Bombay Showcase

Where Shiva, Vishnu and Mary Magdalene meet

Created with GIMP

Created with GIMP

It has been tough to get in touch with South Indian actor and dancer Shobana Chandrakumar Pillai. Every attempt received apologetic replies — “She’s conducting rehearsals now”, or “She is busy finalising costumes”, or “The music run-through is on now” — and ended with “Can we schedule this for later?”

Patience was waning, but here was an artiste who had placed her art above everything else. And to meet her, there is no harm in waiting a little longer.

All set

Pillai is geared up for the premiere of her most recent production Dancing Drums: Trance . After Krishna , which required nearly a year’s extensive research, a creation with more instinctual rhythmic movements was the next step for the danseuse.

Pillai says, “In the past, I have used characters, tales from epics, poetry and rasa in my work. However, in all these mediums the narrative is fixed because of lyrics or the emotional quality of the melody.” Her musical background made the use of rhythm and percussion as a central element in her works inevitable. “I hail from the land of the timila , the maddalam , and the mizhavu [percussion instruments from Kerala]. I have worked with the tavil and the mridangam all my artistic life. My style does have a strong grounding in rhythm.”

Creating commuion

Dancing Drums: Trance tells a tale that transcends religious barriers. The production explores characters such as Shiva, Vishnu and Mary Magdalene. “Art has the power to bring people together; it helps create a communion. In Dancing Drums , I have used music that brings out the ethos of religions apart from my own. This way I can bring people together.”

Without lyrics to support the music, Pillai has had to rely entirely on movement to convey the show’s message. “As a storyteller, I realise that because of the inherent abstraction in rhythm, the possible interpretations are plenty. But that only makes the work more challenging.” Pillai uses music and dance styles that range from the qawwali and the “now prevalent form of Bharatanatyam” as her tools for narration.

As one who believes that no two works of art can be the same, Pillai has a stand of her own in the long-drawn debate on traditional art adapting to contemporary times. “I always refer to Bharatanatyam as the ‘now prevalent form of Bharatanatyam’ in my interviews. The style changes from generation to generation,” she says. “Styles like Pandanallur, Kalakshetra, Vazhuvoor, to name a few, were started by one person. It is the right of individuals to interpret it in ways they deem fit.”

Pillai provides no lofty answer, and simply says that music and artistic ability is what inspires her. “The music for the production uses compositions from 15th century saint Patanjali, and most of it will be performed live by accomplished artistes.” The performers will be percussionist Anantha R. Krishnan and keyboardist Prithvi Chandrashekar, both faculty members at A.R. Rahman’s K.M. Music Conservatory, and flautist Palghat Sreeram.

Total dedication

The doyenne has invested equally in all segments of her production, making it difficult for her to choose a favourite. “Today, while we were rehearsing, the Radha-Krishna part was my favourite. Yesterday, it was the percussion bit for the Poothanamoksham [an excerpt from a Kathakali drama]. The day before, it was the qawwali section.” Nevertheless, she believes the segment featuring Mary Magdalene has never failed to leave her in a compassionate mood. A labour of love, Dancing Drums: Trance celebrates communities and cultures across the world and Pillai hopes the production will continue to evolve with time.

Dancing Drums- Trance will premiere today at 7.45 pm at the Nehru Centre Auditorium, Worli. Tickets: from Rs. 250 to Rs. 1000. Visit

The writer is an intern at The Hindu

Our code of editorial values

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | May 17, 2022 9:45:45 am |