An experiment in classical dance has three soloists choreograph pieces for one another, celebrating their differences and honouring their traditions.
For the last three months, the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya rehearsal hall in Mandi House has been coming alive with the strains of Shaam suno niharo aayo, a thumri composed by Pandit Jasraj. The composition is accompanied by the faint sounds of ghungroos that waft in the cold winter air, stay suspended for a bit, and then merge with the thumri which encompasses the essence of a raasleela, a conversation between Radha and Krishna. There isn’t any rhythmic gimmickry here; only gentle nuances of bhaav and abhinaya. There is also the conspicuous whiff of kathak, with the flick of the wrist and playful eyes — all of this created by Odissi exponent Madhavi Mudgal. “It is transferring a format of kathak and setting it to an Odissi pallavi (an Odissi dance piece) and then performing. It’s challenging but heaps of fun,” says Mudgal, who will open Parkaya — The Body of Another, a three-day dance festival at India Habitat Centre today.
Organised by Sarvam Foundation, the uniqueness of the festival lies in the idea of three dancers — Madhavi Mudgal (Odissi), Rama Vaidyanathan (Bharatanatyam) and Prerana Shrimali (Kathak) — presenting three signature pieces, but choreographed by each other. The three soloists are aiming at celebrating the different styles by merging them with their own through the vocabulary of gestures and expressions but still keeping alive the basic tenets of their respective repertoires. “I always itched to see a kathak dancer and an Odissi dancer in a varnam (a complicated Carnatic classical composition which is the heart of Bharatanatyam’s repertoire). The challenge for me was to bind Prerna who is used to the khulla naach (improvised dance) of kathak, and Madhavi who is at home with more lyrical Odissi pallavis, into varnams that come with a set structure,” says Vaidyanathan.
Shrimali agrees. Having worked on kathak in abstraction and known for her impromptu improvisations with her musicians, also considered the hallmark of a good kathak dancer, Shrimali found it a little difficult to put herself into a varnam, which is an extremely structured form. “I’m acclimated to a more open-ended style of dancing. I could manage Madhavi’s Odissi pallavis, but varnams and jatis that have to be danced in a certain order took a while to get used to,” says Shrimali, who has choreographed a thumri each of them.
Odissi is extremely lyrical, so Mudgal could not have included complicated footwork and pirouettes in her performance. Therefore, Shrimali has given Mudgal a thumri and a choreography where abhinay plays the dominant role. “While kathak is more robust, Odissi has more controlled footwork. As for the varnam, the bols are not in a language I understand. I do know the meaning as explained by Rama, but the challenge will be to translate and transform it while sticking to my own repertoire,” says Mudgal, who trained in kathak in her earlier years and has done duets with a slew of Bharatanatyam dancers including Alarmel Valli.
As for the research going into working with each other, the three did not go in for poring over older texts and scriptures. They instead went for constructive dialogues with each other. “There is a basic awareness and knowledge of other repertoires. Rest was achieved by seeing, adapting and talking to each other,” says Vaidyanathan.
After months of choreography and taking in from one another’s styles, all three agree that the other dancers’ repertoires have become an indelible part of their respective repositories of movements. “It’s like dancing from another dancer’s perception. I had someone else doing the thinking for me. What is amazing is how it has enriched us,” says Vaidyanathan.
The audiences will have to see how the experiment comprising differences, similarities and mergers of three different classical dance styles will translate itself on the modern proscenium stage? We will be stepping in.
Parkaya will be staged at India Habitat Centre, from January 7 to 9, at 7 pm. Entry is free