Dance

Torchbearers of a tradition

'Jatayu Moksham’ presented by Kalakshetra at the Soorya Festival. Photo: Hareesh N. Nampoothiri   | Photo Credit: Hareesh N. Nampoothiri



‘One for all and all for one’ would be an apt adage to describe the spirit behind the group that makes the repertory of Kalakshetra. In Thiruvananthapuram to stage the dance-drama ‘Jatayu Moksham’ at the Soorya Festival, the young dancers talked about life in Kalakshetra, their dance, their notions and aspirations.

The leader of the group, Hari Padman, who is a faculty member and senior dancer at Kalakshetra, introduced the group. Including him, about half of them are Malayalis, while the others come from different parts of India.

Aparna Ramakrishnan from Mumbai and Kalinath from Tamil Nadu have had no formal training in dance, but always felt a deep passion for dance. They joined Kalakshetra right after their Plus Two and are enjoying every moment and excited to be part of the performing group. “Choosing a career in dance has caused reactions like raised eyebrows and questioning looks, especially from relatives. But our parents have stood by us and we are indeed thankful for that support,” says Karthika Prasad, a post graduate student.

Life in Kalakshetra is discipline. Starting with prayers at the foot of the banyan tree, it is a nine to four routine with dance and more dance, and classes in theory and mridangam in between. However all this has paid rich dividends, say the students. For, as they say, it has moulded them into mature, refined individuals. “The culture here has endowed us with finesse and grace,” says Dhanya. And Sharada Acharya, the senior most student in the group, adds that the Kalakshetra stamp they bear, makes them a class apart.

With more than half a century’s tradition, Kalakshetra indeed stands a class apart and so do the classic dance-dramas in their repertory. “Rukmini Devi Arundale, our founder, was a visionary and an innovator par excellence. Her vision and eye for detail is evident in the costumes she designed for the characters, the music she arranged. One would notice that she had introduced shades of Kathakali in the choreography and music. This was done to enhance the masculinity of the male characters. Such moves in that time and age, speak volumes for her well-grounded innovations,” elaborates Hari.

The six-part Ramayana series, comprising ‘Sita Swayamvaram’, ‘Sri Rama Vanagamanam’, ‘Paduka Pattabhisekham’, ‘Sabari Moksham’, ‘Choodamani Pradanam’ and ‘Maha Pattabhisekham’ are perhaps Rukmini Devi’s magnum opus. It was produced over a period of 14 years – from 1956 to 1970 – and the Kalakshetra fraternity often remark on the strange coincidence between this and the 14 years in the Ramayana when the significant events took place.

Big names like Mysore Vasudevachariar and his grandson S. Rajaram composed the music, while scholars like Venkatachala Sastry and Adi Narayana compiled the verses from the original work. Concentrated efforts are being made for their revival and staging them to gift this heritage to audiences all over has been high on the priority list of Kalakshetra director, Priyadarsini Govind.

The new generation of dancers on whom the onus lies to keep the tradition going relies on the senior teachers and disciples of Rukmini Devi. Archival videos are valuable reference material. “We practise regularly and the whole group is present at the sessions. For every character there is an understudy,” explains Aryamba Sriram.

It is evident that the students have been able to get into the spirit of the production and into the skin of the characters. Jayakrishnan, who plays Ravana explains, “I am amazed at the way in which the characters have been depicted by Rukmini Devi. Each one of them is given due respect. Even Ravana, the villain, comes across as dignified”. “That is to say, that there is absolutely no scope for vulgarity in the presentations,” adds Geethanathan.

In today’s scenario of gimmicks and instant productions, this group stands united in the conviction that they are the bearers of a legacy.

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Printable version | Apr 19, 2021 5:41:15 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/dance/torchbearers-of-a-tradition/article6679113.ece

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