Four homemakers who comprise the Dharani Ensemble will present Mohiniyattam concerts in Europe with their guru Shyamala Surendran
Tucked away off SRM Road in Kaloor is Dharani School of Performing Arts, in a house with a neat small garden. On its red oxide first floor is the wooden trussed dance hall where a Nataraja image stands adorned with pink hibiscus. A full length mirror hangs on a wall beside which lies a wooden plank and a small baton. Four women dressed in cream and gold costume stand in prayer with folded hands and closed eyes. On completion they walk across to the plank, bow, touch it with deference and arrange themselves to begin their dance practice. The plank is symbolic of their absent teacher Shyamala Surendran and founder of the school, who is away on tour. The dancers - Sindhu Sunny, Usha Mohan, Lakshmi N. Vishawanthan and Ameena Shanavas - who form the Dharani Ensemble, are set to join her for a three week tour of Hungary and Germany presenting six concerts. “We are very excited about our maiden performance before a western audience,” they say.
The common thread that unites these dancers and their passion for dance is the fact that these full time homemakers have made a sacred place for dance in their lives that stretches between home, high profile husbands, social life and raising kids.
Forty-four-year old Sindhu has been learning dance since 2002. Her enrolment was “accidental” she recalls, when she tagged along with a friend who came for her daughter’s admission. Her family has been very encouraging and Sindhu finds dance as a source of joy. She says it’s helped her come into her own. Lakshmi, a mother of two girls aged 14 and 12, learnt Bharatanatayam in school. She has performed in concerts in U.S. before she came to the city and joined Dharani. Dance is meditation for her as it quietens the mind. The oldest in the group is 48-year-old Usha, mother of two sons, 30 and 25. Usha has been learning dance for the past 14 years and believes that she is good at it because of her guru Shyamala’s insistence of daily practice. Ameena Shanavas is the youngest at 34. For her dance is a passion.
Sindhu believes that dance has enabled her come out of a cocoon of shyness. “I was very shy and reserved. Dance has brought about a complete makeover in my personality.” Usha too speaks about a change in her temperament after she began learning dance. “I was short-tempered. Dance has taught me to deal with my weaknesses. My children are very pleased with the change in me and encourage me in this pursuit. They feel proud.”
Much as the group is keen to perform in front of a western audience they are excited about the challenge to communicate with them. “Western audience is deeply appreciative about the subtle nuances of classical Indian dance, especially precise rhythm, eye movements and facial expressions or abhinaya. In western dance emotions are communicated through the body,” says Lakshmi.
For better communication the group has devised translations in Hungarian and German to be played in between the songs and dance, especially for the finale - Tatavamasi- which narrates the story of Lord Ayappa and is Dharani’s home production. The other pieces that Dharani Ensemble will stage are Ganeshsthuthi, Jatiswaram, Jayadeva’s Ashtapathi, Omanathingal kidavo as padam, Thillana and will conclude with Tatavamasi. All the dances are Mohiniyattam and have been choreographed by their guru.