What does one call an ex-Pope, for isn’t the pontiff’s office for life? Bharatanatyam dancer Savitha Sastry and her husband A K Srikanth, a corporate executive, found themselves tackling this riddle last year as news spread from the Vatican that Pope Benedict XVI had stepped down. While the robed officials at the Catholic seat of power dealt with the event, Sastry and Srikanth began taking their first steps towards a new work of art. Away from office, he is an author of stories and she is a dancer keen to tell new tales. The ripple effect of the papal resignation would result in the duo creating a dark and introspective dance piece titled The Prophet: Destiny, Divinity and Doubt. After successful runs in several cities, the work will be presented in Delhi this evening. Sastry spoke to us from her home in Mumbai. Edited excerpts:
Matter of Faith
Most of our narratives come from personal experiences. When the Pope resigned, the compelling nature of the story hit us. We began to wonder if prophets come with an expiry date. After further discussion we began to feel that humans have put prophets on a pedestal to deal with the monsters that they have created for themselves, and when prophets are less than adequate, we send them to the gallows. This led to the story of Devaduta, a dancer who hears the Voice of god in her head.
Dance of Divinity
The Prophet opens with Devaduta looking back at her life, at the darkness of an abused childhood, when the Voice begins to speak to her and guide her. She reaches the pinnacle of fame and prosperity and begins to reach out to the less-privileged and uplift them, much as a prophet would. Until the day, the Voice speaks to her for the last time, telling her that she has one year to live. Twenty-four hours before she is destined to die, Devaduta begins to question everything in her life, including, ‘Am I a prophet?’.
Music and Lyrics
The piece is a soliloquy, with voice-overs of English narration and Hindi poetry. The stage is occupied by me alone as Devaduta who is confronting her mortality. To bring about the hypnotic power of the piece, we found no parallel in Carnatic music. Trance, however, could create the right mood so we used the elements of trance and House and wove these into the classical genre. The piece also uses shehnai to create angst as Devaduta reveals parts of herself that are riddled with doubt.
I had to renegotiate new movements. Using the classical grammar, I created contemporary moves to depict the huge emotional content of the piece. I borrowed the feel from the contemporary vocabulary but stayed away from avant-garde. The body creates the mood and tells the story the audience can understand and feel.
The performance will take place at Kamani auditorium today at 7 pm; entry free