Dance to the Panchatantra

The Panchatantra (which translates to five principles) tales have enthralled generations of readers in India. Now, classical dancer Ananda Shankar Jayant has used them as inspiration for a dance theatre performance.

Enactment of Panchatantra stories

Titled Dancing Tales… Panchatantra, the 75-minute production highlights morals, values and humour, intrinsic to parables from the Panchatantra, in dance-theatre format. By using various parables and allegories, the production seeks to discuss friendship, bravery, quick-wittedness, foolishness, leadership and freedom.

Since 2006, the dance production has travelled the world and has been showcased at major festivals. This production is being staged in Mumbai for the first time.

Even playing field
The production is set to Prema Ramamurthy’s music and adapted to an English script by Jayant Dwarakanath and Nikhilesh Sinha. The performance by the Shankarananda Kalakshetra troupe, based in Hyderabad, will be led by Jayant and will combine elements of Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi to re-tell the fables.

“There is often a disconnect among today’s youngsters vis-à-vis classical dance forms. The students are often under 25 but the audience is usually much older, making dancers like me wonder — Where are the youngsters? But what is worse is that they haven’t been exposed to the beauty of the art form and without knowing anything about it, it has been written off,” Jayant shares.

To ensure these cultural idioms reaches out to a larger section in the audience, Jayant debated over changing her approach and returning to the Panchatantra.

“These are basic stories that we have heard and learned as children. These stories are fun without being too serious. In this dance production, we have retained the humour element and have kept it contemporary. At no stage does it become moralistic or talk down to the audience,” she adds.

Jayant emphasises that Dancing Tales has received an overwhelming response so far: “It’s a production for children and adults. The dance weaves the five stories. There are no lyrics, only classical Carnatic and Hindi folk music and dance linked by the narrative. The costumes are contemporary with minimum stage props, wigs or masks. The effort is to allow the movements to define characters and speak for themselves,” she elaborates.

Story time
The stories that have been chosen include the tale of the clever rabbit who teaches a lesson to the despotic ruler Bhasuraka who feeds on the inhabitants of the jungle, the too-curious monkey who lands up in a mess due to it, the tale of the crane trying to transport the foolish tortoise, the story of the thwarted friendship between the crocodile and the monkey and the fable of the wise pigeon who saves his subjects from a hunter by proposing that they unite.

Performers include seven women, three men and three children. “The stage effects are subtle so the audience can draw their conclusions. It’s a fun, quirky production,” Jayant concludes.

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