Charmed and beyond

Ayswaria at the performance PHOTO: Inni Singh

Ayswaria at the performance PHOTO: Inni Singh  

CHAT Ayswaria Wariar who recently performed in the Capital, has a penchant for finding literary works that talk of life and incorporating them into her Mohiniattam repertoire. ANJANA RAJAN

Ayswaria Wariar, who performed a Mohiniattam recital at New Delhi’s India International Centre this week, brought a refreshing repertoire of dramatic pieces for the Delhi audience. The Vadodara-based dancer performed three compositions. The opening piece was on Ganapathi, set to a poem by scholar and theatre veteran Kavalam Narayana Panikkar. The second, perhaps the most interesting in its scope, was “Urmila”, again a poem of Panikkar, while the closing composition was an ode to Shakti, without whom Shiva is powerless. This last was based on verses from Adi Shankaracharya’s “Soundarya Lahiri”, set to music by vocalist Sivaprasad.

Ayswaria, born in Kerala, has had the benefit of an eclectic art education. Growing up in Mumbai, she began learning dance from her mother, Sreebala Menon, who has the distinction of being the first disciple of Kalamandalam Saraswathi, the noted Mohiniattam and Bharatanatyam guru of Kozhikode. Besides dance, Ayswaria has had a significant theatre input in the form of her father, Mukundan Menon. “My father was the first person to take Malayalam theatre to London,” she says.

In terms of technical training, though, she learnt both Mohiniattam and Bharatanatyam, coming under the tutelage of Udyogamandal Vikraman and Guru Sucheta Bhide Chapekar. Under Guru Sucheta, she completed her Masters degree. Though for technical reasons she had to learn a Bharatanatyam repertoire, Ayswaria says she undertook her degree with the aim of eventually concentrating on her Mohiniattam. “It helped me choreographically,” she says. “It helped me to be a thinking dancer. You are given all the tools when you are in an institution. To think innovatively, to learn the aesthetics and art criticism. All that helped.”

Her interest in the works of the prolific Panikkar, who has written lyrics and guided the research of many a Mohiniattam dancer, began early. “My father had done Kavalam sir’s plays,” she recalls. “I took one of his plays, ‘Maya Sitha’, and did a part of it as ‘Maya Mareecham’.” When the poet and dramatist saw her work, he told her there was a lot she could do. “That was how I went to him for research,” she says. To help complete her project she received a Junior Fellowship from the Government of India. This was around 2007, says Ayswaria. Since then she has choreographed a number of compositions.

At her Delhi performance, “Urmila” was based on Panikkar’s much longer poem, a soliloquy by Lakshman’s wife from the Ramayana. Reading it in a magazine, she asked his permission to choreograph it. There and then, he set the music for her and adapted it for dance composition, she says. The poet imagines the princess alone in the palace after her husband has followed Ram into exile and Sita has been allowed to accompany her husband, but Urmila has not had a similar choice.

She says, “I am the daughter of Janaka (born to his queen), but it was Sita (found in a furrow as he was tilling the land) who got the epithet ‘daughter of Janaka’. As she recalls various episodes from her life, including her marriage to Lakshman, she is filled with sorrow and longing. Finally, thinking constantly of Sita and the difference in the lives of the sisters brought about by fate, she comes to the realisation that Sita and Ram and Lakshman had to play their roles to bring about the destruction of Ravan. And in this constant thinking, Urmila attains the state of ‘Sati Sita’ herself, sacrificing personal pleasure for a greater good.

Ayswaria’s abhinaya, sustained, concentrated and varied, came across easy and relaxed while maintaining the stylisation of the form. Settled in Vadodara for the past 12 years, she is a recipient of Kerala’s Pravasi Kalashree award, conferred on Keralites who gain eminence in cultural fields away from their home state. She runs a dance school where she teaches both Bharatanatyam and Mohiniattam.

On her penchant for composing comparatively unconventional pieces in the Mohiniattam repertoire, Ayswaria says, “When I was learning, it was always the traditional pieces, compositions of Vallathol Narayana Menon, and traditional padams, etc. An artist needs to communicate, and that need must have grown in me. Things that happen in life you want to communicate that. I looked for things that were interesting to me musically. Everything that put a spark in my mind can be put across. I began to get the music done and composing them. That’s how it started.”

Interestingly, Ayswaria was accompanied at the recital by an orchestra based in different cities. N.N. Sivaprasad of Mumbai provided the vocal accompaniment. Mridangam and maddalam were by Gnyaneswaran of Thiruvananthapuram. Edakka was by Kalamandam Sreekumar of the Capital’s International Centre for Kathakali and veena by Shyamala Bhaskar, also of Delhi.

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