Samudra attempts to create a new grammar with its dance

Jalam evokes an experience — visual, aural and aesthetic. Samudra’s lithe performers interpret water’s myriad moods with movements that effortlessly travel from the fluid and pleasant to the firm-footed and angry. Creative lighting and evocative music join in to make this piece of contemporary dance one that celebrates raw energy, meticulous training and striking visuals.

Jalam is vintage Samudra, the Thiruvananthapuram-based Centre for Indian Contemporary Dance. Founders Madhu Gopinath and Vakkom Sajeev intended Samudra to be a space to evolve a new dance grammar and the audience got a fair share of it when Jalam was staged in Kozhikode as part of the ongoing Soorya Festival.

Down the years

Samudra has taken Jalam through years and across countries. Premiered at the Spoleto festival in Italy and performed with a live orchestra, Jalam has been realised at unlikely avenues. “We have performed it at villages in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh as part of the Chaali project,” says Madhu Gopinath. “The backdrop on occasions would be a dry well and one had to make changes on the spot, tune the body and mind to perform it in such an ambience.” Over 60 days, they travelled from village to village conducting workshops and performing the piece. “The audience would at times be 6,000 people. The project was meant to create awareness about water in rural areas. It was natural theatre, about taking dance to narrow roots,” he says.

After performing it on different stages and spaces, the creators moved on to The Cosmic Dance of Siva before returning to Jalam, to look at it afresh, re-designing and re-interpreting it. “Earlier it was a 20-25 minute production and both Sajeev and I felt the need to reconstruct it. We brought in the elements of anger and destruction,” says Madhu. After the Soorya Festival, the new Jalam will travel to Chennai, Mumbai and Chandigarh before taking off to Bangkok and Toronto.

Travel has been an inevitable part of Samudra since its inception in 1998. “Every month we would have about three to four shows. We have performed in 40 countries so far. Last month we performed in Australia,” says Madhu. Samudra now has 10 artists and most of them had hardly any training in dance when they joined. “They join us when they are 15 or 16 and it takes about three years of hard work to get them ready,” he says.

Trained dancers

Both Madhu and Sajeev, though, are trained Bharatanatyam dancers who continue their training even today. The traditional and contemporary art forms are part of their identity which they successfully keep apart. “We just switch off the traditional and turn on the creative” is how Madhu describes the transition.

Even while being classical performers the two desired to create their own language in dance. “We both hail from the village, are earthy guys,” says Madhu about their effort to soak in from the traditional arts and find new interpretations for them. They are both trained in Kalaripayattu and yoga, and the sparks of those movements find resonance in their works. From Kathakali to Kathak, a viewer might find flashes of varied forms in their performances. However, Madhu says these are not influences, rather familiar images in memory presenting themselves unconsciously when a work takes shape. A keen awareness of the body is integral to their dance and difficult manoeuvres are vital to their dance structure. “We research the techniques of moving a body,” says Madhu.

Sound of Silence, Jalam and Cosmic Dance of Siva are in their repertoire, Madhu says, and new projects are in the planning stage. “At times, we take about a year to realise a project, developing at times from drawings and texts.” Samudra is also the story of two people committed to dance. “Sajeev and I are not brothers or relatives, we live for our dance.”