Madhu Gopinath and Sajeev Vakkom tell SarAswathy Nagarajanthat the national award for choreography was a surprise

After creating waves in national and international venues, Samudra Indian Contemporary Dance Theatre has made a splash by winning the National film award for choreography for their work in Lenin Rajendran’s ‘Rathrimazha.’

“A total surprise, completely unexpected,” gushes Madhu Gopinath and Vakkom Sajeev, founders and lead dancers of the troupe.

In accented English (a pointer to their international connections) that often slips into colloquial Malayalam, the two dancers recalled the long years of struggle that helped them find their own space in the competitive arena of dance.

“Ten years ago, we were two youngsters from a rural background without a well known guru, patron or godfather to launch us or back us. All that we had was creativity and the passion to dance. It was a constant struggle – for stages, finance and recognition,” recalls Sajeev.

But a struggle that they never gave up till critics and cultural czars were forced to notice the two men who danced their way to the centre stage with their own dance vocabulary that has been inspired by Kalaripayattu, yoga, Bharatanatyam, folk arts of Kerala and rope Malkhamb. A language that combines movement, music and rhythm.

The word ‘fusion’ upsets the two artistes. “We have not taken bits and pieces from here and there. We have been inspired by various performing arts of Kerala and our choreography is wholly Indian. In fact, that is the reason we have been invited to perform in 120 countries. Many critics in Europe have pointed out that our presentations are completely devoid of Western influences,” avers Madhu.

The two dancers proudly say that an academician from New Zealand will soon spend two weeks with them as part of his doctoral thesis on their school of contemporary dance that is rooted in Indian aesthetics.

The duo gratefully point out that Soorya Krishnamoorthi was one of the first cultural activists to recognise their raw talent and give them a venue to display their creations.

“For the last five years our invocatory piece, set to the signature tune of Soorya, has been the inaugural item of the Soorya Festival that begins in September. He was also instrumental in helping us find a patron like Rafique Yunus, a Dubai-based entrepreneur. It has freed us from financial constraints and helped us focus on our work,” explains Madhu.

On the big screen

Another person they remember with gratitude is film director Lenin whose ‘Rathrimazha’ helped them make their mark on the silver screen as well.

“Many years ago, as a 15-year old I had competed in the Bharatanatyam competition, conducted as part of the Kerala State schools youth festival. Dancer-actor Vineeth was one of the contestants. He went on to win the first prize and I got a C grade. Now, on the sets of ‘Rathrimazha,’ I had to teach Vineeth our dance movements. It felt strange to be doing that. Vineeth complimented us on our choreography and he remarked that ‘our creativity seemed endless,’” recalls Madhu, all smiles.

Madhu and Sajeev are now working on their new piece – ‘Cosmic dance of Siva.’

Most dancers choose to express the theme through mudras, facial expressions and music. “Our music usually has no language and it our body that expresses the themes. Instead of the facial expressions or mudras only, our body becomes the medium to express the theme,” explains Madhu, the more articulate of the two.

Artistic egos?

“Well, we do argue when we conceptualise a theme,” laughs Madhu as Sajeev hurriedly chips in, “But that argument is not carried on to the kalari. Once the piece has been set and completed, we are in harmony though the arguments and discussions prior to that may get a little noisy at times.”

After proving themselves as dancers and choreographers, the two want to expand their dance school in Kalady.