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Across time and space

Re-imagining an epic story Priya and Uthra

Re-imagining an epic story Priya and Uthra   | Photo Credit: mail

Andal re-imagined by Priya Srinivasan and Uthra Vijay, opened up a dialogue between the dancers and the audience

Andal, stands out as a powerful seventh century character in South Indian mythology as the only woman among the twelve Alvars (poet-saints who propogated Bhakti towards Vishnu). Many centuries later her story was brought back to life by the king of the Vijaynagar dynasty Krishnadevaraya through his Telugu poem “Amuktamalyada” in the medieval time. What would happen if we were to retell the story of Andal today in our globalized context? Dancer Priya Srinivasan and Singer Uthra Vijay, attempt to find a contemporary, global relevance to a localized pre-modern narrative of Andal through their performance called “Andal re-imagined.” As performers with diasporic identities, they try to find connections between the mythological story of Andal, which is rooted in a specific language, place and culture to the stories of people from a very different era, culture and nationality.

Last Saturday, as a culmination of a workshop that they were facilitating, the two of them performed their piece, “Andal re-imagined” at Shoonya, Centre for Art and Somatic Practices. The performance was divided into two parts, juxtaposing the two narratives of Andal i.e. the well-known narrative of Andal against the dancer’s own re-imagining of Andal in connection to her own life and to the stories of women who live in the context of war in Sudan. After the performance the stage was thrown open to dialogue which brought out some reflective thoughts and questions regarding the performance.

The first part of the performance familiarized the audience to the epic narrative of Andal as it is largely known. Embodying Andal, the dancer expressed her conflicted state where her father (Perialvar) thinks it is impermissible to let her marry the god, the Perumal himself. Though set in the idiom of Bharathanatyam, the performance subverts the standard format of a conventional Bharathanatyam performance. This piece was performed to live singing by Uthra, who sat right in the middle of the stage while the dancer used the rest of the space around her to perform. Singing without any intervention of microphone and accompanied to the drone of the tanpura, the singer’s voice carries the audience through the performance. The get up of the dancer, is a simplified version of the heavy costuming of the conventional classical performances. The aural aspect of the performance remains very engaging as the singer and the dancer take alternate turns to narrate. While the singer sings, the dancer narrates the part in English in the voice of the protagonist, as she performs.

The second part of the performance took a 360 degree swivel from the first one in terms of its aesthetics and content. Multimedia in nature, it brings still visuals, text, dance and music together. The get up of the performers in the second part is strikingly different from the first one. The dancer is seen in a long black skirt and a loose t-shirt moving against the backdrop of photographs and written quotes of women from the conflicted zones of Sudan but the music remains the same. Unlike the first part where the dancer embodies a single character, here the dancer is sifting between roles – she has to play Andal, her self, her grandmother and sometimes also voice textual bits from the visual. A lot happens on stage and somewhere amidst all this the voice of the dancer is lost for the audience. The attention of the audience is scattered between focusing on the image of the Sudanese women, watching the performance and reading the text. The performance generated a mood for inquiry through sensory cues but because of the multiple events unfolding simultaneously one was not fully able to make the connection between them during the course of the performance.

Moreover, while it might be alright to take a narrative and a dance form that is rooted in its own world and fraught with its own conflicted history and find a “trans-national” relevance to it, it is important that they articulate the problems of doing so. What are the ethical, historical, personal, socio-political and performative difficulties one has to confront in a project such as this one? For a project striving to look at performance as a mode of inquiry it could have done better with a stronger inward gaze. However, one has to truly appreciate the spirit of the performers for opening the stage for dialogue and responses after the performance which brought out critical appreciation for the performance. To embark on a performative project of intellectual proportions is itself a Herculean task and more so when you strive to bring multiple threads of identity together. To that end “Andal re-imagined” has been successful in opening a complex dialogue among a diverse group people.

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Printable version | Feb 22, 2020 8:40:56 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/dance/across-time-and-space/article22463377.ece

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