Transmedia performance Music

How maths, science and imagination came together for a transmedia Bharatanatyam opera inspired by Srinivasa Ramanujan

Dancers during an earlier staging of Antariksha Sanchar in New Delhi

Dancers during an earlier staging of Antariksha Sanchar in New Delhi   | Photo Credit: By arrangement

Unveiling the music of their pet project ‘Antariksha Sanchar’, visual artist Avinash Kumar and music composer Murthovic discuss the many facets of the Bharatanatyam dance opera with a story centred on mathematical genius Srinivasa Ramanujan

Antariksha Sanchar, a Bharatanatyam dance opera accompanied by multimedia, premièred at Royal Opera House in Mumbai in 2018. The performance was then staged in Delhi and Bengaluru; if not for the COVID-19 lockdown, plans were on to stage the show in Chennai and Hyderabad this year. For now, two of the key players behind this production — Goa-based visual artist Avinash Kumar and music composer Murthovic from Hyderabad — are happy to release two music albums based on the dance opera, in which Carnatic classical meets electronic music. A graphic novel, a video game (Antariksha Sanchar: Transmissions in Space) and an AR/VR (augmented reality and virtual reality) experience of the dance opera are in the works.

Antariksha Sanchar is a confluence of three creative spheres — Avinash’s visual art aesthetics, Murthovic and his team’s music, and Bharatanatyam dancer Jayalakshmi Eshwar’s classical-contemporary ballet.

What is Antariksha Sanchar? It’s a speculative adventure story inspired by the mosaic of cultures in South India. Set in the 1900s, it explores mathematical genius Srinivasa Ramanujan’s dreams of wanting to travel from his home in Madurai to other planets in the solar system.

  • Antariksha Sanchar Vol. 1: The album has eight tracks composed by an ensemble that includes vocalists Shridevi Keshavan and Gopika Jairam, violinists Abhijit Gurjale and Sandilya Pisapati, mridangam player Raghuram Hari, drummer Hitesh Kumar, sarod player Soumalya Sareswari, Vijay Nelapati on keys and bass, and Murthovic at the helm.
  • Vol. 2 has eight tracks remixed by electronic musicians such as: _RHL, FILM, Folic State, Madboy, Oceantied, The Sine Painter, Todh Teri and Spryk.

The idea came up in 2010, says Avinash, formerly a VJ who went by the screen name ‘thiruda’ (thief in Tamil). “My mother (dancer Jayalakshmi Eshwar) had this idea of a Bharatanatyam opera that can narrate stories from Indian mythology and science. It was a starting point and we worked on it as an audio-visual collective in my studio Quicksand. I also thought of a transmedia video game based on the idea,” he says.

The development took time, as Avinash and his mother were involved in their respective work commitments. In 2012, a grant from British Council helped Avinash design a video game prototype. Then, Red Bull came on board and gave the project a larger canvas to play with, culminating in the première at Royal Opera House, Mumbai.

Bharatanatyam exponent Jayalakshmi Eshwar

Bharatanatyam exponent Jayalakshmi Eshwar   | Photo Credit: By arrangement

It was an experimental and exploratory journey for everyone involved, says Sri Rama Murthy aka Murthovic: “Avinash did the sketches, animation and is tech savvy to envision the ballet on different media. His mother Jayalakshmi, with her strong roots in classical dance, was open to incorporating dance elements outside of the strict classical regimen. And I had grown up listening to Carnatic classical music but had been working on electronic music for the last two decades. I auditioned and formed a band of eight musicians who could jam together on Carnatic and electronic music,” says Murthovic.

Avinash Kumar

Avinash Kumar   | Photo Credit: By arrangement

A team of 60-plus had worked to bring the ballet to stage. The visual and aural references stemmed from many sources, including travels to neighbourhoods of Madurai, the Meenakshi temple, the gopurams of temples in Kanchi, and the famed Chettinad houses.

Two months ago, a prototype of a graphic novel based on Antariksha Sanchar was launched at a design fest in Mexico. Simultaneously the team was also working on music albums recorded on vinyl in Berlin. “Due to COVID-19 situation, the vinyls are stuck in Berlin. We decided to go ahead and release the albums digitally,” says Murthovic.

Music composer Murthovic (centre) during an earlier staging of Antariksha Sanchar in New Delhi

Music composer Murthovic (centre) during an earlier staging of Antariksha Sanchar in New Delhi   | Photo Credit: By arrangement

Vol. 1 has a set of original music from the dance opera and Vol. 2 has remix versions of these.

Talking about the road ahead for Antariksha Sanchar, Avinash hopes that they will be able to stage a new and improvised show in different cities in 2021 and also unveil the video game and the graphic novel. “We are also working on podcasts as well, to tell people what went into the project,” says Avinash, signing off.

(Check antariksha.in and redbull.in for more details. The two music albums are on bandcamp.com and will also be available on Spotify, Gaana and other music aggregators by May 29, 2020.)

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Printable version | May 28, 2020 10:11:40 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/music/the-music-of-antariksha-sanchar-a-transmedia-bharatanatyam-dance-opera-inspired-by-the-life-of-srinivasa-ramanujan-is-out-now/article31563986.ece

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