Play of Dance

Play of Dance

Mumbai-based performer Rajashree Shirke introduces the city to a unique art form,Rangnritya.

Our body is the vehicle for performance and we tell our story in motion,” says theatre director,choreographer and dancer Rajashree Shirke,who moved the audience with her rendition of Khata (Exercise Book),at the Tagore Theatre in Chandigarh on Wednesday evening. The performance was a part of Natyanjali,a festival of dance,drama and music based on the works of Rabindranath Tagore.

“Khata is a story that acknowledges the desires of contemporary women to find a space of their own,” says Shirke,about what drew her to Tagore’s short story. The story,written in the 19th century,explores deep-rooted social mores that strangle the individualism of a nine-year-old bride,Uma. Uma busies herself with scribbling in her exercise book or khata,which becomes an embodiment of her extended self,representing her free will and creativity.

A trained Kathak and Bharatanatyam dancer as well as a student of literature,the Mumbai-based Shirke says that dance is not a “separate form but an integral part of theatre”. This is also the motto of Lasya,Centre for Dance Education and Research,an organisation that Shirke has founded in Mumbai.

To bring out the essence of Tagore’s story,the performer fell back on her own art form,Rangnritya,which she has created by merging influences of the temple art,the performances of Mughal courts,and dance and theatre traditions of different regions.


This was the first time that Rangnritya was being staged in Chandigarh,and left the audience impressed. “I worked extensively with various directors to carve out a niche and not dilute my style. One of the major strengths of our theatre productions are the actors,who are mostly women. Some of them have been a part of the Lasya repertory since they were five year olds,and have trained in dance,apart from natya (theatre).”

Incorporating the technique of storytelling on stage,each actor tells the story and plays various roles at the same time,switching from one character to another with just a change of a dupatta. This not only lends an added layer to the performances,it is also a challenge for the artistes.

For instance,six actors played little Uma in Khata. “We sing,dance and speak the dialogues. There is never one single actor who plays one character. It gives every artiste a chance to play varied roles and we never exit the stage,we just switch on and off,” said Shirke. She is helped in her performances by her son Anirudha,who handles the music for the productions,while Manoj Desai weaves in the vocals to take the story forward.

Despite the stage impact of Rangnritya,Shirke says that the form needs scripts that are more alive. Hence,she is constantly reading and searching for texts that have a contemporary theme,but are open to performance. “Katha and abhinaya,both are important,” said Shirke,whose past productions have included episodes from epics such as the Mahabharata,and the Ramayana,as well as the Vedas,the freedom struggle and the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai. “Costumes,live music,intricate dance movements,use of the body to suggest thoughts,Rangnritya incorporates them all,” she sums up.