Bombay Showcase

The doors of perception

ultiple points of view make for richly layered narratives in classical dance. The same story can be told in three different ways: by the heroine, her lover, and her friend. But what if the narrator were inanimate? It is this idea that Bengaluru-based Bharatanatyam dancers Vani Ganapathy and Satyanarayana Raju explore in Dwaaram , where the door observes the lives that unfold around it.

Explaining the concept, Ganapathy said: “We say that walls have eyes and ears. If the door is an extension of the wall, what does the door behold and hear? The door is a silent observer; at times, it is helpless. But what if it spoke about the happiness, ego, passion, and atrocities that it witnesses? And finally, within the human self, there is a door waiting to be opened.”

Dwaaram was born over 10 years ago as a nagging idea in Ganapathy’s head. She discussed it with her mother, a close artistic collaborator who sang for Ganapathy’s productions. After her mother’s death in 2007, the idea went into cold storage until a friend prevailed on her to work on it in 2014.

Initially, Ganapathy had presumed that she would create a solo piece. But on returning to the idea, a casual conversation with fellow dancer Satyanarayana Raju led to the plan to collaborate, for the duo found that they shared similar aesthetic sensibilities. Once a sponsor was found, the creative process unfolded swiftly. Without a deadline in mind, the two dancers shared a work-in-progress version of the piece with an audience of 75 people. They asked the audience for feedback, and pored over a recording of the piece to see what was superfluous and what needed more work. Following this trial run, the 100-minute piece premiered in June 2014.

Ganapathy is keen on using her work to reach out to new audiences for classical dance. “Classical dance has a niche audience, but with the onslaught of TV and reality shows, we shouldn’t let the audience become so niche that we are scrambling for an audience. We wanted the aam janta to watch Dwaaram and respond to it. It was useful for us to have a diverse audience,” she said.

Dwaaram looks at five key doors that are a fixture in Indian mythology and philosophy. There is the door of the fortress and that of the palace, which is witness to great public spectacles and infinitesimal moments of intimacy. The energies and hopes of the community manifest themselves at the door of the temple. The home is a microcosm of the universe, and the ego, passion, and desire playing out at its entrance populates a larger reality. In comparison to these tangible doors, the atma dwaaram — the door to the soul — lies within the human mind, bearing silent witness to one’s actions.

Working alongside the singer DS Srivatsa, Ganapathy and Raju picked different kinds of compositions and texts that are common resources for classical dance, to construct a series of tales as narrated by the doors that witness them. Commenting on the possibilities of this narration, Ganapathy said, “There is a lot of substance in the idea of the door. If I wanted to revive the piece after two years, I could use a completely different set of stories, because there is so much that the doors have watched.”

Sometimes, the door takes on a human or divine personification, commenting on what it sees. For instance, the 8th century saint poet Andal is a central character in a piece about the deva dwaaram , the temple door. As a child, she wears a garland meant for Vishnu before offering it to him. This upsets her father, who cannot comprehend the nature of her devotion. The doorsteps, speaking in the voice of the deity, proclaims Andal as Vishnu’s consort. In Dwaaram , the door is an extremely malleable trope for the infinite activity that can be contained within it. It is a narrative device, and in its ‘witnessing’ of the piece, it plays with the conventions of spectatorship, framing events from its particular point of view.

Dwaaram will be performed at the Tata Theatre, NCPA on Thursday, March 17.

Ranjana Dave is a dancer and writer




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