Nina Rajarani Dance Creations: Srishti
Abstraction and ecstasy
by Thea Nerissa Barnes
March 8, 2005 -- The Place, London
Srishti: Nina Rajarani Dance Creations strives to maintain the authenticity of Indian Classical dance tradition but presents these forms in innovative ways. This sounds like a contradiction because traditional forms suffer issues of integrity and purpose when origins are manipulated. How does one remain true to a tradition yet strive to innovate? Choices range from an admixture of separate phrases that in the tradition would not ordinarily go together to a change in gender. The stringent prescriptions of Classical Indian dance forms have provided the foundation for many dance works seen in contemporary dance theatre type settings.
With insight and respect, a contemporaneous approach can produce quite exquisite dance works. This is the case with "Shringara" and "Shukra" presented at The Place, 8 March 2005. This performance of Srishti presented two approaches to both the Western and Eastern mythology of Venus. These were commissioned works choreographed by Mavin Khoo whose choices illustrate a particular meticulousness for preserving the integrity of Classical Indian Bharatanatyam movement vocabulary and sensibilities, but astuteness for bridging Eastern and Western sensibilities. The captivation is the way in which Khoo’s reverence for the form materialised such honest and harmonious expressions.
This is a solo work for the Artistic Director of Srishti, Nina Rajarani. The work illustrates an altered approach to why a practitioner does Classical Indian dance. Adapting the Western perception of Venus Khoo challenges Rajarani’s motives for dancing by encouraging her to override her artistic sensibility. The Bharatanatyam repertory is most times a statement of devotion clarifying the relationship between a mortal and a god. In this work, the Western notion of Venus as a planet that signifies love is the starting point to suggest that a woman embodies love - is the personification of love when expressed metaphorically by a woman confiding with a friend her desire for physical union with her lover. Khoo has asked Rajarani to alter the philosophical manner in which she approaches her dance and has succeeded in providing an innovative texture of understanding. For this work intention in a codified movement vocabulary is manipulated to change meaning. The outward manifestation is Rajarani’s mimicry of confiding with a friend about her lover as an act of reminiscence and re-enactment describes the depth and intricacy of love.
Listening to the bells on Rajarani’s ankles as she walked on stage in the dark was to witness a purposeful act. What followed reinforced this image of force and clarity. There seems to be three conversations at work: one between the woman and her friend, one of a woman imagining being in the presence of her lover and another the exuberant dancer demonstrating her technical prowess in the complicated rhythmical foot patterns with associated hands, arms, head, eyes, and torso. In these instances the exceptional performance of the musicians, Ramanthan Karthikeyan, Kannan Madurai Srinivasan, and Haridoss Ethirajapillai with vocals by Yadavan Yoganantham provided Rajarani the structure for her intricate footwork as well as her intricate mimicry. In between each technical exhibition of vocalised rhythm with complimentary foot work were gestural manifestations, twist of hands, placement of fingers, tilt of head and focus of eyes that reminisced and romanticised her lover to a confidant.
Michael Mannion’s lighting design assisted in spotlighting those moments of intimate conversation between friends as Rajarani travelled around the stage stopping in chosen corners to segue from technical prowess to story teller. Rajarani would portray the woman with mimed gestures of a lover’s caress or his shape illustrating a dimension of love. The downstage left was the most sensuous and lustful. The upstage right and downstage right conversations between the friends seemed about meetings and special moments with one phrase so strong one could sense the woman’s yearning to feel his touch and smell his presence. At the end, in the centre of the stage Rajarani lowered herself to the floor on the left knee with the right leg stretched out and hands nicely placed. The lights lowered on Rajarania with her gaze one of great anticipation focused intently into the distance, waiting.
Khoo states in the program notes that this work is abstract, made to “celebrate Venus within the Hindu aesthetic”. Abstract has several notions attached to it, all of which depend on the discourse in which it is used. In the visual arts, abstract indicates an intention to present manipulations in colour and materials that do not seek to depict or mime the world as it exists. The idea is not to re-present the world on canvas or in clay. Form itself expresses significant subject matter or content with the maker seeking more imagined, idiosyncratic expressions that do not replicate reality.
In Bharatanatyam dance practices, the division of nritya, dances for story telling or depicting feelings and moods, and nritta, dance that visualises rhythms of music, are common approaches. Nritta as abstract dance affords the choreographer artistic licence with the constrictions of form to devise alternative expressions. In dance though one may struggle with the notion of abstract as the dancer at the moment of performance will re-present content whether intended or not. The dancing body is politicised by the beliefs of the dancer and the audience as dancer enlivens or intuits movements with significance. Also, an audience apprehends notions of meaning based on a collection of understandings about the dance and the dancer. In "Shukra" Rajarani and her four male dancers, Aadith Narayan Seshadri, Seshadri Iyengar, Sivakumar Subramaniam and Raghupathy Vasudev, confidence in their technique and profound beliefs made this work an occasion for transcending form. Though the objective was not to tell a story, “a story” was manifest.
In Hindu aesthetic Shukra is the planet Venus personified as a male force. Khoo avoided his urge for storytelling by selecting three images of Shukra that would serve as motifs in the development of the movement vocabulary. The images used were that this god had only one eye, that this god was a swan before becoming a planet and lastly that this god has the power to revive a person from death. The one eyed motif was realised several times in gesture with the dancers literally covering their left eye and repeating the gesture several times in different areas and levels in the space while several duets between the men illustrated the flight of a bird and revival. The male duets may have been abstract in design but the union of two men is already a political statement in itself, and the dancers’ strong convictions and motivations were spiritually and viscerally evident.
The positioning of the musicians playing Rajkumar Bharati composition for this work in the four corners of the stage space also created a powerful enclosed world that enabled separate moments of nritta and nritya; all dancers performing intricate foot work, travelling and arranging themselves symmetrically and asymmetrically in the space while other moments isolated interactions emphasised a manipulation of chosen motifs. Throughout Rajarani was the extra bit of colour with her red feet and hands, colourful silks and hair ornaments juxtaposing the men’s white waist wraps and trousers. The last tableau effective in its simplicity and symmetry was also particularity spiritual. Out stretched arms and heaven ward gaze were postures of venerability at the wake of transcending and not simply abstract lines of arms to balance negative and positive space. Abstraction at this moment became an indication of ecstasy.
Edited by Staff.
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