Chandralekha is at it again trying to sweep traditions aside with her non narrative dance experiments.
Not too long ago, she offered a preview of Prana in her open-air theatre in Madras before an invited audience to assess its impact. Satisfied with it, she presented il in Bombay at a premiere and then again at the India International Dance Festival in Delhi. Prana consists of three sequences: Navagraha, the nine Shalabhauuia- Soorya in sirasasana in the middle planetary houses; Soorya-Namaskar, an invocation to the Sun-God; Soorya and the Seven Horses. I see in the presentation a clever and J imaginative mixture of the 5 techniques of yoga, Kalaripayattu and Bharatanatyam, utilized to illustrate the basic 3 truths of yoga sastra (quietism) in plain non-decorative style.
If the wraps of mantra rhetoric are peeled off, the original yoga doctrine becomes crystal clear. Yoga sadhana, consisting of the psycho-physical practices of tantriks, represents the proto-materialistic way of life prevalent among the wise people of the pre-Vedic India. The word tantra is derived from a root Han', meaning to expand, to spread. Spread what? The answers are with each and within each individual.
There are two aspects of tantric theory and practice, One of these is the external aspect and is concerned with the universe. The other is the internal aspect and is concerned with the human body. Since the human body is considered the microcosm of the universe, the individual should control it. He can attain success by developing the forces latent in him. Or Angaraka- Prasarita padasana Sukra- Halasana again, by controlling external or natural forces, he can move towards an expression of his own internal resources. If he can control his breath, he can control everything. Vital breath is prana. Thus, yoga offers the means to harness primal energy and elemental power.
There are eight anga-s to yoga. They are: yama- restraint; niyama-- observance; asana— posture; pranayama— regulation of breath; pratyahara- abstraction; dharana— concentration; dhyana-- meditation; and samadhi— trance.
Asana, the third anga, is important since posture is necessary for a steady and easy position. Once posture has been mastered, the yogi is free of disturbance. It is stated that pranayama is required to acquire steadiness of mind, since regulation of breath controls the internal space. The power of concentration developed by pranayama increases knowledge which is unrestricted and unlimited. It is believed that it spreads, extends and prolongs prana, life.
In Prana, Chandralekha has harnessed the nervous system of the human body and the solar system of the universe. To understand one is to comprehend the other. Chandralekha and her group of nine talented artists visually describe the orderly, cosmic constellation of the nine planets. Each planet has its own centre and faces its own direction with respect to Soorya, the sun. The implication is that the inner grace of the human spirit should imitate the discipline of the outer space.
The spectacle of Soorya (as represented by Nanda Kumar, the yoga guru, doing sirasasana) slowly moving from east to west, while eight dancers representing the other planets Ketu circle him, is breathtaking and deserves to be called Prana. To judge Prana in terms of Bharatanatyam would be doing In Abhinaya Darpana, Nandikeswara prescribes various hasta-s or hand gestures as the means to depict the navagrahas in natya, like left hand in pad- Sani- Oordhva dhanurasana injustice both to Chandralekha and the art-form. True, she uses nritta, geeta and vadya in her presentation but still it is not all in the idiom of traditional Bharatanatyam. makosa and the right-hand in pataka to show Chandra (the moon); and left-hand soochi above while the right hand is placed in mushti, to show Angaraka (Mars), and so on. But Chandralekha discards these time-worn gestures and employs yoga asana-s to paint a picture of the planets. For instance, she uses the three dancers forming a cone at the end of a brief ritual movement, to signal Angaraka.
In other words, the choreographer turning into a cosmographer uses for each planet a special formation as prescribed in yoga texts. The permutations and combinations of the graha groups offer a kaleidoscope of changing patterns and peculiar images. For geeta, Chandralekha has used the navagraha kriti-s of Muthuswami Dikshitar.
But she has only used the texts really, ignoring the sooladi tala scheme of the great composer; and even then she has utilised the songs only as a musical backdrop and they are heard as distant radio signals from outer space. The slow tempo of the songs is appropriate for the leisurely movements of the planets but there is really no meaningful correlation between the songs and the dance.
All said and done, when the show is over a clued-in spectator might feel that he has returned from a journey into space and remember it all only as a multilayered dream sequence. Probably Chandralekha intended the experience to be as such.