The art of living Indian dance

Apr 09, 2012, 12:00 IST | Surekha S

Artistes performing at the month-long Mudra dance festival that kicks off today, will attempt to demystify the art form and provide audiences with a glimpse into the beauty of dance

With a stalwart line-up that includes Birju Maharaj, Sadanam Balakrishnan, Aruna Mohanty and Shashadhar Acharya, the Mudra Dance Festival is easily one of the most anticipated dance festivals in the country. This year, in the attempt to demystify dance, the festival goes beyond performances and includes talks, demonstrations and film screenings. “It will provide a glimpse into the world of dance,” says Amrita Lahiri, head, dance programming, NCPA. The Guide handpicks three events from the month-long festival that dance enthusiasts are likely to enjoy:

Enter the world of Alarmel Valli
Audiences will get the opportunity to interact with the renowned Bharatanatyam dancer Alarmel Valli at the Mumbai premiere of the film, Lasya Kavya: The World of Alarmel Valli. The film, directed by Sankalp Meshram, showcases more than just Alarmel’s dance, including her thoughts and ideas on the art.“The film goes beyond being a film on Alarmel Valli to being a film on Bharatanatyam, dance at large and the relationship of dance with life,” says Meshram.

The film, which started as a project to archive Alarmel Valli’s work, went on to become a full-length feature on the dancer. “The film brings together three threads — an archival project of my work, my ideas and thoughts on dance and a biographical element,” says the legendary danseuse. “I am very happy with the way Sankalp has directed the film; his presence is unobtrusive. It looks at the aesthetic world I inhabit. Sankalp describes the film as a lyrical look at the intellectual, spiritual and emotional context within which Alarmel Valli performs,” she adds. 

According to Alarmel Valli, poetry, music and bhakti are central to her interpretation of the art form. “For me, dance is a prayer with my entire being,” she elaborates. Valli will share her understanding of dance with the audience post the screening of the film. The DVD of the film will be released next month.

It’s all in the eyes (Kathakali performance)
The story of Keechaka, a demon killed by Bhima, the second of the Pandava brothers, is an important story in the ancient Sanksrit epic, the Mahabharata.
The story will be brought to life by eminent Kathakali dancer Sadanam Balakrishnan. The story will be projected on to a screen in the background to enable audiences to follow the thread of the story, during the performance.

Balakrishnan will also present a talk on Kathakali. “The lecture will throw light on the expressions used in Kathakali to help people understand the dance better,” says Balakrishnan, adding, “Kathakali is about story-telling. Three years ago, when we performed the Keechakavadan in Lahore, we received an amazing response from the audience. People applauded whenever the expressions and mood changed; they understood every element of the story.”

The masked dance form
Catch a rare performance of the Chhau dance by Shashadhar Acharya. Acharya, who hails from Jharkhand’s Seraikella region, is a fifth-generation dancer. He will present the Seraikella Chhau, one of the three schools of the Chhau dance. “The technique used in Chhau is very different from other dances,” says Acharya. He adds, “The emphasis is on natural movements and on angik abhinaya (movements of the body) the mask is an important aspect.”

The story-telling dance form differs in its treatment of space and in its way of communicating emotions. “In the last 10 years, it has received more recognition,” says Acharya. At the festival, Acharya will showcase two pieces: Ratri (night) and Kamsavadan (The killing of Kamsa by Krishna). “Though Ratri is based on a mythological story, it has been adapted to fit a contemporary context,” says Acharya, adding, “It is a story of the quietude and dangers of the night.”

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