For more than four decades Bharathi Shivaji has been involved in performing and propagating Mohiniyattam worldwide. She talks about her dance and innovative choreography
She cannot speak Malayalam very fluently but she is a cultural ambassador of Kerala. She has spent more than four decades in the cause of Kerala's own dance form, Mohiniyattam, all the while enriching herself too with the knowledge gained. She has spread the grace of Mohiniyattam globally, taking a bit of Kerala all over in that pursuit. She was born in Thanjavur, grew up in Delhi and fell in love with both Bharathanatyam and Odissi but later embraced Mohiniyattam, leaving behind both Bharathanatyam and Odissi for good.
Who is she?
She is Padmashri Bharathi Shivaji, who will be performing at JTPac this evening. She set up the Centre for Mohiniyattam in Delhi, from where she functions. An outsider who has appropriated our own dance form, feels many a dancer within the State. How much of this view is justified?
We had the legendary Kalyanikutty Amma, who was responsible for giving us Mohiniyattam as we see it now. We have now the great Kalamandalam-trained dancers of Mohiniyattam like Kshemavathy, Sugandhi, Satyabhama, Leelamma and others whose contribution to the dance form is immensely rich.
Room for all
If we have one more dancer from outside the State, who is sincerely in love with Mohiniyattam and spread it worldwide, through research and performances, what should Keralites say? Welcome, one supposes. The policy of ‘live and let live' holds good here and no dancer can actually stifle another's talent. There's room for all.
Kanak Rele's share in developing the dance is singular. Keralites have given time, energy and done research in this area to popularise Mohiniyattam, like Gopika Varma, who is doing it, living in Chennai and Deepthi Omchery from Delhi. Among the younger generation, Smitha Rajan, Neena Prasad, have all set the stage on fire in ‘lasya' mode. Mohiniyattam has thus down the ages, become richer with additions to that passed down through tradition. And Bharathi is part of that change. She is all gung ho about innovations in Mohiniyattam that stretches the imagination. “At the Bolshoi Theatre, we performed the ‘Swan Lake'. The great ballet took on the form of Mohiniyattam and language (Russian) really did not matter,” she says of this production, one of the latest that has concept by Vijayalakshmy, Bharathi's daughter. Three generations performed in it. Bharathi played the queen, Vijayalakshmy the princess and her daughter, Nayanthara was one of the swans. This is a record of sorts. The prince in the piece danced more of Chhau, she said. Later, this production was staged in over 40 stages, though not once in Kerala. She has choreographed Mohiniyattam dances set to Rabindra Sangeeth too, she said in a telephonic interview.
The ‘lasya bhava' of Bharathi Shivaji and her students has that wee bit more languor than that displayed by Mohiniyattam artistes in other places. The controversy about the hairdo has died down now, after decades of rows, whether it should be tied in a bun or in a plait. “How should that affect the dance form? Anyway, in my research, I have found the sculptures with hair tied in a bun,” she reiterates, nevertheless.
How much of Thiruvathirakali has entered Mohiniyattam? “A lot! I did a piece, ‘Athira', based on Thiruvathirakali. While Thiruvathirakali is recreational, Mohiniyattam is classical. Group shows have become the order of the day, even in Mohiniyattam. But at huge venues, that is what is expected, says Bharathi, though she will be performing solo at Kochi today to the poems of Vallathol, Ezhuthachan and Kumaran Asan. She retains the link to Kerala through her Malayali musicians, who accompany her.
Bharathi is waiting for that spark which will ignite her next big choreography.