Chetna Jalan on her new production Emoko
Kathak dancer and choreographer Chetna Jalan is known for an informality considered unconventional in classical dance circles. Put it down to her theatre associations — trained in theatre arts from the American Conservatory Theatre, San Francisco, she has acted under the direction of eminent Indian and foreign directors — or just plain spunk, but she is not inclined to be straitjacketed, even when faced with the disapproval of her fellow dancers. No wonder the veteran says, “At this age, I am not ready to confine myself — the inner bidding is so strong.”
Her latest production, “Emoko”, based on the concept of the search for self, she feels is her most ‘different' work till date — not least because it didn't start as a choreographic production. Developed over five years, it whittled a group of 25 down to six, she says. This Sunday she presents it in the Capital. Excerpts from a telephone interview with the choreographer from Kolkata:
On the seeds of this production
After all, if you have been a Kathak dancer for 40 years, a lot can come out, but somewhere, with changing times, and my own study — I was a yoga practitioner, I went into Art of Living — I experienced many things. Then I studied Laban (the system of movement analysis pioneered by Rudolf Laban). It is such a deep philosophy. It is physical but it is all through your mind. I felt the various energies, the changing energies, just like water ripples. We used to feel that a Kathak dancer can't do all these expressions, but Laban told me you can experiment with the body — not the form.
I searched in the Sama Veda. I went in for phonetic study of experiencing sound within the body. Sound creates vibrations. I have experienced that. Arre baba! That's the reason lamps light up or the rains come due to sound! The pandits can feel the vibration in their throats. This is not about performance. To bring all this together, I was working with silence. Everything begins with silence and stillness. And that stillness affects the audience. Shanta Serbjeet Singh advised me to ask Sun Ock Lee, because she is the only Zen Dance master. I wanted this because I didn't want the typical yogic poses. To me it is archaic, people sitting in dhyan mudra. I needed a different expression. So Dr Sun came and took an extended workshop with my repertory. The thing I added was the sexuality. That was a big question, because I'm not talking about shringar, I'm talking about the human feeling of sexuality. That took me a long time. The challenge was, how do I do it without a Radha-Krishna type story, without any mudras. There is no story in this section. It's about he feeling of sexuality within your body.
Motive of the production
This whole production I created to open my heart and take the audience in, to share the experiences of the dancer. This is the whole philosophy of the Natya Shastra.
Gist of the approach
I have not taken any classical imagery to present “Imoko”, which is a Korean concept that means “Who am I?” We did it not to do a production. It was just research. Then it culminated in a 45 production. There were many trial shows in our Padatik theatre at Kolkata. We didn't ask people to switch off their mobiles. We found that after the first scene, they did it themselves. This shows silence does have an effect on the audience.
The classical dancers said to me, “You have revealed the essence of vilambit, of thaat.” Classical dancers didn't ask me “What have you don't with Kathak?” They said, “How is it possible to do that with the body?” That shows progress in people's thinking.
(There will be two shows of 45 minutes duration each of “Emoko” at Kamani auditorium this coming Sunday. The first starts at 6 and the second at 7.30 p.m.)