In commemoration of the 150th birth anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore, common productions, plays and specifically dance-dramas are being given different interpretations and artistic modes, to look beyond the mundane, thanks to the Tagore Commemoration Grant Scheme of the Ministry of Culture, Government of India.

Dance dramas are generally produced with permutation and combination of styles, both classical and contemporary, number of dancers and variation in costumes to make them aesthetically appealing. Many of the productions, which were eclipsed by superficial variations of steps and additions that claim to be a natural artistic interpretation of Tagore, have failed to bring forth the ideals and underlying meaning of the Bard’s work.

‘Chitrangada,’ staged by Dancers’ Guild at Rabindra Sadan, Kolkata, was a dance-theatre with a difference. Theatrical movements, martial arts, especially Kalaripayattu, Chhau and Thang-ta were woven into the choreography with their ‘Navanritya’ idiom, pioneered by Dr. Manjusri Chaki-Sircar, into a variegated whole.

It is claimed that Navanritya is not a style but an idea, a continuously evolving dynamic dance idiom, which has no restriction of grammar or limits of forms.

Both Dr. Sircar and her brilliant daughter, Ranjabati Sircar, believed that beyond hidebound strictures of tradition, Tagore’s aesthetics underscores “Faith in the body as artists’ vehicle and faith in the individual as an artist.” So the dance theatre according to the Guild, “Is an attempt to dance Tagore in a contemporary way.”

Tagore had written the verse-drama and the dance drama at two different periods of his life. The performance text merges the two but uses the narrative verse as the core text, the adaptation is complete with sensations, gestures, rhythms and tones.

As a result, Aishika Chakraborty, the choreographic collaborator and an alumnus of the Guild, who scripted and conceived the production, and Jonaki Sarkar, the director (the dance director too), were able to distinguish between theatre and dance-drama and present ‘Chitrangada’ as an ambitious illustration of this ambivalent relationship.

So while exploring the dramaturgical possibilities that the narrative verse offered, they have recast ‘Chitrangada,’ the warrior princess of Manipur, in a contemporary mould.

In this story of Mahabharata, Chitrangada meets and falls in love with Arjun, who during his 12 years of penance wanders into Manipur. Arjun, who observes celibacy, refuses her. Dejected and insulted, the princess (Kurupa) seeks Madan’s(God) help to transform her into a beautiful woman (Surupa) to allure him. Arjun naturally falls for her.

When the kingdom is attacked, Chitrangada with her fighting skills and warfare saves the country. Arjun’s illusion being over, he discovers and admires the true quality in a woman and respects her. But Chitrangada stresses, “I am Chitrangada (Ami Chitrangada)!” The princess, no ordinary woman, has an identity of her own and will move on equal terms with a man.

More dialogue

The present treatment has fewer songs, more dialogue with movements that steer the course of the narrative, pure music composed by Swapan Pakrashi and wonderful solo dance numbers.

In general, Chitrangada is represented as one woman rent apart by her two conflicting selves, (Kurupa and Surupa). Here, Chitrangada is not two but three! This is the high point of the production. The first signifies the self, the unchanging identity of Chitrangada (Aishika Chakraborty) narrating the journey of her life, the saga of her hunt for love, her dejection and decisive ‘reclamation’ on her own terms. The other two are her exterior selves enacted in two separate styles, Kurupa and Surupa, sharing and overlapping the stage –space with the first one.

The opening dance formation with Bol paranth was highly impressive. The props of masks and Patachitra, the colourful fascinating scroll paintings from Medinipur by Moyna and Maleek Chitrakar depicting the tale of Chitrangada, provided innovative support.

Arindam Dey’s contemporary scrolls offered a new version of the story representing spring (basanta), which bestowed on Kurupa the magical charm of Surupa. Aishika Chakraborty’s choreography was distinctly sharpened by technique and novelty. Her refined execution as a narrator, both on stage and in the voice-over, had emotional impact. There was fluidity of movement. Kajal Hazra’s strapping movements as Arjun were geometric poses of perfect symmetry but did not lack the aesthetic grace of a magnificent dancer.

Jaitri Chowdhury as Surupa was elegant but it was Sadhana Hazra as Kurupa who won the heart with her technical brilliance and physical and facial expressions, especially in the emphatic “Ami Chitrangada.”

Some of the group numbers were pleasing as was the music but what stood out were the visual effects, imagery and the team work.