Kuchipudi connections

Reaching out: Bhavana Reddy in performance Special Arrangement  

Since its debut in 1913, Igor Stravinsky’s ballet, ‘The Rite of Spring”, has been hailed as a haunting classic that shifted the framework of composition and choreography amid scandal and acclaim in the last century. Poised to present a new interpretation of the iconic work, the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra’s production features Indian classical dancer Bhavana Reddy among the lead performers. Alongside modern dance choreography, Kuchipudi would be staged as one of the dance forms within this uniquely blended production at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles this Saturday.

“The production offers a unique cultural mix,” says Reddy, who has worked with classical orchestral music for the first time on the project. “It has been an interesting experience because of the music cues are different, and unlike our classical dance structures, modern dance is a free-spirited form,” she says.

Experimenting across genres

Musically and thematically, Stravinsky’s piece balances the primitive and modern, exploring the plot of an ancient rite of passage. Hailed as a revolutionary work, the first choreography of the work by Vaslav Nijinsky flouted traditional ballet norms by presenting knock-kneed and dissonant movements. The musical score itself was shocking for its times with an emphasis on interruptive rhythms rather than flowing melodies. Consequently, “The Rite of Spring” has resurfaced across time as a malleable composition for choreographic explorations.

For choreographer and artistic director, Kitty McNamee, the language of modern dance and Kuchipudi presented a vibrant balance. Reflecting on the process, Reddy says, “While working on this choreography, I realised that Kuchipudi is a very flexible dance form.” Recalling one of the early sessions, she shares, while it was a challenge to work with modern dance professionals, it was also exciting to have them try out the Indian classical idiom. “The choreographer asked the other dancers to follow me and try out some Kuchipudi steps. It was extremely challenging for them since it is a vastly different language. Even the way the dancers respond to the music is very different. They go more with the ebb and flow and peaks in the music, while we are so grounded in the rhythmic cycles.”

Reddy recounts a rehearsal session where McNamee wanted her to try out a lift. “In our classical dances we do not have much physical contact between dancers. To be lifted in the air, be elevated and learn the technique of holding up my weight in the contemporary dance style was strange, unique and fun!” On the other hand, it was awe-inspiring for the other dancers to see Reddy dance long sequences with intense rhythmic footwork in the fundamental Kuchipudi position. “They asked me how I could squat for so long and dance like that! In turn, I asked them how they managed a split!” Breaking into a chuckle at the memory, Reddy points out that the primary importance given to body training by the modern dancers was an insight for her. “It was interesting to learn that they spend a lot of time at the gym. In our dance training, we focus more on inherent structures for warm-ups and other exercises geared towards building stamina for our particular dance style.”

Dramatic elements

For Reddy, working on the character presents the most exciting and challenging aspect of creating production. “Kuchipudi is essentially a dance-drama, not just dance,” she points out emphatically.

“The dramatic element of Kuchipudi calls out to me the most!” In this production, she plays the ‘wise woman’ who educates the village folk about the cycle of nature and offers them nuggets from traditional wisdom. “To get into this role I explored my motherly instincts more deeply. Instead of acting my actual age, I tried to pace down my movements. The sage is also a very strong and influential personality in the tribe, helping the community understand customs and values, being authoritative yet respectful at the same time.”

As a performer, Reddy enjoys character study and delving deeper into the dramatic aspect of Kuchipudi. “There are many unconventional and life-like movements in Kuchipudi. Theatrical nuances are ingrained in the form. For me, painting the picture of a character is a remarkable process. You can transform into another person on stage, I really enjoy that.”

The production is rooted in research and resonates across cultures and conventions.

“The concept of the rite of passage is common across cultures. It is about moving to the next stage of life, respecting nature and ancestors.” Reddy shares that these connecting points made it smooth for her to relate to the theme and interpret it in her own way. “While the work that we do as choreographers and dancers may be entirely different, the creative process is the same,” she adds.

Looking ahead, the young dancer-choreographer dreams of bringing a similar blend of cultures and choreographies to India, “I hope I can present something similar in India.” As she sums up the experience, it is striking that working across cultures has brought her closer to her roots in a way, “I am a strong believer in our Indian culture, you can keep growing and never get bored, one will always return.”

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Printable version | May 7, 2021 1:28:28 AM |

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