The space traveller

Dancers of Attakkalari Photo: K. Murali Kumar.   | Photo Credit: K_MURALI_KUMAR

When he inhabits the world of the stage, Jayachandran Palazhy is known for the dervish intensity of his turns, but when I meet him at Amethyst, his sentences are long and languid as he describes a life in dance.

In Chennai for the graduation performance of the 10th batch of diploma students in Movement Arts and Mixed Media, Jayachandran says, “Dance should create something not existent before. When you pursue activity, neurons in the brain light up; when you dance, it’s fireworks. How your imagination attunes to a sense of movement in time is fascinating. This performance is a culmination of a year’s intensive training, led by teachers of repute in contemporary dance, stage technology, choreography, movement analysis, Indian classical and folk dance forms. It’s a showcase not only of their potential but their gut-level reaction to movement. The programme has been so popular that we have now incorporated an advanced course.”

Forty dancers from across India will perform at Bangalore, Chennai and Thrissur to mark the finale, which will also showcase choreographies by Stefano Fardelli (Italy), Carlos Pons Guerra (U.K.) and Attila Egerhazi (Hungary) for contemporary dance, Minal Prabhu for Bharatanatyam and Gurukkal Raamkumar and Sreerag for Kalarippayattu.

Much before Jayachandran founded Attakkalari in 1992 to combine Indian dance forms with contemporary moves and create transcendent concerts, he was a young boy in Kerala discovering dance in front of a mirror. “My parents were teachers and I grew up in Thrissur in a house filled with relatives and open spaces — it was a boisterous childhood with time to explore temple festivals, where I watched some great performances. At home, I used to imitate the dancers clandestinely, as it wasn’t fashionable then for a boy to be a dancer. When a student at Sree Kerala Varma College, studying Physics, I trained in Bharatanatyam under Kalamandalam Kshemavathi, though not many knew of this as I was more of a star athlete. When the time came to pursue it professionally, my parents were anxious as I was doing well academically. It wasn’t an easy time.”

Jayachandran came to Madras in search of a teacher who’d hone his skill in dance. After a while, he encountered V.P. Dhananjayan’s virtuosity. “He had the embodiment of the male dancer in him, imbibing the best values of Kalakshetra and his grounding in Kathakali. I had found my teacher.” It was 1982, and Jayachandran unlearnt everything to steep himself in the Kalakshetra tradition. “Classes would begin early and last all day. I was spellbound by the highly distilled language of Bharatanatyam, but the content did not resonate with my imagination. I wanted a contemporary connect, but the stories were confined to a classical language. Classical dance training has predetermined aesthetics. I was looking for something more...,” says Jayachandran, wistfully.

For a while, he worked with Koothu-p-Pattarai and Chandralekha, all the while searching for his own language in movement. “It came when I watched American choreographer Merce Cunningham’s abstract piece. It was fascinating, but I didn’t have the tools to decipher his performance.” To discover his own metaphor in dance, Jayachandran packed his bags and left for the London Contemporary Dance School, training in ballet and capoeira “that gave fantastic lessons in giving and taking space, in initiating movement and responding to it”.

He established the Imlata Dance Company, won several awards and travelled extensively. “Art galleries in Europe opened up a dimensional way of looking at images. I watched theatre productions by Peter Brook and Vladimir Vasiliev, which brought new conversations with other movement languages; that helped me process what I had from India. It was a gift London gave me.”

To meld Indian metaphor with western abstraction, Jayachandran returned to Alwaye to establish Attakkalari. “I had to create my own curriculum. I worked on Nagarika, a project to understand how the body, the repository of all experience, is viewed in the larger cosmology of Bharatanatyam, and link this to the larger empirical movement of international contemporary dance.” Armed with these tenets, Attakkalari has lent its definition to movement arts in India.

But how does an audience that views dance in a predetermined set-up take to this contemporary vocabulary? “When you hear a musical note, there is no story, but you still have an aesthetic experience. Contemporary dance is ephemeral; it disappears the moment it is created. Sometimes, it challenges perceived notions and the audience must make the effort to understand the concept,” says Jayachandran, adding that much of this kind of performance also depends on the transient aesthetics of lighting and stage technology. “This is an area we want to help young choreographers and technicians with.”

Jayachandran also says that dance needs to break barriers. “Movement, music and design must be part of schooling. Dance is like fundamental science. When you invest in it, you invest in human beings.”

The Chennai performance

On August 16, 6 p.m., at The Music Academy. Free entry passes are available at British Council, Max Mueller Bhavan and the venue (10 a.m. to 6 p.m., August 14-16). Auditions will be held on August 17. Look up or mail

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Printable version | Dec 8, 2021 10:55:02 PM |

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