Kanak Rele highlights the beauty of Mohiniyattam

SCIENTIFIC APPROACH TO ART Dr. Kanak Rele   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Dr. Kanak Rele is an institution in herself when one talks about dance specially Mohiniyattam. She has standardised and strengthened the core of this dance form, from its originally amorphous form to a structured, scientific, aesthetic ‘shastriya nritya’ as she likes to call it. On the sidelines of the recently concluded two-day colloquium on “Kaisika Vritti: Manifestations in Mohiniyattam” organised by Sangeet Natak Akademi and Trikalaa Gurukulam at Meghdoot Theatre, Rele talked at length about the dance form and the application of scientific approach to it.

To begin with Rele says, “I’m against this ‘classical dance’ nomenclature. It is very British. We got to do something about grouping our dance form. The word ‘Shastra’ envisages more than mere classicality; it also means science; the science of body movement which translates itself into an art through imbibing certain aesthetic characters aided by music and rhythm. This when taken to its highest level of conclusion culminates in a bliss which is akin to spiritual enhancement.”

Lyrical dance

Continuing in the same vein, she also says she is against the loose translation of Mohiniyattam being the ‘dance of the enchantress’. “I would say it is a lyrical dance inspired by life and environs of the region (Kerala). As I delved deeper and deeper into Mohiniyattam, after learning Bharatanatyam and Kathakali, I began to understand that the base of all dance is the same, only the body kinetics differed.”

Having worked on studying and pursuing the dance genre with a scientific approach, does she think it goes well with other Mohiniyattam scholars? “Now it does. But in my early days, I had to fight greater battles than anyone (dancer) ever did. For one, I was from outside Kerala — a Gujarati married to a Marathi — this obviously went against me. This idea of wanting to learn the science behind the body kinetics of dance came upon me when I got involved with specially-abled children. I began working with the children under experts in physiotherapy, orthopaedics, learnt anatomy and related it to dance. It was an eye-opener. I began to dissect each and every move of the limbs, muscles, nerve twitches, etc and deduced my theory on body kinetics in dance. Essentially there are two types of movements, one where the body is divided into two halves as in Bharatanatyam (linear and semi-circular) and re-volutionary which is circular as in Mohiniyattam. In the latter, the upper part of the body moves independent of the lower part, the only connection being the vertebra. I used wave movements that seamlessly connect the two halves into a whole. This is just a tip of the iceberg on kinetics in dance,” she explains.

How does a staid scientific approach fit into very artistic movement of Mohiniyattam? “It doesn’t if viewed like that. It has to be incorporated into the understanding of dance. I’m an academician too. With an SNA grant and a Ford scholarship, I embarked on my journey into the Shastric roots of Mohiniyattam learning and imbibing the technique, expression, etc from the greatest of scholars like Kavalam Narayana Panicker, and gurus Chinnammu Amma, Kalyanikutty Amma and Kunjukutti Amma. Each of the gurus had their own style. Mohiniyattam’s entire body of work was sketchy when I entered the field and one had to look at it in the light of the bulk of Indian art. In the recitation part, the taal concept was totally haywire. With Kavalam’s help, we put it into a definite pattern especially since we wanted to transfer it to the next generation. My 35 years with Kavalam and the famous Vallathol family helped me immensely. I got acquainted with Sopana Sangeetam, a very inherent ingredient of Mohiniyattam. So it was a step by step analysis, recordings of ancient and present masters of the art and that I finally made Shastric standards for Mohiniyattam. Dr T. N Ramachandran devised entire nritya karana for us. I endured a lot of adverse comments by sections of dance community for changing the dynamics of this dance style. Some said I showed Ravan as virile, well, I can’t show him as a squeaky mouse, can I?” she laughs. ‘Only scholar Dr Kapila Vatsyayan patted my back for my innovative and truthful approach and I consider her my guru. I got the stamp of approval from all these greats in the field.”

Today Kanak Rele, the founder of Nalanda Nritya Kala Mahavidyalaya in Mumbai is contented, Now I take it easy. I do keep myself active but not as hectic as before. I too listen to my body,” she signs off with an endearing smile.

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Printable version | Jan 17, 2021 12:31:25 AM |

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