Dance

In rhythm with change

Vinitha Netungadi.   | Photo Credit: 31dfr Vinitha

The calibre and maturity of young Mohiniattam dancer Vinitha Netungadi from Pallakad, Kerala, can neither be ignored nor her research on the modification of the ahaaryam be fawned at. After studying the reliefs of the Kudaikoothu (umbrella dance) from the 11-12th Century Vishnu temple at Thrikkodithanam, Kidangoor and Padmanabha temples of the 19th Century, she was inspired by the costumes (aharya) worn by Guru Thankamani in the ballet “Vikramorvaseeyam” (1935-40) as mentioned by Betty True Johns, and later by the stitched ones for children in the 1970s. She designed a comfortable alternative costume without the fan in 2010 for an effective communication of the pure dance element, especially the footwork.

A postgraduate in Mohiniattam from Kerala Kalamandalam, Vinitha has undergone extensive training under Guru Kalamandalam Kshemavathy and has been honoured with the Kerala Kalamandalam (2007) and Kerala Sangeet Natak Akademi (2009) awards, the Natya Ratnam and Yuva Kalaratnam. Vinitha’s literary background helped her introduce new themes in her repertoire by adapting popular lyrics of Malayalam poets like K.V. Panikker, Edasseri’s “Poothappattu” and lately Tagore’s “Gitanjali” which she presented in the recent Sangam Festival at Bhubaneswar. Excerpts from an interview:

From With whom did you start learning Mohiniattam?

I started learning dance at five. Since my father had a transferable job, my gurus also changed. I learnt at Kerala Kalamandalam and also trained exhaustively with Guru Kshemavathy for many years. After marriage when I decided to pursue Mohiniattam as a career, I choreographed a few pieces for myself and showed her but after that she left me independent. I had learnt Bharatanatyam also. In Kerala, the teachers used to teach Bharatanatyam and then Mohiniattam. Earlier, I also used to teach Bharatanatyam adavus in the same way as my gurus had taught me but for the last four years, I am teaching Mohiniattam with the basic chuzhipus, steps, padaviniyogas, charis, adavus and then sattvika abhinaya. It is easier this way as you don’t have to unlearn a lot of things. Mohiniattam is really very difficult, especially the stretches and the circular movements. I have an established school, Sreerangam, in Pallakad, where I prefer taking children from the age of seven.

Why did you choose Tagore’s “Gitanjali”?

Actually, I wondered why Mohiniattam always talks about jeevatma-Paramatma [the human soul and the Universal Soul] relations and doing all the loukika shringara in that [presenting love at the human, mundane level]. I was not comfortable with the two concepts as they were not matching. With Radha and Krishna, I was comfortable, but with this jeevatma-Paramatma relation and this loukika shringara, I felt it was not appropriate. Of course, it is very personal. So I was searching for some lines which I could adapt to the dance with the same thought that I had with Paramatma. For example, in “Vasakasajja” (one of the ashta nayikas), we prepare the vasaka. Instead of that, I thought why not prepare myself according to my inner soul for Paramatma’s arrival like a sadhaka?

Do you mean Bhakti shringar?

Bhakti shringar is in the Swati padams we do in Mohiniattam, like “Innu Varumen Kandan”(My beloved will come today). Here, we prepare the bed decorated with flowers and incense. We say it is jeevatma-paramatma. So I thought of preparing my soul decorating with flowers of goodness, throwing away all evils, negative thoughts and decorating it with nanma — lighting the lamps with the purity of the soul. So, while searching for this concept to introduce in dance, “Gitanjali” was the answer. I read the translation by the great Malayali poet G. Sankara Kurup and composed “Mandramathuram Vilakuwa arey malpriya sundarakanta”. This is my version for “Vasakasajja”.

What about the music?

I use Sopanam-Abhinaya sangeetha. Kathakali singer Kottakal Madhu is our musician. Along with my husband and me, the three of us decide the raga and the bhava. In “Varshamohini”, on the nava rasas of monsoon rain, I was not getting proper lyrics, so I used only instrumental music without sahitya.

What is your research about?

I have changed the costume. When I was learning in Kalamandalam, I realised that the costume for Mohiniattam does not have a lot of mobility. It should be comfortable, aristocratic and the circular movements should be balanced with straight lines in the costumes, otherwise you tend to get bored. The colour theory is — the brighter the colour, less of it! We use a bit of red, but when you move you get the impression of more red in it. I use the stitched costume that looks like a churidar from the knee to the foot (the front is traditional) so that the detailed footwork is communicated and people get to enjoy the nritta more.

But you have not changed the basic white?

I have kept the traditional white which has a Kerala look and the costume has simplicity in it. I am thinking of publishing my work in this regard.

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Printable version | May 9, 2021 11:14:01 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/dance/in-rhythm-with-change/article6548178.ece

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