Sakhi Ri: A confluence of classical dance and menstrual awareness

Sakhi Ri, a Kathak-based dance drama production on the subject of menstruation, was recently staged in the city

Updated - July 09, 2024 09:08 pm IST

Published - July 09, 2024 07:43 pm IST

Scenes from Sakhi Ri

Scenes from Sakhi Ri | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Indian classical dance sees a variety of relationships between the nayika, the female lead and her sakhi, the often overlooked friend and confidante. Their friendship, characterised by tenderness, pain, conflict and compromise, is not easy to define. Presented by SIFF Young Artiste, Kathak-based dance-drama Sakhi Ri explores this dynamic through a coming-of-age story of a Nayika and the Sakhi, her period. SIFF Young Artiste is an initiative of the Singhal Iyer Family Foundation (SIFF)

“Life is not always going to be smooth, but what stands true is that they (the Sakhi) are going to be a constant presence,” says Anushka Chandak, a Kathak dancer, choreographer and faculty at SIFF Young Artiste. “That got me thinking about what else in my life I’m grateful for, but also have complaints about. That was the menstrual cycle for me.” 

Anushka Chandak

Anushka Chandak | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Draped in red, personifying a woman’s period or the Laal Sakhi, Anushka performed recently at Bangalore International Centre , alongside Radhika Karandikar, a Kathak artiste and the founder of Radha Productions. Her evocative expressions coupled with Anushka’s fluid movements had the audience spellbound.

Throughout her career, Radhika has always aimed to create productions which would interest younger generations. She argues that the claims of the art form’s decrease in popularity, which many mourn as its “death,” are not entirely true. There is simply a lack of “relatable concepts.”  

“People are very hesitant to explore themes like these. The traditionalist circle had a lot of concerns about how this would fit into a classical dance form,” admits Anushka. However, the artistes believe Kathak can be used as a medium to tell any story.

 Radhika Karandikar

 Radhika Karandikar | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

“Dance is not just about movement; it’s a language. Once you have learnt to use it well, you can say absolutely anything you want with it,” adds Anushka. 

Sakhi Ri is a rollercoaster of emotions that illustrates the stages of this “unending friendship,” including happiness, worry, embarrassment, grief, curiosity and anger. The drama’s focus on womanhood did not restrict its audience and the artistes were pleased to see several men in attendance. 

Journeying through adolescence, motherhood and menopause, Sakhi Ri combined various rasas (moods in classical dance) including hasya (joy), karun (sorrow), shringar (beauty) and bhayanak (fear). The drama strikes a balance between personal experience and social outlooks through its graceful delivery of a traditional Kathak repertoire — opening with a peshkar and progressing to more fast-paced techniques such as tihais, jugalbandis and gat vikas.

“Even if someone is going to watch it without prior knowledge of Kathak or music, they are in for a treat,” says Aman Warkhedkar, the composer for Sakhi Ri. Through a vibrant blend of piano, violin, sarod and flute sounds, Aman captures the diverse experiences of womanhood, beginning with the panic and confusion of a first period. With percussion instruments such as the ghatam and pakhawaj, the score ventures into the spheres of sensuality and vulnerability, culminating with powerful vocals to encapsulate the trials of menopause. 

Aman Warkhedkar

Aman Warkhedkar | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The composition also includes moments of silence that allow the artistes’ footwork to shine. As Radhika frantically awaits her period, the strike of her heels, slowly increasing in tempo, mimic the ticking of a clock.

Such scenes of anxiety are enhanced by Yash Potnis’ skilful handling of stage lights, with flickering multi-coloured footlights replacing the steady, fervent red that characterises Radhika’s tumultuous relationship with her Laal Sakhi.

This collaboration between SIFF Young Artiste and Radha Productions does not just subvert the notion of periods as taboo, but also tests the boundaries of classical dance. “If we want to spread the art form, we need to think beyond mythology… I want to go beyond traditionalist stories,” admits Shikha Mathur, a Kathak student who is grateful for Sakhi Ri’s representation of unexplored subjects.

Scenes from Sakhi Ri

Scenes from Sakhi Ri | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

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