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Madhu Nataraj gets to the root of her new work

Bengaluru-based dancer Madhu Nataraj’s KalpaVriksha is a movement-based response to illustrious painter S. G. Vasudev’s oeuvre

September 06, 2018 04:18 pm | Updated 04:18 pm IST

 KalpaVriksha, a collaborative work between dancer Madhu Nataraj and artist S.G. Vasudev

KalpaVriksha, a collaborative work between dancer Madhu Nataraj and artist S.G. Vasudev

Some four months ago, over coffee at the canteen of the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), in Bengaluru, S. G. Vasudev, counted amongst the prominent contemporary artists in India, said to Madhu Nataraj, Kathak and contemporary dancer and choreographer, “NGMA has firmed up a month-long retrospective called Inner Resonance: A Return to Sama, on my life and works in September. The time has finally come for us to make our collaboration, a reality.”

For Madhu, this was like a dream finally come true. She had been waiting for years to create something inspired by her mentor, Vasudev’s work. She took a deep breath, sipped her coffee, looked around the NGMA campus, pointed at a large tree, and with a smile said, “How about we use this tree to create the work? Vasudev looked almost incredulously at Madhu for a second, and said, “Alright then, I’ll make the permissions happen.”

He did. For the past two months or so, and for the last five days, Madhu Nataraj and her team of eight dancers from her institution, Natya and STEM Dance Kampni, have been imagining and re-imagining the space , allowing Vasudev’s body of work, to inform and influence their dance, and movements. KalpaVriksha, as the production is titled, is a heartfelt and holistic response to the illustrious career of acclaimed artist, S.G. Vasudev and his vibrant imagery.

“The truth is,” says Madhu, “I’ve been in awe of Vasu ji’s work ever since I was a young dancer; I’ve always been fascinated with the feminine energies that populate his work and the deep and layered metaphors that his paintings sparkle with. Central to his oeuvre and perhaps the most recurring motif in all his creations, is the tree of life. “There’s a sort of lush, vegetative quality about this tree that is unmissable, and I decided to use that as a starting point for my inspiration to choreograph work that did justice to his retrospective.

As a dancer-choreographer who freely inhabits both the classical and the contemporary worlds — Kathak and allowing it to inspire a contemporary vocabulary — Madhu turned to Karnataka’s poet laureate, Da Ra Bendre’s poem, Kalpa Vriksha Vrindavanam.



“I gathered from Vasu ji’s biography, Vriksha, that this poem had a cathartic effect on him way back in 1974 and became a theme that recurs as a leitmotif in his work, till date.”

In Madhu’s world, the poem travelled to Praveen Rao, who created a quiet, minimalist but powerful soundscape that is the backdrop against which the two pieces unfurl.

The Dance Dyad as Madhu refers to the two components that make up KalpaVriksha, are also responses from the two vocabularies that she uses to articulate ideas. The first piece — Vriksha — is earthy, raw and ethereal while the second piece, Rhapsody, is a sombre response that uses classical Kathak and a waterbody on the NGMA campus to respond to Vasudev’s art.

The art of responding to art can’t be as easy as it sounds.

“It was nothing short of challenging,” Madhu confesses, “For one, you are working with abstraction already; there’s a mirror already in place and it’s loaded with philosophy. And then I had to respond to Vasu ji’s very compelling style, the faces of the people and the creatures, the magical tree and its microcosm. Marrying these streams of thought meant that I had to also look at my dance in a kind of an ecosystem. I like to create work in open space; I always turn to the audio-visual and music to add yet another dimension. But most importantly, we allowed our movements — both Kathak and contemporary — to be constantly inspired by his lines, textures, his ability to create blotches and pathways and create a narrative that is rich and layered.” Which is perhaps how all arts must be!

KalpaVriksha will premiere on September 9 at 6.30 p.m. at the National Gallery of Modern Art, Bengaluru.

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