Friday, June 29, 2007

(D) Tradition and Transference - May 4, 2007

Pix source: The Star

IF I’d watched Arushi Mudgal dance side by side with her aunt, Madhavi Mudgal, on TV, I would have thought they’d used some high-tech gimmickry to have Madhavi’s younger self dance with her present self.

The uncanny resemblance was not just a result of blood ties between aunt and niece but also because of the similarity of dance style seen in the final Pallavi (in rag Bhairavi) that concluded Odissi: Tradition and Transference, a performance that was a part of Sutra Dance Theatre’s Under the Stars series 2007 (2nd Flush), held last weekend. Madhavi is a senior disciple of Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra (one of the pioneers of the Odissi revival in India) and she has dedicated more than 35 years of her life to dance. Madhavi is credited with bringing a greatly refined sensibility to her art form. Her background in music has provided her with a rare insight into the art of choreography. She has received acclaim in the world’s major cities and at dance festivals worldwide and has received numerous awards and honours.

Arushi, born in 1986, started Odissi at the age of five under the tutelage of her aunt. Despite her tender years, Arushi has already toured extensively in India and overseas as part of her guru’s dance troupe. Her most significant performances have been in Brazil, France (at the Theatre de la Ville), Germany (Berlin Festspeile) and Morocco (Fez Festival), where she had the honour of dancing with the legendary Kelucharan and Madhavi as part of a recital that illustrated the continuity of the Indian dance tradition through three generations.

In this performance in KL, we witness the transference of tradition through two generations.

Madhavi’s refined sensibilities could be seen in the supple wrist work, distinctive hand gestures, and subtle head shifts. These were featured regularly in the dance that comprised of six sections – Mangalacharan, Pallavi (in rag Bageshri), Ashtapadi (Yahi Madhava), Abhinaya, Oriya Champu and Pallavi (in rag Bhairavi).

Madhavi’s Mangalacharan was one of the most simple and yet alluring invocatory pieces I’ve seen. Hands cupped most of the time, she swayed rhythmically to Sangitaratnakara, a 13th century musical treatise. Her feet stamped to the ever-changing rhythm and her consistent and gentle rocking motion invoked the image of cosmic balance and harmony. She moved like a slithering snake: one moment gliding smoothly, another, striking suddenly.

The Pallavi in rag Bageshri was choreographed and performed by Arushi. It was a demonstration of how successive generations can add to the development of Odissi. Madhavi’s imprint on Arushi was obvious, but her youthful interpretation was unmistakable.

In this pure dance item that celebrates rhythm and movement, the stage was her playground; and she took liberties with movements she had inherited to create a lively and energetic piece. The only movement that she did not quite complete properly was the balancing act – she had to rush rather quickly into the next movement.

Ashtapadi (Yahi Madhava) is a work choreographed by Kelucharan. Yahi Madhava is extracted from the Gita Govind, a 12th century Sanskrit poem that forms the core of Odissi for abhinaya (expression).

In this song, Radha (performed by Madhavi) is depicted as a hurt and jealous heroine – she has just noted the telltale marks of Krishna’s night of passion with another woman. But, rather than having loud hysterics as most betrayed women would, Radha’s interrogation and rage is gentle, as if scolding a young, naughty boy.

Abhinaya was a lovely personification of Spring through Cupid’s darting love arrows and flowers and trees and butterflies. This piece, performed and choreographed by Madhavi, overall, portrayed an aura of love.

Oriya Champu, written by Oriyen poet, Kavi Surya Baladeva Ratha, became a dance item and a wonderful abhinaya (Spring) piece. In this story, a sakhi (confidante) of Radha’s chides her for having fallen in love with Krishna. I thought Arushi did exceptionally well in expressing her mockery and questioning of Radha’s self-worth.

The Pallavi (in rag Bhairavi) I mentioned earlier concluded the performance instead of the traditional concluding Moksha. This was the only duet in the performance, the only time when Madhavi and Arushi danced together.

Madhavi’s choreography is made up of complex patterns with sequences arranged in an aesthetic order to bring out the architectonics of the tradition. She showed us double-sided views of a single movement with Arushi’s back to the audience and Madhavi facing us. Her combinations of synchronous and asynchronous structures also created visual uniformity.

The asynchronous structures implied that tradition can change and adapt with variations suited to the successive generation. But more significantly, Arushi was recording Madhavi’s movements and consciousness in that uniformity, hence “transference of tradition”. There is only one way to do that for dance, and that is to dance it, over and over again.

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