Choreography for peace

Geeta Chandran.

Geeta Chandran.  

GEETA CHANDRAN presented a new production, `Imagining Peace', at the International Symposium on Reconciliation in New Delhi this past week. Organised by WISCOMP (Women in Security, Conflict Management and Peace), the composition was designed on the theme of reconciliation. Multimedia in nature, it contained two basic ideas: One was that women who play a major role in moulding their children's personalities, can steer society towards a vision of peace and a mood of reconciliation. The second was the thought-provoking statement that the present myths and concepts that inform Hinduism need to be looked into with fresh insight, to weed out the underlying currents of violence that have acquired acceptance through tradition.

The story starts with a mother and child (Geeta and her disciple Gunjan Bhan) dancing together at home.

The peaceful atmosphere of the rehearsal session - or lesson - is disrupted by sirens and explosions outside. The mother comforts the scared child and puts her to sleep. Later the mother recounts the story of Mahishasura Mardini - the Mother Goddess as a fierce and powerful deity destroying demons.

To the adult, the Goddess represents valour and the victory of good over evil, but the child sees images of blood and gore as the deity is described with her garland of skulls, riding a tiger, ripping apart the evildoer.

As the child asks why everybody is always talking about killing and blood, the mother is taken aback. It was a telling comment on the effect of images on our collective minds.

Most peace-loving people agree that TV and films foster violent mindsets, but we treat our myths as sacrosanct, usually unwilling to revisit them with a critical eye. Of course, metaphors such as Krishna dallying with thousands of gopis have been challenged and debated at length. But images that emphasise the power of woman are usually celebrated. So it was a bold step Geeta took in challenging the `politically correct' approach. It remains to be seen however, whether she incorporates the piece in a regular performance of Bharatanatyam, out of the `safe' confines of a conference on peace.

The other piece she presented was on the theme of the five elements, how despite their completely disparate qualities, they have combined to create a world of harmony and joy, with enough for all the creatures of the earth. In the jatis for each of the elements, recited by Tanjavur Keshavan (on a recorded soundtrack), the dancer made use of movements not normally associated with the syllables, juxtaposing soft head, hand and torso movements with the brisk recitation and reserving the heavy footwork for the earth segment. These ideas lent a freshness to the portrayal of the elements, which are favourite themes for interpretation and often seen.

The loudness of the jatis used in the nightmare sequence, where the child is disturbed and frightened in her sleep, seemed a good idea. But when the tone did not vary during the rest of the presentation, it seemed to have been an accidental match the first time. Sudha Raghuraman's singing was evocative, and Bejjanki Krishna on the mridangam provided rousing support, among the number of other musicians in the orchestra.

The film screen held up by Geeta at the end, on which images of violence were projected, added a dimension to the production, what with an eerie light reflecting on the dancer's face as well. However, the same could not be said about the smoke machine. Granted, it was a multi-media projection, so dance was not the only medium of expression. Still, to combine stage lights and the magic of an expressional form like Bharatanatyam with a heaving, hissing smoke machine that carries its own unavoidable soundtrack seems less than desirable. Lights by Sharad Kulshreshtha while provided a good ambience at times, seemed at others to be providing more darkness than light, in sequences where abhinaya was important.

This is a production that deserves to be seen again, by artistes as well as the general public.

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