over-reach in choreography, while still showcasing and blending both styles to the best of our ability. We started off choreographing in isolation – Joyce and I sat down and ‘divided’ up the music, decided on the tone and emotion to be conveyed in each segment, and then she worked with her dancers and I with mine separately. We left some parts of the music for joint choreography, which came later during the joint rehearsals, after the preliminary parts had taken shape. This has worked well both in terms of choreography as well as logistics. The interesting thing is how nicely the choreography blends, even the parts we did separately.
BN and WWW: And the rehearsals?
Lavanya: Rehearsals have been SO much fun. As a dancer and choreographer, it is so amazing to see something like this take shape and come to life. We have been doing regular individual rehearsals (ballet and bharatanatyam segments separately) through the summer, and then joint rehearsals every week or so. We are yet to see the entire dance company together in a full run through – we have 36 dancers altogether, and at least a couple have been missing each time. Hopefully, now that summer vacations are all done and everyone is back in town, we can get the whole group together for a few rehearsals before the 19th of October!
BN and WWW: I am now eager to see how two different musical and dance forms would crystallize on the stage. What are your expectations from the rasikas in Houston? Are they open to such amalgamations?
Lavanya: We are excited to see how it will turn out too! This is an experimental venture for us and for the Houston audience. Houston rasikas (arts patrons) are very appreciative and open to new ideas; I hope and believe that our production has the capacity strike the right chord with them.
BN and WWW: Break a leg, Lavanya, dancers of Silambam Houston, and Dancescape! BN and WWW wishes their best for this exciting venture. Here is a sneak trailer of Ritu!
For more information: http://silambamhouston.org/Silambam_Houston/Ritu_Jeeva.html