It was not possible to be immune to the way dancers brought alive the best of mythology with ‘Sivamayam’. Given our tradition of folk theatre and the penchant for colours and literal interpretations of the hand of the Divine, Sheela Unnikrishnan proved how training and adherence to the heritage of drama and costuming, can make for a visual spectacle that is rooted in laya, nritta and abhinaya.
Taken as a big picture, it was not very different from theatre shows in villages and moffusil areas, where passion overcomes sanitised versions of story-telling and where the audience connect is so emotional.
Coming as she does from the Melattur style of dance, ‘Sivamayam’ was replete with dramatic depictions of themes on Lord Siva. And with the numbers of dancers (about 70), participating, the synchronised formations and aligned dancing become even more of a challenge. But teacher-choreographer Sheela did an admirable job of getting even the youngest ones to perform with aplomb and bhakti.
Beginning with a composition of Sekkizhar from Peria Puranam, the stage opened with the ‘Big Bang’-- from which Siva appears and manifests with six faces -- the first five to create, preserve, destroy, conceal and revive and the sixth to dissolve the Universe and absorb everything.
“I wanted to do something with a socially relevant message,” says Sheela after the performance. “I wanted to talk about pollution, keeping the environment clean and things like that. And I wanted to combine these ideas, with the core as a spiritual experience where one has to clean the negatives within oneself. That’s how this concept on the elements came about.”
With neat, clean footwork and a great sense of rhythm and co-ordination, the dancers did their parts with panache. One got so caught up in the proceedings that analysis of what constitutes good or perfect simply did not arise. It went fast, without a break and had few dull moments.
With a strong folk flavour, overtones of Kuchipudi and a feel of Harikatha, especially when it came to the costume (Shobha Korambil), the production went the whole hog be it with colour or the glittering jewellery, That aspect was vividly brought to the fore when Parvati and Siva appear as bride and groom in Mount Kailasa.
All the five elements were highlighted with stories. Earth was a woman, who emerged from Siva and married Vishnu; Water was about the tumultuous Ganga and her descent, the birth of Kaveri and the formation of Narmada; Fire depicted the destruction of Tripuraasuras; Air had the story of Tiruchengodu, the fight between Vayu and Adisesha and Sky had Siva, who is present yet formless.
Each segments was fast paced and creatively choreographed. The descent of Ganga particularly stood out so was the episode on the Tharuka Vanam, done with such devotion.
In fact, the entire dance drama was punctuated with such great moments showing the kind of detailing, the style of narration and the good training each of the students had received and implemented on stage.
Sridevi Nrithyalaya, founded by K. Suguna (Sheela Unnikrishnan’s mother) is inspired by the Melattur style of Bharatanatyam and Sheela has done a marvellous job of training the students.
With choreography and direction by Sheela Unnikrishnan, the lyrics were by Prof. Dr. S. Raghuraman. Strong music by Ghatam S. Karthick, ‘Sivamayam’ turned out to be a colourful, intense devotional that appealed to a cross section of people. Says Sheela, “Initially, I thought the music was too soft. But I concentrated on the orchestration, which, I think, proved to be the perfect foil to this theme.”
Combining professional ballet and drama along with alignment choreography allows for a production of this nature to make its mark and remain popular for its content. Ultimately, all that matters is how the audiences connect and with what degree of sincerity and intensity the participating dancers convey the story and the training received. That is the test of success!
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