Santosh Nair’s new production “Mystical Forest” exults in a contemporised version of Chhau.

Mayurbhanj Chhau with its singular body language, with the dancer balanced on one leg with the other revelling in exuberant aerial movements, without codified hand gestures like the other Indian dance traditions, has a raw and manly naturalness, which can be harnessed for themes of Nature on one side and war on the other. For Santosh Nair of Sadhya, trained in Kathakali, Contemporary Dance and Mayurbhanj Chhau, the forest and its environs have always been much favoured themes, and in “Mystical Forest” premiered in India at Kamani auditorium under the aegis of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, his choreography exults in a contemporised version of Chhau. His experiences and the films he has been treated to, of what man is doing to forests in the Amazon and other areas, have firmed up his feeling that in the name of progress, trying to ‘civilise’ the forest people, who live so close to nature, is sacrilege.

“Mystical Forest” catches glimpses of imaginary life in the forest where man finds joy in simple pleasures. There is no attempt at making any statement in the dance production. But the intrigued and then frightened faces when the sound of helicopters disturbs the rhythms of the forest speak for themselves. There are very imaginatively designed sequences of aerial movements of balancing on ropes like Mallakhamb, with simultaneous floor movements creating a contrast.

The standard of dancing and the group discipline leave very little to be desired. There are moving group images and scenes, as when a deer from a fast galloping herd is brought down and the carcass slung over the shoulder of the man to be taken home. There is another scene where, with masks (that look like Sinhalese masks) and the mumbo jumbo of what looks like witchcraft, the forest dwellers conduct worship or celebrate a festival. Cavorting together, fighting, playing in water – it is just capturing the joy of living in the lap of nature.

The music assembled by Upamanyu Bhanot aids the evoking of ambience. That urbanised man is an oddity for these people comes out clearly.