The workshops on Koodiyattam and Mohiniyattam at SPICMACAY’S 2nd International Convention reiterated that appreciation of art knows no boundaries.

Smiles and laughter know no boundaries. Neither does art. In fact, they close distances. This was amply demonstrated at SPICMACAY’S 2nd International Convention held recently at Chennai, where workshops on Kerala’s Mohiniyattam and Koodiyattam saw the enthusiastic participation of youth from different parts of the globe. For the uninitiated it offered the opportunity to taste the rich cultural heritage, while for others it was an invitation to delve deeper into the art forms.

The five-day intensive workshops in Mohiniyattam and Koodiyattam were conducted under the tutelage of gurus Gopika Varma and Margi Madhu, respectively. Says Gopika: “For the 20-odd students who came from all over India, Pakistan, Mauritius and so on, the class offered an exposure of a totally new kind. Most of them had either not learned dance, or seen or even heard about Mohiniyattam.”

Yajna from Mauritius has untraced roots in India. She has learned some dance, but Mohiniyattam was entirely new to her. “I’d love to continue to learn under Gopika Varma, if I get the chance. I hope to return for that when I have completed my academic studies.”

For Harshita and Shatabdi from Assam, Mohiniyattam was a far cry from the Sattriya that they are trained in. And in the short span of five days, they managed to tone down their movements to the subtle grace of Mohiniyattam. It was an enriching experience for Komal, a Fine Arts student from the Beaconhouse National University in Lahore, Pakistan. With restrictions on classical dance and YouTube in Pakistan, Komal had never watched Mohiniyattam, live or on screen. This indeed was the sample of the motley group that was being trained by Gopika to perform and present a Ganesha stuthi.

Similar was the nature of the group assigned to Margi Madhu to introduce the ancient Sanskrit theatre form of Koodiyattam. He was assisted by his wife, Indu.G, herself a Koodiyattam performer of repute. Talking of her experience at the class, Indu says: “It would certainly help change the youngsters’ perception towards art. Having felt the rigours in their bodies, they would be able to take a more serious view of what happens behind the scenes – the hard work that goes in and the application of body, mind and intellect. People often nurture the false notion that it is only academic studies that need intelligence, while mastering an art like Koodiyattam is a truly wholesome learning experience.”

One of the students at the Koodiyattam workshop was Azeem Hamid from Pakistan, a young actor, director and founder of the Independent Theatre Company. “A theatre person needs to be physically aware. Every minute movement in the body sends across a message to the audience. This introduction to Koodiyattam has helped me hone my skills as a theatre artiste.”

Azeem draws parallels between the folk theatre of Kissa Goi, with which he is familiar, and the classical art of Koodiyattam. The lone female participant in the class was Anusha, a Malayali, a class nine student learning Bharathanatyam in Bangalore. “I had heard about Koodiyattam and searched for videos in YouTube to know more. What I saw fascinated and inspired me to want to learn. Here, it was a thrilling experience to see Madhu sir perform live. I am determined to take up the art. All the multi-tasking it involves is a challenge I love,” she quips.

Madhu sums up: “This has been more of a physical experience. However, it has helped them become familiar with the atmosphere and to appreciate. And not the least, it has helped lessen the distance.” This fact was evident from the enthusiastic response of the young audience to his performance put up on one of the evenings, the show being ‘Anguliyankam’, depicting Hanuman in his search for Sita.

The students staged their presentations on the penultimate day of the convention under the watchful eyes of their gurus. Imperfections there might have been, but it was a delightful experience – much like watching the wobbling steps of a toddler. And as Gopika Varma said, it was truly rewarding.