Dance

A style of her own

Rajashree Warrier Photo : Thulasi Kakkat   | Photo Credit: Thulasi Kakkat

What makes Rajashree Warrier different as dancer and choreographer is that she is not confined to the usual crossover items that often pass as today’s Bharatanatyam. There is in her art a proper understanding of her form, realising her forte, her limitations, and creating a contemporary Bharatanatyam rich in texture, rich in literature.

Manodharma is a salient feature of Rajashree’s dance. Manodharma is a bit more complex in Bharatanatyam than in classical music. This part of abhinaya is intrinsic in holding nritta (pure dance with no specific theme) and natya (representation of rasa through abhinaya) together. “It is this aspect that really excites me. When there is always something new, something surprising, each performance turns into a fresh experience for me and even for my orchestra. For the orchestra it can be a bit challenging as the rhythmic structures need to change according to my expressions and gestures. Personally, what makes classical dance an aesthetic experience is manodharma. Otherwise it can be mechanically traditional,” says Rajashree, who was initiated into dance when she was in school.

Fortunate to be moulded when she was six years of age by V. Mydhili in Thiruvananthapuram, Rajashree trained under her for nearly 18 years. Later, Rajashree learned under Jayanthi Subramaniam in Chennai.

Rajashree credits her growth as a dancer to her parents who supported her. “The early phase was enhanced watching many greats on stage and on available films. Watching legends like Balasaraswati and the ever charming Vyjayantimala helped form and deepen my appreciation and understanding of the poetry of Bharatanatyam.”

Dance was for Rajashree a logical extension of music. “Music was what my father insisted I study. Here again I was fortunate to get a teacher, Mullamottu Harihara Bhagavathar, who was a treasure trove of knowledge, especially on rare Swati Tirunal kritis. I studied, like any child of that age, rather reluctantly. Only later did I realise the greatness of my guru. When C-DIT was making a documentary on Swati Tirunal’s kritis I could help them as I was familiar with so many of them.”

She completed her degree, post-graduation and doctorate in music. But somewhere down the line dance took over. A dancer grows with the dance and this is true of Rajashree. She now performs her own compositions that are created from everything that inspires her.

“Words and concepts from the books I read, for example, Milan Kundera’s Slowness, where events are fused to movement, has helped me in creating the rhythm of my composition. Then the myriad art forms around me have inspired my dance but strictly within the structure of Bharatanatyam.”

Aharya can make an impact. Though it cannot make a great performance it can certainly mar it. The changes in Bharatanatyam today have also had its impact on aharya. “Aharya proclaims the identity of the dancer, her aesthetics. I feel that a dancer should choose suitable colours, a style that enhances her figure and ornaments that augment her features. I must feel comfortable in what I wear, should feel beautiful and confident when I step on to the stage. Here again innovation should be within the bounds of tradition rather than parading oneself, revealing too much skin and making the costume more important than the dance itself.”

These are times when there is a call for enriching the repertoire, making it contemporary. Rajashree feels that all this cannot justify sensationalism, undermining all the edifices and edicts of Bharatanatyam. “Organisers and audiences, fed on such a diet, demand this. In Kerala, the number of venues has increased but I have found a strange attitude prevalent. The organisers, most of them, want only customised dancers who would, with servility, agree to their whims and fancies. We have an audience today that does not look at Bharatanayam seriously. Their understanding of the dance form is only from the last 10 years. Unfortunately, I’m a sort of purist when it comes to my dance. I may not be perfect, but I have a style of my own, a mind of my own, and principles that I’m not willing to compromise.”

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Printable version | May 7, 2021 6:21:50 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/dance/A-style-of-her-own/article14380270.ece

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