Ayswaria Wariar speaks about her forays into the nuances of Mohiniyattam.

Born in Kozhikode and brought up in Mumbai, Ayswaria Wariar is a danseuse committed to popularising Mohiniyattam in Gujarat. Performances apart, she has been grooming up-and-coming dancers to enable them to become professional performers through her institution in Vadodara – Nrityodaya School of Classical Dances, over the past decade. An accomplished choreographer, Ayswaria’s productions, both solos and group choreographies, have won rave reviews from critics across the country. Recording studios and theatre halls were familiar places for Ayswaria even as a child since her parents were well-known actors and dubbing artistes. Even as she inherited histrionic talents from them, dancing occurred naturally as her mother was a trained dancer. Her strong academic background in dance is an asset for her to write to periodicals on dance and related topics almost regularly.

She has been selected for the Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Akademi award for non-resident Malayalis. This is for the first time that the Akademi has introduced these awards and she has been selected for Mohiniyattam.

Excerpts from an interview with the dancer…

Artistic backdrop of the family

My childhood was in Mumbai as my father, Mukundan Menon, was a senior engineer with Air India. He was very interested in the thespian art and was an active member of the Prathibha Theatre in which actors like Captain Raju had begun their career.

He was also a dubbing artiste and so was my mother, Sreebala Menon. Both of them were recipients of the RAPA (Radio and TV Practitioners’ Association) award. They had acted in the Doordarshan serial ‘Ek Kahani’. Mother belonged to the first batch of students of Kalamandalam Saraswathy in Kozhikode. She was trained in Bharatanatyam and she initiated me into the world of dance at the age of five.

Intensive disciplining

Later, I continued learning from guru Mohan Raj in Mumbai. But my mother soon realised that I must take to Mohiniyattam and at the age of 12, I became a student of guru Udyogamandal Vikraman. He was a Kathakali artiste but was a disciple of Kalamandalam Sugandhi while working at the FACT School in Udyogamandal.

Ten years with her totally moulded the dancer in me since his teaching was intensive and systematic, a sequel to his Kathakali background. On the academic side, I had graduated in Economics by then. Marriage brought me to Pune, where I explored avenues for higher training in dance. Fortunately , I met guru Sucheta Bhide-Chapekar, head of the Centre of Performing Arts, Pune University. She advised me to appear for an entrance examination for a post-graduate course in Bharatanatyam. I passed the same and completed the course in two years with commendable records.

I benefitted considerably from the course in the university as it opened vistas to many branches of the terpsichorean art, including art criticism, choreography, aesthetics, and so on.

Into the world of performance and teaching

After a four-year gap, during which I had a baby, I rushed to Saraswathy teacher to brush up my dance. Also, I had opportunities to perform in different places in Gujarat.

The responses from the audience were a fillip and I tried my hand at choreography too. The one of Ashtapadi was well received. There was no looking back since then.

Tryst with Kavalam Narayana Panicker

I was amazed by the musical charm and rhythmic progression of the styles of Kanak Rele and Bharathy Shivaji when I saw their recitals in Mumbai.

I learnt that this was the contribution of Kavalam Narayana Panicker. My father knew him well.

So, I undertook many jaunts to Thiruvananthapuram and got enlightened on many aspects of Kerala music, especially indigenous rhythms. I could incorporate them successfully in my choreography.

The institution

Nrityodaya School of Classical Dances under the Nrityodaya Charitable Trust, registered under the Gujarat Sangeet Natak Akademi, was formed soon after I completed my post-graduation.

This is an institution that lays emphasis on quality more than quantity and has 70 students on its rolls, including Malayalis and Gujaratis.

They learn Bharatanatyam and Mohiniyattam, following a well-knit syllabus for theoretical and practical studies. Interestingly, most of them opt for Mohiniyattam.

As of now, a few of them are quite outstanding and they are very helpful in my group choreography.

As a choreographer

Among my earlier choreography, the notable ones are ‘Sangam-Jugalbandhi’, ‘Ayyappa Jananam’, ‘Bhavayami Raguramam’, ‘Soundaryalahari’, ‘Gopalaka Pahimam’ and ‘Maya Mareecham’. ‘Meghadootham’ and ‘Shakuntala’ are the recent ones.

They are all based on the Puranas. I am yet to work on compositions based on secular themes.

Performances

I have performed in all major festivals in India including the Mudra, Soorya, and Hampi fetes. Among them, the one at the Sun Temple at Modhera in Gujarat is worth mentioning for its tourist attraction. I am an empanelled dancer of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations and have performed in many countries abroad. Even though I possess a masters degree in Bharatanatyam, I perform and choreograph only Mohiniyattam numbers. I have felt that aarnam, which is so prominent in a Bharatanatyam recital, is not at all suited to Mohiniyattam. Nritta (pure dance) in Mohiniyattam could be developed by introducing more rhythmic syllables. I am also engaged in research on the translation of the text into performance, of course, with regard to Mohiniyattam.