Panchatantra, the classic storybook, shakes a leg

May 20, 2012, 10:57 IST | Phorum Dalal

Dancer Ananda Shankar Jayant translates five tales from the popular illustrated book into a dance production

Remember the bedtime tales of the crane and the tortoise, the evil crocodile and monkey, and the escape of the doves? Remember where you read them? Yes, the Panchatantra Tales. While you may score no points for guessing it right, you can relive those memories with Dancing Tales… Panchatantra, a dance performance.

Ananda Shankar Jayant’s ensemble performs the lion and the hare story from the Panchatantra

Ananda Shankar Jayant, an alumnus of Kalakshetra, a 100 year-old dance institute in Chennai, has choreographed the production. Jayant’s earliest memories of Panchatantra are of her mother reading out the animated bedtime stories. “My mother had a tale and a saying for every occasion, which I realise has stood us in good stead today,” says the founder of Shankarananda Kalakshetra, a dance institute at Hyderabad, who recently chanced upon an old Amar Chitra Katha with one of the stories from the Panchatantra. Hyderabad-based classical music composer Prema Ramamurthy has composed the mood-oriented music for this project. “We consciously decided to keep the production free of lyrics — and used a mélange of Indian instruments such as the flute, mridangam, pakhawaj, tabla and dholak to create a rich tapestry of music,” she says.

The story comes through with music and movement — in a combination of Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi, Kathakali and free style. “These stories have centuries of wisdom compressed into a funny and innocuously small fable. It was time to bring some fun and laughter into dance,” says Jayant, whose years of training and performance at Rukmini Devi’s Kalakshetra had already opened her body and mind to a rich vocabulary of movement, intricate choreography and imagery. “When we began blocking the first scenes of the Panchatantra, we decided on a collage of movements and dance, to replicate the gait, character and mood of each animal portrayed. The conventional and contemporary meet and disperse in kaleidoscopic imagery. Innovative movements were worked out to present the character of the animals,” says Shankar.

The five tales That will be enacted
The Dancing Tales... Panchatantra, just like the book, is set in an enchanted emerald forest.

1. The king of the forest Bhasuraka is a dictator and a glutton. The inhabitants of the forest decide to feed his hunger by offering. themselves, one each, every day. Finally, it is the turn of a brave rabbit. He outsmarts the wicked and foolish king who is afraid of his own reflection.
2. At a temple construction site in a beautiful grove, a band of monkeys get swinging. One very curious monkey is intrigued by a wedge left by some carpenters, and gets himself into a messy muddle.
3. A parched summer has the shimmering blue lake caked up and dry. The graceful and elegant cranes decide to cart away their friend the tortoise to another lake, but the latter’s foolhardiness sees him reach a quick end.
4. Selfishness, greed and misplaced loyalty can be the end of a friendship — as it happened between Karalamukha, the crocodile and Raktamukha, the monkey. The unlikely friendship soon came to an end when the wife of the crocodile wanted the monkey’s heart for dessert.
5. A wise pigeon king named Chitragreeva saves his subjects from a hunter by proposing that they unite and tackle the problem. 

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