Archives for category: Dance

​​​The gentle weave of his sweet, whistling breath, scribbles, darting feverish, love poems upon her still waters, in an eternal embrace …

 

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Courtesy: Daksha Sheth Dance Company

30th November, 2014

It was an evening of flamboyance & theatre, with women twirling, swirling and celebrating their femininity in vibrant TAANBAAN, handspun organic cotton and silk sari collection, revived by Rta Kapur Chisti. The lobby of the Jamshed Bhabha Theatre foyer, at NCPA, Mumbai, was buzzing with childlike wonder and excitement, as women magnetised towards ten sensuously draped women. This was a last minute inspiration for Rta. I was one of the ten women, invited to wear any of her beautiful handspun saris, in the drape that inspired me from the previous morning’s Sari workshop. Most women were draped with the help of the swift and gifted hands of Pallavi Verma, the beautiful and dainty assistant of Rta Kapur Chisti. I draped myself in the Odissi-dance style for which I chose a vermillion, sindhoori-red, handspun Khadi sari strewn with brilliant golden lines of varying width. This festive loom once was an exclusive bridal sari for the rural women of Jharkhand. After the gasps and sighs of the crowds marvelling at our drapes and saris settled down, we were led into the beautiful theatre to attend the evening’s dance recital.

What unfolded before my eyes, will remain forever etched in my heart as one of the most extraordinary dance productions, I’ve attended in my lifetime. The sensitivity of the live music at the hands of ten gifted musicians; The simplicity and starkness of the ivory hued cotton saris & dhotis chosen for costumes; The ten skilled, agile, sensuous dancers; The play of light, and the refined sound design; All of it left me with a fragrance that still lingers in my being like an aroma from an ethereal mystical world…

{‘SARI, The Unstitched’, a production by the Daksha Sheth Dance Company:

Sari initiated by Rta Kapur Chisti, co-author and editor of Saris -Tradition and Beyond’, is directed by Composer Devissaro and choreographed by Daksha Sheth. The show was conceived to re-kindle the lost playfulness and individuality of the Sari. Through the art of draping, a woman reveals her demeanour and her regional identity. This union of the Sari and the wearer exudes the sensuality of dance. The performance highlights the stages in the journey from cotton pod to a magnificent fabric, draped in a range of wearing styles.}

A RECITAL SPACE FOR THE CLASSICAL ARTS

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Hidden in the center of an ancient mystical banyan grove is a sacred Nrithya Mandappam. Arriving through the thicket of trees and vines, two ornate wooden pillars with jasmine and marigold flowers, flank the mandappam entrance. A sensuous sandalwood fragrance fills the air. The faint strum of the tanpura drops all in a state of trance. A light breeze weaves in and out of the room making the orange flames from the glowing oil lamps dance coyly. A deep violet blue hue radiates out of the Pooja room, on the opposite side of which seat the musicians in a dark crimson enclave. A pool of yellowish golden light awaits to celebrate the temple dancer. The rasikas witnessing this evenings recital are already seated in the deep red shadow opposite this glowing yellow light. A buzz of excitement enlivens the air. Veiled inside this healing greenery, everyone awaits prayerfully to be transported into the ethereal world of music, dance inside a meditative silence …

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Nestled Inside The Sliver of a Delicate Crescent Moon, classical dancer, Sujit Vaidya, a kindred spirit, victorious and triumphant like his name. He moves majestically, draped in peacock-hued silk with a playful dash of vibrant pink! Reminiscing his dance recital, on the eve of 10th January, 2015, a resonance of hushed tranquility rests within.

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With much inspiration and quietude…

 

 

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July 14, 2015

The passing of my dear teacher of classical dance, Smt Shyamala, leaves a large vacuum in my being. I met her for the first time two years ago, and it was love at first sight! Her curious, soft eyes and herd gentle, kind smile, melted all hard edges within. Before I found her, I had been learning with gifted teachers, yet a restlessness burned inside of me.

Then, on the 1st of January 2013, I entered Shyamala akka’s quaint little house with a brass plate laden with fruits, flowers, betel nut leaf, and was initiated as her student. The Pandanallur form of dance that I had devoted many years to, was considerably different in Akka’s manner of teaching. There was a palpable softness, grace, and fluidity that lured me in. Though her nature refrained from any impositions upon me, I soon realised that to truly bathe in the essence of her teachings, I had to muster the courage to begin from the beginning. And so my journey resumed from the first lesson of Tatta Adavus! Apart from being an exponent of dance in Smt T. Balasaraswati tradition, Akka had been a teacher of Botany for many years, an adept yoga practitioner under her fathers tutelage, as well as an ardent student of Vastu Shastra under Shri. Ganapathy Sthapathi. These varied backgrounds influenced and coloured her manner of teaching Bharatanatyam, greatly. She was the only daughter, born into a learned family of teachers, who had settled in Sri Lanka for many years. Akka’s father saw the gift of dance in his dear daughter, who was also equally brilliant academically and in sports! Akka was a volleyball champion in her school, a passionate athlete at heart. However, her father’s keen eye for refined art, brought Shyamala Akka along with her mother, to Chennai, at the tender age of thirteen, to continue her classical dance and music studies with Smt. T. Balasaraswati. It was a cultural shock for her to adjust to living in the demanding, disciplined routine from the young age of thirteen, in a new city, quite different culturally, while being away from her larger family and estates in Sri Lanka. But her love and trust in her father, allowed her to surrender to the many years of gruelling practice in this classical dance form, which was a non-refutable, expectation from any student of the doyen of Bharatanatyam, Smt Balasaraswati, loving addressed as Balamma. During this time, she stayed at the home of a Kathakali maestro from Kerala, and hence got exposed to the classical art forms of Mohiniattam as well as Kathakali. A bright student, she was gifted with the ability to shape-shift herself to any form of dance. Though her primary teacher, Balamma, was a strict disciplinarian, she had a keen eye for a genius in a child, and allowed the flowering of each students uniqueness, if another art form complemented the student. So Shyamala akka enjoyed a privileged relationship with her teacher, Balamma. For Akka, Balamma and her family became everything. She remained eternally grateful to every wakeful moment with Balamma and safeguarded each composition learnt under her with more vigilance and care, than any material comforts or worldly manner of wealth.

During my dance lessons with Shyamala Akka, there was not a single day which missed out on some anecdote or nostalgic story from her life with Balamma. Through Shyamala Akka, I, too experienced the grace of this refined classical tradition transform every cell and breath in my body. For the first time in my life, my hunger to look, search and thirst outside of me, disintegrated. I felt quenched and nourished. I could sense an inward and outward transformation metamorphosing my life. I felt my being grow expansive. Many life situations miraculously healed, and grew new, tender, shoots! I knew I had found my teacher. I danced with her morning and evenings, as much as the universe allowed. What I internalised with Shyamala Akka cannot be counted by the number of compositions I learnt under her guidance, or the number of public performances I gave since, or whether I may pass on her teachings to other students in the garb of a teacher of this classical art form. Shyamala Akka breathed life into my brokenness. Shyamala Akka role-modelled devotion, playfulness, and the joy of dance into me. I know not of my future as she reunites today, with our Mother Goddess. I find my tears flowing and ebbing like the tides. I feel her presence, I hear her voice, her laughter, her touch, and sense her blessings pouring out towards me, as I sit stunned inside an unfathomable, dark void.

I pray for you, my dearest Shyamala Akka, as you soar towards Gods light. I pray for your guidance, as I continue on my path as a classical dancer. I love you. My heart brims with gratitude for the gift of knowing you, and learning from you, in this lifetime.

Jute veils, frame translucent, sheer screens of pale pinks, and ivory hues with gold speckles. These senses delight in the diagonal sweeps of yellows, mustards, oranges, and reds, as she weaves her music and movement, singing aloud the compositions of the bards of Bengal, herself in a crushed drape of quietening, tertiary hues of deep red, and fecund green. She is a woman with milky white skin, almond eyes pooled with innocence, and a full body that celebrates silken fabric, in all its creases and folds!

She tells a story about herself, about you, and about me. Journeying through shades of an inner awareness, she speaks of a mystic, illusory world, dotted with magic, celestial muses, awakening all to a mirage of the sensational and the intangible. Her story begins with three young and beautiful maidens, extending out, connected to me and to you, through an invisible umbilical chord. The first maiden shimmers inside a light, not as bright as day, nor as dull as evening. “In my sky at twilight, you are like a cloud and your form and colour are the way I love them. You are mine, mine, woman with sweet lips and in your life, my infinite dreams live”, says Pablo Neruda. Draped in violet-deep pinks, she dances in wild abandon, flapping her feathery wings like a humming bird. Enraptured by her own reflection in a pool of water, she glimpses an otherworldly, ethereal spark. It beckons her. It lures her with its shape-shifting forms. It entices her into a game of hide and seek with fragrances, sounds, and sensations that both madden and gladden her. Soon the second maiden appears in a blaze of turquoise metallic sheen. Her eyes sparkling with a multitude of questions. She is dainty and delicate with sinuous limbs. She has the agility of a deer, and the curiosity of a cat. Inquisitive, spritely, yet faintly cautious, she tunes in to audible and inaudible frequencies. She boldly dances and plays with sound waves, that would deafen and destroy the less hardy. This mystical give and take with the ethereal, impregnates her with a love child. She births it in time. Once born, she is unable to share its joy and beauty with another. Soon the effusive exuberance of birthing her creative child, alchemises into a haunting emptiness inside her womb. The third maiden now holds the virgin divine child, only to lose it, in the lure of a beautiful deer. She becomes the huntress and the hunted. Exhausted, and disillusioned, all three maidens return to the warmth of their mothers womb, nestled, cradled, and comforted in her lukewarm, compassionate embrace. Their hearts awaken to sensuousness and play as they caress the blue hue of a divine lover, both effusive and playful. Basking in inspiration and laughter, swooning into the contentment of artistic expressions, the lights dims, the waters settle, the ripples quieten, and everything returns to the silence and serenity of the inner journey, into a divine mothers womb. 

{Above: Response inspired by the artistic work, entitled, ANTAR YATRA: Concept, Choreography and Design by Odissi dancer Smt. Sharmila Biswas; Musician Shri. Srijan Chatterjee; Lead Dancers: Amrita Lahiri~Kuchipudi, Lakshmi Parthasarathy Athreya~Bharatanatyam, and Shashvati Garai Ghosh~Odissi}

Dawn greets me with a garland of muses. Enveloped inside the fire of love and trust, I swish through the thick air around me, slicing through throngs of sounds, smells, and crowds. As eyes, gaze upon the joyful sparkle around me, mine are transfixed by the maze of sensory beauty before me. My friend, an elder on a soul journey, gives me a glimpse into the mystic revelation of the architectural wonder of this ancient city of Benaras. He remarks, “Hold in mind at all times, that you are entering a sacred mandala. At the nucleus of which is spiralling, rocketing out, shafts of powerful divine energy. A life force so powerful that if unprepared to receive, anger, arrogance, frustration and all the shades of depleting emotions, is all that you will encounter. If uninitiated, you meet thugs, arrogant priests, and enraged people, in power. On the other hand, if your being is a vessel ready to receive the light, you will experience peace, wonder, joy, wellbeing, humor and equanimity. So, remain vigilant of this duality. Drop inward and shield yourself away from the forces that throw you off balance. Tune inward and listen keenly to your inner antennae.” And I do so. 

Benaras

The crowds separate to lead me to a wooden boat, down the ghats of Benaras. Stepping upon the triangular platform, I am requested to dance, as the boat flows across changing landscapes – ornate ghats flanked with anchored boats, and bathing pilgrims. An occasional corpse floats across the river, though majority lay cradled in the fires of burning wood. Oil lamps with flowers, whispered with prayers for the soul of an ancestor, or a beloved, float by. Soaring eagles, tolling temple bells, loud venerations, tourists with the camera in hand, all pass me by. I feel the nourishing temperature of the soothing warmth of a beautiful morning sun. I am dancing and emoting to the songs, that I am singing aloud. I see lotus blossoms on the waters, with my inner eye. I pluck them. I splash its waters and cool this body with it. The Sun becomes my lover. I speak out to him. He receives my love from that intangible corner of the universe. I feel his presence. Lowering these bashful eyes, I turn away and call out to the birds soaring in the skies above. They, my messengers, carry love notes across this vast, blue expanse. I beckon my Krishna to see the joyful river. I pull him close. We jump into the river. Splashing each other with the river waters, we giggle and laugh heartily. I awaken to the rising angst of desire. All illusions dissolve. His absence torments me. I sing him a line. The melody awakens heat in the body, and shivers inside winds of wanting. The pallor and the plea heighten a desperate urge for an instantaneous return to equanimity. She suddenly appears. She, an apparition. She, my Sakhi, my endearing friend, who knows me intimately. Our bond and trust, naked, akin to the compassionate voice inside of me. She listens to me with empathetic, non-judgmental eyes. Returning into the cradle of peace and well being, our boat passes the ornate ghats. My dance speaks to the pilgrims, half wet, half dry. They let out screams of applause from inside the river. These voices are swallowed by the wide expanse and the unending river banks. The noise dwindles and settles into silence. I remain neutral amidst both. In a state of trance, eyes half closed, I see a grey corpse float by. This lifeless body appears like a beautiful, regal, grey bark, bobbing upon water. On the other bank, throngs of men, women and children, in prayerful veneration of the same waters. It is all, most surreal. I am a witness to a circle of life, death, life. The words, Kashi Vishwanath, Ruler of the Universe, gathers new meaning for me. I feel the presence of Lord Shiva. I prostrate to him in humility and complete surrender. Flowing upon the breadth and bosom of the Ganga, I am transported into the light. 

हर हर महादेव शंभो काशीविश्वनाथ गंगे । 

[ Photo courtesy : Santosh Sivan ]

  

Awakening to the first light of dawn, I am drawn to drape in colors of an afternoon sun, rimmed with a blouse in deep, burnt-orange hue. I choose the three-tier earrings lined with golden dewdrops. My neck, I frame with a string of golden mango leaves, punctuated with a delicate eye of rose-red rubies. The chill of the silver kamarband~waistband sends an icy shiver through my body as I tighten its screw around my waist. I adorn my ankles with a pair of silver anklets, carefully crafted in the city of Bhopal. I slide a thick gold bangle into my wrist, that has grown into an imperfect circle after years of travelling across continents with me, a wedding gift from my mother. Eight scarlet glass bangles jingle their way across my wrists clinging to halt when they meet the golden metal. I slip into my right ring-finger my grandmother’s ring, and in the left one, another, from my Amma. In my nostril, I pierce the golden needle of the nath~traditional nose-ring with the pomegranate-red ruby that sits nestled amidst an island of pearls. I open the silver filigree Dabbi~box , which holds the sandalwood paste mixed with fragrant oils. I draw out a spot in the center of my eyebrows, then place the loose vermillion, red pigment of kumkum~tilak upon it. The two merge, illumining this face like a new-bride. I line my eyes with the black collirium, and also draw a delicate horizontal line beneath the circle of the red kumkum. The sight appears to me like a bright morning sunrise, rising in joy above an infinite horizon. I hear the voice of my grandmother whisper, “Forget not to draw a black spot behind your left ear or feet, lest someone’s evil eye were to fall upon you, o beautiful grandchild of mine.” So I do just that. I braid my hair, and weave the kunjalam into it. I neatly knot the loose ends of my hair with a black thread. Slipping on a pair of red-soled chappals~footwear, I feel the embrace of its silvery, gold, braided leather weave across the slopes of my feet. I adjust the silver toe-rings, sacred symbols of my marriage. Stepping out into the quiet light of dawn, this heart flutters with excitement and a promise of glorious adventures into the unknown and the unpredictable.

[Photo courtesy: Santosh Sivan]