The Kuchipudi ballet dealt with something as serious as AIDS awareness.
Creating social awareness through classical dance is not a new development. Sometimes the content is not even remotely connected to an artistic medium. But the presentation can surpass such trivia if treated with high degree of sensibility. The recently staged Jagruthi (Awakening) -a ballet in Telugu in the Kuchipudi format- dealt with awareness to HIV/AIDS. At the outset, the theme sounds bizarre for a dance drama but to G. Padmaja Reddy and Chavali Manju Hemamalini’s credit, it must be said that together they choreographed and directed the ballet with as much artistry as they could despite minor lapses.
For one, the quick succession of scenes made for clarity and brevity both of which were welcome. Since the gamut of emotions had to revolve round man-woman physical relationship, it was a daunting task for the dancer to steer clear of stark reality which has every possibility of bordering on the vulgar or crude. It’s here that this ballet was able to rise above the petty - though not to the level of the profound.
Use of statuesque, suggestive poses in silhouette (using behind the screen technique), body language in poesy like the bee sucking honey from the flower (a very old concept though) and on stage –dancing pairs depicting simple romanticism-conveyed the crux of the problem to be tackled in consequent scenes. Illicit physical intimacy coupled with rash behaviour leads to the outbreak of a mysterious disease (HIV) which debilitates and devastates the lives of young people.
Mother Earth personified is shaken and pleads with the Almighty to take another ‘avatar’ (incarnation) and deliver the people from this sinful illness. Since God cannot manifest – a message is flashed across to the inhabitants of earth to shed their ignorance and adopt a more ethical and moral code of conduct and rehabilitate themselves. A few more instances of little children contracting the HIV and ostracised by society drives home the fact that this disease is vastly misunderstood. Here the awareness part comes in the form of a didactic song and dance.
A fine job
Padmaja Reddy and troupe did a neat job though from the Kuchipudi dance point of view there was hardly anything that went beyond the basics. The entire ballet was fundamental footwork and abhinaya with no effort to go into any serious dance. Padmaja essayed the role of Mother Earth and while her movements and abhinaya were creditable. The interlacing of the ‘Dasavataram’ in quick song and mime was a thoughtful gesture. Her troupe of boys and girls did a fine job too despite slight lack of synch at certain points of the ballet. The costumes could have been less traditional Kuchipudi and more akin to the theme. The ‘HIV’ refrain in the latter half of the song was a little jarring to the urban ear. The ballet in all probability is best suited for a rural staging, where the problem and its implications are in more to the fore than in the urban environs of the twin cities. Ravindra Bharati played host to the presentation.