News & Notes

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 elegance.

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 subtle humour.

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 abhinaya.

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.