Rasoham Art Room Talks
Abhinaya is at the core of any dance form. To understand abhinaya
and its four forms; angika, aaharya, vachika and satvika, a series of lecture
demonstrations were conducted by Rasoham, a dance school set up by the eminent
Narasimhacharis. The lecdems, held over four sessions across two days, explored
abhinaya through dance, folk art and theatre.
Presenting angika, dancer Anita Ratnam demonstrated excerpts from her past productions and took the audience on a kaleidoscopic journey. The 'stance', she said, was paramount to any dance form. Drawing inspiration from Tibetan Buddhism, Anita brought Tara, the supreme Tibetan goddess, to life. Anita first premiered Seven Graces in 2005, showcasing 21 hues of Tara. For this talk, she showed three forms; through birth, as a protector, and through anger. Dressed in a simple monotone outfit, Anita explained the angika she used to portray these forms.
Anita depicted the process of birth with a crouch and a crawl with absolute finesse. Seemingly simple, the posture and movement required incredible core stability and control. Anita’s account of how she rediscovered her body at 35 after motherhood and equipped herself with different art forms to develop the angikas required to suit the choreography was inspiring. Her presentation of Ahalya and articulation of the sublime through props and costumes combined with subtle movements was elegant.
A beautiful synthesis of Rabindra Sangeet and Carnatic music energized
the lines of Muthuswami Dikshitar's Meenakshi
Me Mudam and Tagore's poetry. The performance was done fully seated,
showing how dancers can propel themselves with just the use of their torso and
abhinaya. Be it Bharatanatyam, neo-bharatam or any other form of movement, the
message was to keep it simple, understand your body and communicate with
Vibrant head gears, exquisite wooden jewellery, starched
whites; a good augury indeed for an invigorating session on aaharya.
Story-teller and cultural activist V.R.
Devika along with folk artist Siruvanjipattu
Seetharaman, presented the nuances
of Kattaikuttu, referred to in the pre-90s as Therukoothu.
The night-long Kattaikuttu performances, she said, commence
with the customary percussions, playing different talas signalling each
occurrence in the local temple (à la mallari). The artists showcased scenes
from the Mahabarata, the most popular
of the repertoire of Kattaikuttu.
Devika, along with the artists, explained the aaharya used in
Kattaikuttu (the costumes of this folk form). Most of the costumes are created
from the bark of the Kalyana Murungai tree, the headgear (shikareki) is worn
only by the royal characters, the bhuja kattai (shoulder ornaments), the wooden
jewellery also made from the same tree. Make-up, an integral part of this art
form, is distinctive for each character. Dussasana is painted red with black
lipstick, Krishna is green and white, Draupadi is yellow and so on. A simple
curtain (therai) is used to show entry of a character, which is also a clever
use of aaharya, she said. This was a delightful demonstration of camaraderie
for the audience, combining colour, costume and story.
The sessions on the second day started with playwright and
director Gowri Ramnarayan explaining
the importance of vachika in a performance. Transcending just words, vachika
abhinaya for a dancer, she said, is understanding the music, lyrics, the
sub-texts in compositions, jatis, all of which ultimately enhance performance. Gowri,
along with dancer-actor, Aarabi Veeraraghavan, presented lively snapshots from
past productions. While enacting Urmila, from the Ramayana, Arabhi convincingly portrayed Urmila's indignation. Gowri
reiterated that for a dancer, music is one of element of the vachika abhinaya. It is important to pay
attention to it; what is the music telling the dancer? What are the sanchari bhavas
that are being created to ultimately form the stayi bhava?
Gowri also spoke about the importance of body language,
gestures and drishti (look) when the dancer shows parallels. Aarabi effectively
used her voice and body (again a tool of vachika) to portray Urmila's emotions,
from frustration to getting her father's approval. Aarabi's voice modulation
was commendable, communicating through words and a range of emotions laced with
The last segment presented an excerpt from Gowri's adaption
of Sivakamiyin Sabatham. Dancer
Priyadarsini Govind as Sivakami, elegantly portrayed the betrayed lover and war
victim, struggling to find peace through simple words and nuanced abhinaya.
Kalki's story, through Gowri's adaptation and Priyadarsini's abhinaya; vachika,
as assimilated by each artist, conquered the audience.
The final session of Rasoham's talks by Bharatanatyam dancer, Priyadarsini Govind, was on satvika abhinaya. Her learning from the legendary S.K. Rajarathnam Pillai and from Kalanidhi Narayanan from the age of nine, ensured that the satvika abhinaya was ingrained in Priyadarsini. Soaked in this environment for so many years, she grew up looking at art through the prism of abhinaya.
Priya stressed that while dancers use angika and vachika to
present beautiful gestures and words through sanchari bhavas, the true
experience for an artist is only when the mind is also present in this
communication. That is satvika bhava. Satvika bhava completes this
communication and gives an experience to the audience. Understanding the
context, the characters, the text of who is speaking to whom, the intent of the
composer, and finally identifying the cause or the trigger of the bhava, leads
to a better exploration of the visuals of a composition the dancer wants the
audience to experience, she said.
Presenting a glimpse from her repertoire, she presented Aadenamma in Paras raga taught by her
guru Rajarathnam Pillai. Priyadarsini beautifully blended the sareera abhinaya
with mukhaja abhinaya when she transitioned to demonstrate each of the navarasas
of Lord Siva. Moving on, she also demonstrated Adi Sankara's navarasa sloka,
which describes the navarasas experienced by Parvathy towards Siva.
Dissecting the Sarangapani composition, where the hero comes
to the heroine (a courtesan) besotted by another woman. Inta mohamemira, Priya presented it as a literal translation of the
lines without going into the subtexts and also demonstrated the satvika bhava version
with layers of her imagination of the personality of the heroine, thus
reiterating the importance of depth and mindfulness to demonstrate satvika
The concise talks on how abhinaya permeates every area of
performance were dealt with skilfully by all four speakers. Each session had
something for every kind of audience – dancer, rasika, connoisseur. A weekend well spent thanks to
Rasoham art room.