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A call from Edinburgh

WOMAN POWER Mridula (in white saree) and her students enacting a scene from the piece on gender discrimination

WOMAN POWER Mridula (in white saree) and her students enacting a scene from the piece on gender discrimination  

A team of dancers from Coimbatore is to perform at the Edinburgh Mela, writes Subha J Rao

It is well into the night but dancer Mridula Rai and her group of nine students show no sign of fatigue. For the past month-and-a-half, they have been practising without a break.

It is their big moment on the world stage, and no one is willing to take any risks. Team Shree Natya Niketan, led by Mridula, is to participate in the famous Edinburgh Mela at Pilrig Park, Scotland. The dancers have been allotted two half-hour slots on September 3 and 4 to showcase their talent.

They will also perform at the Glasgow Arts Council on September 1.

Mridula has choreographed a special piece on history of gender discrimination in India for the mela.

The Coimbatore chapter of the Association of British Scholars, chose this institute, known for its repertoire of classical and folk dances, for the mela as part of its efforts to showcase local talent in the international arena. This initiative is sponsored by British Council.

During their visit to Edinburgh, the children will also train in Scottish dancing. The other performers are Shruthi, Swetha, Shreenidhi, Lakshmi, Malvika, Raksha, Uma, Abhinaya and Shreya Mervin.

The participants, including wannabe chartered accountant Lakshmi, are predictably excited. It has rubbed off on the parents too. Two of them are to travel along with the children to help them with make-up and back-stage preparations.

Lakshmi, at 22 is the senior-most among the disciples, the youngest of whom is nine-year-old Shreya. "This is the perfect opportunity to showcase our talent," says Lakshmi.

Even the gruelling rehearsals have not dampened Swetha's enthusiasm. "It does not feel like a burden. I am looking forward to it."

Such enthusiasm, despite the fact that three of the children are appearing for their board exams — one is in Class X and two in Class XII. Chitra, Swetha's mother, says that despite their obvious thrill, the children getting up earlier than usual to catch up with what is happening in school.

The schools have also been very encouraging, allowing the students to rush out for practice and letting them take things a little easy.

At the dance school, the long hours of practice have helped the team bond like a family. The team is now ready with 10 dance items, a mix of classical, folk and semi-classical styles. These include folk dances from Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Kerala and Karnataka.

The piece on gender discrimination has been divided into three parts, talking about the about the past and how women have progressed over the years. But, the glass ceiling that does not allow them to go all out is also dealt with, says Mridula. "We talk about a mother who has just been delivered of a girl. She is thrilled but her husband is not. The child grows up happily but soon, restrictions are placed. She is told not to talk with boys and is differentiated against when it comes to education."

Another segment deals with child marriage and sati. Showcasing the positive side is the item that shows girls of today who grow up looking up to icons like the late astronaut Kalpana Chawla and tennis sensation Sania Mirza.

Since they are performing on the world stage, Mridula has chosen pieces that can be performed with Solkattu (jathi). The background music has been selected from Rhydhun, an album by Shankar Mahadevan and Zakir Hussain.

This effort is also supported by the Rotary Club of Coimbatore Spectrum, which is releasing a souvenir `Nritya Yatra' to commemorate the team's participation, at The Residency this evening. The team leaves for Edinburgh on August 27. Their stay in Edinburgh and hospitality has been taken care of by the ABS. Despite this grant, participants have to spend about Rs. 50,000 towards tickets, costumes and jewellery. Those willing to help out can call Sree Natya Niketan on 98657-31888.

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