Classical constellations

diverse inspirations:Crossing Oceans tries to unpack the Greek tale of Orion, the Australian aboriginal tale of the rainbow serpent and the Japanese story of the bamboo cutter and moon princess.— photos: special arrangement  

A bolt of diaphanous white cloth, unspooled deliberately, tapers off into blinding light at one end of the stage. The dancer taking slow, measured steps towards the light, leaves no marks of her presence. As the moon princess Kaguya, she must glide as she returns to her celestial moorings.

Kaguya is one of many protagonists in Crossing Oceans, a performance that draws on iconic tales from Greek, Australian aboriginal and Japanese mythology. Choreographed by Odissi dancers Daksha Mashruwala and Raka Maitra, Crossing Oceans uses Odissi, Chhau (a martial art form from eastern India), and contemporary dance to unpack these myths. On Sunday night, it is part of a double bill performance that also includes Mashruwala’s new work Arksh, an abstract performance exploring the zodiac and its symbolism.

Reflecting on her body of work some years ago, the Mumbai-based Mashruwala realised that she tended to favour compositions that would easily fit into the traditional evening-length Odissi repertoire, which includes invocations, pure dance pieces and love poems. Mashruwala strongly felt the need to break out of this mould to reach new audiences. As she toyed with these thoughts, she made several connections. She watched a televised documentary on constellations and arrived at the Greek tale of the hunter Orion. Mashruwala’s daughter lives in Australia, and this led her to the aboriginal tale of the rainbow serpent. She also met Maitra, who lives in Singapore and uses Odissi as a source of contemporary expression. Maitra had just emerged from a noh (classical Japanese theatre) workshop, soaking up a rich dose of Japanese mythology. The two dancers bonded over the 10th century monogatari (story) of the bamboo cutter and moon princess.

The dancers in Crossing Oceans largely train in Odissi at Kaishiki, Mashruwala’s dance school in Mumbai. Working with new choreographic languages spurred in them a greater awareness of how Odissi functions and what its nuances are.

With three diverse stories, Mashruwala was concerned about her choreographic approach. “I knew I would have to bring in a flavour of the original setting of the myth. I didn’t want to depict a new mythology purely in Odissi movement and music. Of course, I also count on Chhau as an extension of Odissi. This is where Hindol Deb, our music composer, came in. He brought hints of these cultures into the music through the sparing use of the cello and the didgeridoo. For the Japanese tale, I decided to work with Raka because I could clearly see how Odissi formed the premise of her contemporary work,” she says.

Maitra was drawn to the project by her weakness for all things Japanese. She uses the control, balance and strength of Odissi and Chhau as a springboard for contemporary movement. About her choreographic concerns, Maitra says, “I knew that the work would be Indian, but I tried to keep the Japanese aesthetic in mind, making it minimalist and subtle. As a classical form, Odissi is very tightly woven, and when one isolates and uses a movement, it often can’t stand alone. Hence, when I improvise, I try to forget the dance and just move, based on the images in my mind.”

The author is an Odissi dancer and writer

Crossing Oceans and Arksh will be performed at Pranganga Amphitheatre, Andheri (West), at 6.30 p.m. today.

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Printable version | Jul 29, 2021 7:26:20 AM |

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