Among the dancer-scholars of Mohiniyattam, Kanak Rele deserves special mention for her intellectual approach to the dance form. Over the past 45 years, she has been engaged in ferreting out the roots of this lasya dance with single minded devotion. Her first book Mohini Attam, The Lyrical Dance appeared two decades after her foray into this field. ‘Prayoaga’ was the emphasis of this publication. Two more decades into ardent research have brought out a revised edition, the focus of which is ‘Sastra’. The book was released in Thrissur recently. Nalanda Dance Research Centre, Mumbai, of which she is the founder-director is the only institution in the country to be recognised as a Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation by the Ministry of Science and Technology. In an interview, Dr. Rele explained at length the theoretical framework she could propound against the backdrop of the revised edition of her book. Excerpts:
According to you, Mohiniyattam is not the ‘dance of the enchantress’ but the ‘lyrical dance’...
In the myth associated with the dance form, Vishnu performed an enchanting dance. In this case, Vishnu does not become Mohini; rather he transforms himself into the form of an enchantingly beautiful woman. Due to this transformation, there is an element of enchantment that deludes the ‘asura’ into viewing Mohini, the ‘woman’, as representing a sexual aspect, which is once again just Maya, illusion. From this point of view, Mohini only enchants and does not lure. In fact, Mohini is just a name by which Devi (Sakthi) should be called in the context of the episodes where she is an incarnation of Vishnu who is performing his designated function of assuming sentient form to destroy evil. Then how can Mohini perform ‘dance of enchantress’? She performs a dance, which has an enchanting quality, which is lyrical in its form and has ‘lyricism’ in its content. Mohiniyattam is the ‘lyrical dance’.
You have dug deep into the roots of the dance form and you have documented veteran exponents such as Kunjukutty Amma, Chinnammu Amma and Kalamandalam Kalyanikutty Amma. The results of your comparative study...
Kunjukutty Amma’s abhinaya techniques bore resemblance to those of Nangiarkoothu and Kamsa Natakam. The footwork had much in common with that in Thullal, Padayani and Arjunanrittam. Chinnammu Amma’s style owed much to Thiruvathirakali. Of course, she was influenced by Kathakali, as she was a teacher in Kalamandalam. Kalyanikutty Amma’s style had some elements of the both but at the same time also embraced totally different features.
Though Kunjukutty Amma and Chinnammu Amma were very old when I met them, they had a very firm grip over the waist and the hip while maintaining the basic posture. The study brought out the co-relationship of folk, ritualistic, semi-classical and classical arts. See, in the traditional Indian art, there has never been a clear differentiation between classical and folk art forms.
The kinetics of dance in general and that of Mohiniyattam in particular
The body movements in classical dance follow two theories of movements namely ‘volution’ (geometrical patterns) and ‘revolution’ (spiral). In volution, the dancer’s body is divided into two halves at the waist. The lower part, while preoccupied with interpreting the rhythmic syllables into the movements of the feet, does not generally follow the course taken by the upper half. The upper half of the body moves in the form of a semi-circle, with the waist as the centre. Both the styles have a hidden beauty to project. Volution of harmonious lines following precise geometrical patterns creates an atmosphere of grandeur. While there is no geometric precision in revolution, it creates an atmosphere which is lyrical. The movements here are well rounded. The body of the dancer is divided into five horizontal planes to analyse these movements in the book.
You have argued that Sopana Sangeetham is ideally suited to Mohiniyattam...
The most important characteristic of Sopana Sangeetham is the element of andolika (oscillating) movement of music. In the initial stages of my work in Mohiniyattam, I also used the Carnatic musical pieces with their swara-sahithya pattern and crisply recited chollus (mnemonics). But I experienced many rough edges with sudden jerkiness in the dancing which was not intentional but was prompted by the music and tala system. In many instances, the intense emotionalism that was required from a Mohiniyattam exponent could not be taken to its logical fruition due to lack of support from the music. It is only when I started working with Sopana Sangeetham that things arranged themselves in the proper shapes and hues. The very basic movement that sustains Mohiniyattam dancing is andolika or the oscillating movement. These kinetic patterns are beautifully aided by the gamakas of Sopana Sangeetham which strengthen and beautify the oscillating body. In this book, I have given graphic illustrations of gamakas that are used in the Sopana Sangeetham for Mohiniyattam.