Time for Samvaad

Curtain-raiser The Mohiniyattam Collective begins this Thursday

Updated - November 26, 2014 05:28 pm IST

Published - November 26, 2014 05:27 pm IST

Mohiniyattam dancer, Bharati Shivaji. Photo: K. Murali Kumar

Mohiniyattam dancer, Bharati Shivaji. Photo: K. Murali Kumar

Renowned New Delhi-based classical dancer Bharati Shivaji has dedicated most of her professional life to the practice and propagation of Mohiniattam. Since 2012, she has been presenting a festival called The Mohiniyattam Collective. This year’s festival takes off this Thursday in the Capital, with a two-pronged approach. The first segment is called “Samvaad” (literally, ‘dialogue’) and features dancers from Guru Bharati’s Centre For Mohiniyattam (CFM) in collaborative performances with Kuchipudi, Manipuri, Sattriya and Odissi soloists.

On the first day of Samvaad, Bharati’s daughter Vijayalakshmi performs with Kuchipudi exponent Sailaja from Chennai, while Mom Ganguly teams up with Manipuri dancer Nandita Devi, a disciple of Guru Singhajit Singh. On the second day, Vinaya Narayanan combines with Sattriya dancer and researcher Anwesha Mahanta, and Manjula Murthy with Odissi dancer Shagun Butani.

The second segment is called “Global” and is designed to show how the dance form from Kerala has spread across the world. The four dancers selected to perform are Alexandra Vodopyonova and Olga Stoliarova from Russia, Anna Dietrich from Germany and Kieko Okana from Japan. While Alexandra is a student of Vijayalakshmi, Olga has trained under Guru Bharati. Anna initially trained at Kerala Kalamandalam and is also now under Bharati, while Kieko is a student of Guru Nirmala Panikkar.

It has been hectic at the CFM of late, since Bharati and her 11-member group returned recently from performing at the Festival of India in Japan that featured Mohiniattam, Kudiyattam and Manipuri. “We were in Tokyo and Okinawa. It was wonderful performing there, but it came up suddenly and we had to prepare a completely different repertoire (from this festival).” But with her heart set on the idea of juxtaposing Mohiniattam with other genres, she has had to work that little bit harder.

“The idea of the first Mohiniyattam Collective (2012) was to include all the schools of the dance — Kerala Kalamandalam, Kalyanikutty Amma’s style, Kanak Rele’s and mine,” explains Bharati, a Padma Shri and Sangeet Natak Akademi Award recipient. “These are the four major styles being practised and taught.”

Focusing on the gharanas, she says, was “perhaps not thought of before, because it is important that the art form (as a whole) gets support.”

On the differences between the schools of Mohiniattam, she explains, “Kalyanikutty Amma’s is more specific. That is, the adavus (steps) are very definite, whereas Kalamandalam is more lyrical. They give a little more importance to languor, the mood of Mohiniattam, I would say.” However, she adds, whenever a dance form is taught through an institutionalised process, it does not develop beyond the initial stages. For example, she notes, “There is no effort to create new choreographies and new productions, as they are bound by the syllabus. That becomes a little limiting for the dance form to grow. But individuals like to explore. That way the Kalamandalam style remained — it was structured and taught, but there wasn’t much of an innovative approach. Now all the more, because it has become a deemed university, there is more stress on academics than practical dance.”

On the style of Guru Kanak Rele, settled for several decades in Mumbai, Bharati feels, “She has given more importance to the Natya Shastra and relates her dance form to it. It becomes a little more academic. It makes it different from what is being practised in Kerala. This is what I feel.”

Pressed for a precise description, she says, “Her movements, her way of executing the adavus — it is wider.” Guru Kanak’s training as a Kathakali dancer may have something to do with the rigour of the style, she feels, pointing out that major credit is due the veteran, who almost singlehandedly raised the dance style to the realm of academic study.

As for her own gharana, Bharati notes that because of her sound understanding of Bharatanatyam through a guru (Lalitha Shastri) who was from Kalakshetra, Chennai, and a grounding in Odissi with Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, she was able to appreciate the lyrical lasya nature of Mohiniattam and simultaneously visualise that it lacked the depth and variety the other classical forms had.

Through research, reconstruction and amalgamation of a range of Kerala art forms, she expanded the movement vocabulary of Mohiniattam, as also its repertoire. In this she had the solid support of scholar and theatreperson Kavalam Narayana Panikar.

“It’s wonderful to realise that Mohiniattam has so much, otherwise it existed on just 10-15 adavus,” she says.

Commenting on the use of literature and poetry in Malayalam, Sanskrit, and Manipravalam (blended language, such as Malayalam with Tamil or Sanskrit), as well as the use of other dance and dramatic forms from the state which have enriched Mohiniattam, she notes, “It’s very important that it has a regional identity.”

She says her attempt is to draw attention and audiences to Mohiniattam through different approaches to the festival every year.

Samvaad: November 27-28, Chinmaya Mission, Lodhi Estate, New Delhi, 6 p.m.

Global: December 1-2, India International Centre, Max Mueller Marg, New Delhi, 6 p.m.

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.