Be it music, dance or drama, Malayali artistes, artists in general, have a tendency to correlate their idiom on stage with the literary tradition. Theme-based theatricality is central to most of the dancers in Kerala who have made a name for themselves in their respective fields. Little surprise it is then to realise that Vineetha Nedungadi, a distinguished Mohiniyattam dancer of the day, is justifiably associated with the textual nuances of the varnams and the padams. An abiding fascination for the poetic import of the verses has motivated emboldened this dancer to experiment with textual choreography. Criticisms not withstanding, Vineetha has won the hearts of the sahridayas far and near through her choreography of stage-creations of poet Edasserry's ‘Poothappattu' and Kavalam's ‘Karukarekaarmukil.' A recipient of several honours, including the Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Akademi Academy Award this year, she is genuinely interested in enhancing refurbishing the form and content of Mohiniyattam.
In a free-wheeling chat, Vineetha candidly speaks of her life as a dancer.
Mohiniyattam for self-expression
My father, the late P. Narendranath, an author, was my inspiration to learn Malayalam and its literature. I also found myself drawn to Sanskrit.I also developed a fondness for Mohiniyattam. Kalamandalam Ranganayaki taught me the basic steps of Mohiniyattam at the age of five. After short stints with various teachers, Kalamandalam Kshemavathy (Kshema) became my teacher. Under Kshema teacher, I had a thorough training in cholkettu, jathiswaram, varnam, padam, thillana and the like.
From tradition-bound items to New choreographies
My first dance choreography was ‘Omanathingal kidaavo.' I tried my best to give a fresh interpretation to Irayimman Thampi's lines. For instance, in the line where Krishna is being compared to a playful deer in the poem, I, as Yashoda, had the expressions of a mother anxiously looking for her son. When she finds him, the jubilation comes through in the line, ‘is he the luminous swan?' Likewise, there are other themes that are waiting for a fresh interpretation and to be explored. While threading such an exciting path, I discovered Edasserry's ‘Poothappattu.'
Challenges in visualising Poothappattu
There is no way one can compare the written words of Poothappattu with the visual interpretation. With this choreography I was looking for the poetry in Mohiniyattam and Mohiniyattam in the poetry. In this acclaimed poem by Edasserry, I noticed the lasya element in the Pootham (ogress). That brought about the idea of interpreting it in the structural language of Mohiniyattam.
For Kavalam Narayana Panickar's‘Karukarekaarmukil,' I presented the piece through the eyes of a peacock. ‘Varshamohini' is a picture of navarasas as it depicts the the different faces of rain.These pieces have been well received by the audience. I have also choreographed excerpts from Tagore's ‘Geetanjali.' I conceptualised Ashtanayika from some lines of the ‘Geethanjali' that were translated by G. Sankara Kurup.
When I depict a line in it, which speaks of the Nayika discarding her ornaments, which denotes her giving up her pride, four or five among the audience might understand the sub-text. That's good enough.
Kathakali-like music in the pieces
I have often felt that abhinayasangeetam rather than the technically rich Carnatic music is the real companion of Mohiniyattam. The ‘andolikagamakam' of Kathakali vocal is in perfect harmony with the undulating movements of Mohiniyattam. In abhinayasangeetam, the jeevaswarams of the ragas are well pronounced in the sense that these are in consonance with the expressions of the nayika or her sakhi.
Slow/medium paced Mohiniyattam in a fast-paced world.
While no compromise is possible in the slow/medium execution of the torso or hand movements, the corresponding footsteps can be multiplied while keeping the tempo intact. This might invigorate the new generation audience. Mohiniyattam, I am afraid, is not a fully developed dance form. It's still evolving. So apart from the customary jeevatma-paramatma equations, new dimensions can be discerned in its aesthetic landscape.