Noted choreographer Dani Pannullo’s ‘Atma Malabar,’ based on Kalaripayattu, will be presented on the sidelines of the 18th International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK).

Noted choreographer Dani Pannullo has long harboured a desire to celebrate the movements of Kalaripayattu in a language that is contemporary and western. So to see his dream production come to life in the ‘motherland of martial arts,’ as he reverently calls Kerala, is a significant moment in a life strewn with achievements. Mr. Pannullo’s ‘Atma Malabar,’ based on Kalaripayattu, will be presented on the sidelines of the 18th International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK).

Tribute to Carlos Saura

Scheduled for the evening of December 8 at Co-Bank Towers, this performance is being held particularly as a tribute to Spanish filmmaker Carlos Saura, who produced a trilogy featuring the traditional Flamenco dance and is the recipient of this year's Lifetime Achievement Award at the IFFK.

The Spanish government is funding Atma Malabar — 45 minutes of phenomenal acrobatics and flawless synchronisation. Six of the artistes — three Spaniards trained in Mr. Pannullo’s company and three Malayalis from the Maruti Marma Chikilsa and Kalari Sangham at Mudavanmukal here — communicate with each other effortlessly. As Miguel, one of the Spanish dancers, puts it, “we are joined souls in dance.” The music is a hypnotic trance blending together diverse rhythms of Hindustani sitar, soft Spanish tunes, and modern electronic. They admit to having struggled at first even though they each had forayed into dance at a very young age. “It was not easy at all. It was not the actual movement of the body that we took time getting used to. It was of the mind — that discipline and focus that even the basic postures of Kalaripayattu demands,” says Julian, another dancer. Alejandro is the third dancer from Spain.

For Mr. Pannullo, who prefers being called an ‘artistic director’ over ‘choreographer,’ there is the additional satisfaction of knowing that his dancers were finally getting to appreciate martial art that was not karate or kung fu. He takes great pride in his capability of taking the best from each dancer, listening to them, and producing something out of true team effort. He adds that Ajith Kumar, of the Maruti school, was a crucial guide in the process. Three of Ajith’s students — Vishnu, Ramlal, Visakh — appear more in the purely Kalarippayattu parts of the show.

A first

This is Mr. Pannullo’s first urban-contemporary dance project featuring an Indian dance form. He dreams of taking this exquisite blend back to Europe and beyond. “Art is always the best way to unify two distinct cultures,” he says.

His repertoire of experiments with diverse and foreign styles is impressive. He has disciplined Spanish street dancing and gifted it a more profound side by blending it with contemporary styles. He then experimented with his country’s trademark Flamenco dance form before turning abroad to the butoh style in Japan, and the whirling dervishes dance in Egypt.