Dance in the age of multimedia

Recent events have put the cursor on how rasa resonates in the light of technology

Published - May 10, 2019 12:41 pm IST

Perfect synchronisation: Ramli Ibrahim’s “Odissi on a High”

Perfect synchronisation: Ramli Ibrahim’s “Odissi on a High”

India missed out on the first two industrial revolutions, but is vibrantly part of the third - the digital industrial revolution. In the last few days we have celebrated International Digital Day 14th April as well as the International Dance Day.

The Idea of multimedia is organic to the heritage of learning in the Indian arts. The arts are about creative image making defining dance, painting, sculpture, and music. Sage Markandeya in the 5thCentury text Vishnudharmottara Purana advises King Vajra that the process of image making requires a holistic artist who has the knowledge of all the arts. There is thus a paramapara or a flowing tradition of the concept of multimedia in India. On celluloid, it was presented in 1948 in the film Kalpana, made by and featuring the paradigmatic dancer Uday Shanker who enhanced dance sequences through fascinating projections in the film.

Multimedia of the Information age for the arts was pioneered in India by Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan. In 1997, she chose the 12thc poem Gita Govinda by Jayadeva to be created as a multimedia experience. Vatsyayan has spent over four decades looking at different materials on the text. The unchanged text with over 40 commentaries over centuries in different parts of the country remains a living tradition. The Geet Govinda forms part of rituals, is sung, painted and danced. Vatsyayan says, “Arts in India was never dissociated from other aspects of life or from other disciplines. The continuity could be maintained only because the tradition itself had an in-built paradigm of facilitating change, constantly adjusting itself to a contemporaneity of time and place while adhering to certain underlying principles which were perennial and immutable.”

Dancer Sridhar Vasudev performing with Santosh's painting in the backdrop

Dancer Sridhar Vasudev performing with Santosh's painting in the backdrop

The Gita Govinda was produced by the Indira Gandhi Centre for the Arts in partnership of Xerox Parc. Scholars, artists, resources and infrastructural facility came together. Digital expert Ranjit Makkuni led the Gita Govinda Multimedia design laboratory. Vatsyayan has always adopted a multi-layered methodology while handling cultural content. The central exhibition brought the digital media in touch with the manner traditional arts and rituals engaged with the text. These presentations involved an in-depth analysis of six out of the 24 songs of the Gita Govinda. Each song was interpreted in the roughly, 19 artistic genres of painting, music, and dance. The dance styles included were Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi, Mohiniattam, Odissi, Manipuri, and Kathak. The dances were shot at the Central Production Centre of Doordarshan (National Television) under the directorship of Kamilini Dutt, who herself is a trained Bharatnatyam dancer and scholar.

“Kapilaji instructed that the dances were to be shot as if they were live performances. The most memorable performance was of the verse Kuru Yadu Nanadan by the seasoned Kuchipudi exponent, Radha Reddy. It was important that the detailing of the body movement synergised with the facial expressions using technology.” says Dutt.

Focus on emotive expression

Radha Reddy performing Gita Govinda

Radha Reddy performing Gita Govinda

Raja Reddy says, “Kapilaji maintains that the seminal aspect of the Indian dance is bhaavam, (emotive expression). She told us that the face, body movements and even rhythmic patterns are defined by bhaavam; she explained that the multimedia tools will highlight that subtle process of the bhaavam so intrinsic to Indian classical dances.” Vatsyayan once said, “Rasa or emotion is the ultimate goal of an artistic process. The artistic process evolves, connecting the artist with the audience. The creating and experiencing leads to self-realisation as much as to dissolution. In totality, the process is about experiencing the ultimate joy - rasa.”

Recently, Kamilini Dutt stepped out from behind the camera and produced Rango’ntaratma, a multimedia production on the esoteric non-dualism of Kashmir Shaivism philosophy. The inspiration was the work of the aesthetician, philosopher Abhinav Gupta.

Gupta expressed that not only the arts but the purpose of life are rasa and life is natya or performance. Dutt used two dance languages to illustrate abstract philosophy as a dynamic process in four stages. The last stage state developed as a metaphor defined in Jungian language of enjoining Anima-animus energies only to dissolve leading to dissolution, a void of sublimity called maharasa.

Through Bharatnatyam, Purvadhanashree and Dr. Sridhar Vasudevan depicted the first two stages Naad and Bindu. The other two levels - Kala and Rasa were performed in Kathak by Divya Goswami and Hemanta Kumar Kalita respectively. The level Bindu performed by Sridhar Vasudevan, in reference to this article, was an illustration of the multimedia experience.

Vasudevan portrayed the female principal as the process of awakening the kundalini. The build-up to uncoil the female energy saw multiple projections. The play of rhythmic pattern organised as Manadala Jati by Manohar Balachandirane indicated the progress from the vibration to movement, from male to female. The performer proceeded to sit and begin the uncoiling of the serpent energy against the musical creation by Muttuswamy Dikshitar ( Kanakammbari) .

Lotus projection

The dynamism of the dance was intensified by the projected image of Mount Meru (the cosmic mountain as the navel of the earth). The hall reverberated, the kundalini released and there emerged the Sriyantra or the geometric map of the idea of Shakti. The unwrapping proceeded towards the unmanifest form of energy – Linga. Here appeared, complimenting the dance, the painting by the neotantric artist Ghulam Rasool Santosh. The floating self of the artist sat on an expansive lotus projection. Later in the fourth section, the painting by Himanshu Srivastava of the male-female in a bindu provided the beginning of the rasa.

Malaysian Odissi dancer and choreographer, Ramli Ibrahim, who has brought his new production ‘Odissi on High’ to India, says, “Multimedia is the new arsenal of theatre instead of sets. However, the dance is centrally important and media is there merely to increase the effect of the dance which has to be strong to stand on its own.” Ibrahim’s production is based on two pallavis from traditions of two Gurus – Deba Prasad and Kelucharan Mahapatra. A pallavi is a pure dance composition. It combines movements of the eyes, friezes of body postures and intricate footwork. Contemporising the solo pieces as group compositions illustrates evolving traditions for contemporary time frames.

“Over the years, Sutra, our organisation, has worked with two new masters from either tradition – Durga Charan Ranbir and Bichitra Nanda. A meditative comprehension of the aesthetics of the traditional solo compositions is aimed to reorganise them as group compositions. This meant recreating aesthetical geometries for a considerable time. The multimedia is used to address movement graphics,” expresses Ramli.

Multimedia comes handy to elaborate not only body formation but abhinaya as well. For example, in the poetic composition- Sangeena Rechai – the girl views the multiple dimension of the idea of Krishna, while Krishna sees the multiple levels of Radha. This multiplicity is done as an illumine projection by award-winning lighting designer Shiv Raja in “Odissi on High.”

The use of multimedia as a tool for the display and experience of the Indian classical dance is not limited to creating laser, sound and light spectacles. Rather, the digital tool when used with care is empowered to bring out the intrinsic identity of the tradition of Indian dance aesthetics and philosophy. It need not be reductionist such that Indian dance is seen merely as the movement of group formations in psychedelic lights and laser phenomenon. Multimedia is a tool that empowers dance displays to create the maharasa defined by boundless energies connecting dynamics of dance with the mental spandan (vibration) of the audience.

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