Shiva and Parvati unite in dance

The music is the same; so are the compositions. The arms and feet follow a predetermined pattern, sharp lines in space with turned-out angles. They elaborate on the recognisable physicality of Bharatanatyam. Yet, there is something that catches the eye in dancer and choreographer Rukmini Vijayakumar’s iteration of the form. It is perhaps the athleticism she brings forth, with deep lunges, high leaps and an elastic spine. Then there’s her choice of costume – spliced together from fabric that cleanly adheres to the contours of the body.

Maargam, the Bengaluru-based dancer’s solo Bharatanatyam recital, starts with an invocation using verses from the Ardhanariswara Stotram to describe a composite and androgynous form of Shiva and Parvati that is half-man and half-woman. For classical dancers, the Ardhanariswara trope is a rich playing field. It offers an opportunity to combine verse, meaning and two distinct, detailed movement qualities – the vigour and athleticism of Shiva meeting the grace and sensuality of Parvati. In Vijayakumar’s invocation, the focus is on a rhythmic delineation of the words, and on the jatis (strings of rhythmic syllables) and footwork this creates room for. Through this examination of rhythm, she also broaches layers of meaning and philosophy. “That you desire it makes you separate from it,” she says talking about the duality and unity in the Ardhanariswara image. “The moment you surrender to it, you are no longer two; you’re one.”

Vijayakumar has picked the iconic bhairavi varnam, mohamana¸ as her central composition. The varnam goes back two centuries, and is ascribed to the Tanjore Quartet, a 19th-century coterie of four brothers who were responsible for shaping the modern-day repertoire of Bharatanatyam and Carnatic music through their work at the courts of Tanjore and Travancore. The varnam’s journey from the courts to the proscenium stage makes it a compelling challenge for many choreographers looking to tap into the roots of Bharatanatyam as a practice. Vijayakumar interprets the varnam from the perspective of a newly married Parvati, who tells Shiva off for not paying attention to her at a juncture when her love for him is so powerful. Smitten by his physical appearance, she approaches him after a bath, but he brushes her off. The final paragraph of the composition, describing Shiva’s omniscience, is variously interpreted as an ode to the lord or a sarcastic diatribe by Parvati.

Vijayakumar prefers the latter interpretation for the continuity of character that it suggests. “The entire varnam consists of one scene,” she explains. “In praise of Shiva, the latter half of the varnam is often ‘danced’ describing Shiva as opposed to Parvati making references to Shiva.” There is no dancing that is not motivated by the character Vijayakumar’s performance of the varnam. “Shiva doesn’t appear as a character independent of Parvati’s voice,” she says. “Thus, there is a singular intention that is sustained through the varnam.” Vijayakumar ends with an abhinaya piece and the Kadanakuthuhalam thillana.

Armed with her training in contemporary dance practices, Vijayakumar has chosen to focus entirely on Bharatanatyam in the last few years. For an upcoming performance, she is playing with momentum in the form, particular how one could build up momentum instead of having it appear in flashes. She finds this challenging yet exciting – her continued exploration of the form opens up new ideas for her, making it a language she identifies with. “I think the possibilities within the form are endless. I don’t feel restricted by Bharatanatyam,” she concludes.

Maargam will take place on Saturday, September 16 at 5 p.m. at the Dance Theatre, NCPA.

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Printable version | May 13, 2021 3:35:36 PM |

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