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Lockdown Reflections: Churning Linguistics in Dance Processes

The ethos of Lockdown provides the opportunity to develop inventive perspectives on the dance content. Dr. Kapila Vatsyayayan the iconic thinker on dance and arts writes – “Reflecting creative expressions and locating them in the cultural production of dance allows the artist to be active participants in their surrounding world.”

Conversations with dancers Jayaprabha Menon, Kavita Dwibedi and Lakshman Swamy explored, contemplated with the fourth artist – Navina Jafa (also the author). The focus engaged with literature from languages not typically aligned to the linguistic geography to the respective Indian Classical dance forms.

Sanskrit Verse ‘Baj Govindam’ by Adi Shankaracharya
Jayaprabha Menon – Mohiniattam

Discussions on the COVID-19 Lockdown unravelled unique dimensions on Jayaprabha Menon’s choreography on Baj Govindam. “The Lockdown has meant an inward contemplation and a period of uncertainty. In Verse 4 of the poem, there is a description of the image of a water droplet. The journey of a water-droplet on a Lotus leaf is unpredictable like our life. The poet describes the water-drop pauses and travels on but does not blend into the leaf similar to our moving mental-thoughts. Today, we are in a surreal and almost out-of-time existence. Like our mental state, the droplet has an independent life but can be dislodged even by the slightest breeze. So uncertain is the next moment of our life when we see the impact of the COVID-19 virus! 

Performing the Sanskrit poem is first deeply understanding its essence and then building the expression through dance (Mohiniattam). The musical instruments, percussion intrinsic to our dance is combined with an appropriate melody (raga) and rhythmic pattern. This lays the ground to enact the dance. Mohiniattam is rounded, lyrical, and graceful. The facial expression and the body movement paints the image of the emerging rounded lotus leaf. The water-droplet moves reflecting our mental waves. The minor limbs and the eight like geometrical body form recreate the unpredictable journey of the Lotus droplet.”

Menon’s aesthetic paradigms aspire remodelling abstract thoughts of the Sanskrit philosophical drama in a story of movements.

Bengali Poem Shapan – The Dream written by Rabindranath Tagore
Kavita Dwibedi – Odissi

Conversations with Kavita Dwibedi yielded revisiting her work ‘Shapan’ (the Dream). “The poem explores self-identity. It says – I am one person in the day and another in the night. The dream is a space where I enact my identity as a dancer. The dancing identity in the dream-space pursues to break open from the Lockdown. It is a cloud moving freely in the blue sky. Using rhythmically patterned mnemonics of the mridangam (percussion) I rewrite in the language of Odissi dance. On the one hand, I am grounded by the central stance of the square position (Chowk). On the other hand, the tribhang (three bend body) lends energy to take flight. The dream-space is defined by imagined conversations with nature and to be one with nature!”

The static state of the wakened life in the Lockdown is nourished in the dream of the dancing cloud. Dwibedi’s reflections are similar to the state of ‘Megh Dharma Samadhi’ described in the Yogasutra that is described as -. The conscious awakened mind recreates itself like a cloud to explore the path of the right karma negotiating the external turbulent existence.

Marathi Poem by Manik Prabhu – From his Choreography – Kshetra Bharatham – Tirupati 
Lakshmana Swamy – Bharatanatyam

Bharatanatyam exponent Lakshman Swamy expressed a sense of loss. This was juxtaposed by the discerning feeling of humbleness concerning Nature’s fury. His thoughts reminded how after the tsunami in 2004 the fishing community in Tamil Nadu and then in Japan in 2011 the people sought forgiveness from the ocean for wrecking its environment. Reflecting, Swamy re-visited his choreography centered on Lord Venkateshwar titled ‘Kshetra Bharatham – Tirupati’. Plaintively he pondered on the present COVID circumstances, “Please show mercy Lord Venkateshwar! You are our only savior! The human race suffers…many remain hungry, homeless, and several face death. In its tangible physical form your temple, a sanctuary is no longer there for us; And in its abstract form the idea if the temple provides us with a sense of equilibrium but – Today it is unreachable. Is this your Leela (Divine play?) Are the health and sanitation workers your incarnations?”

Of the seven compositions in the original composition, Lakshman selected to re-work in the conversations the poetic piece by the Marathi poet Manik Prabhu. Prabhu perceived to be the incarnation of both Dattareya (Maha Yogi), and Maha Vishnu negotiated his self through the philosophical thought of Advaita (Non-dualism). His worship dissolves man-made differences and celebrates a syncretic culture. Both Hindus and Muslims visit his shrine. There is the reality of the dual existence of locked in and out. There is presently a sense of dis-coordination between the mind-body. The reworking of Prabhu’s poem on the idea of Lord Venkateshwar develops into a process to come to terms with the Lock-down state. “My focus on Manik Prabhu’s poem becomes a danced prayer that is performed to dissolve duality and to be in a state of equilibrium.” Lakshman quoted, “Lord through you, I dance to bring stability in my mind and body!” 

He described the process for adapting the linguistic geography of Marathi to dance (Bharatanatyam). “When taking a text the main objective is projecting its essence encapsulated in its lyrical life and the pulse of the words. The text provides a structure and refers to a specific cultural context. From this deep understanding emerges nuances – raga, tala, nritta, abhinaya, and a dance structure. But in the present Lock-down, the processes of dance is similar to a ship sailing to the unknown.”

Telugu Poem by Annamacharya
Navina Jafa  – Kathak, Veena by Saraswati Rajagopalan

The conversational reference to 15thc Telugu Vaishnav poet Annamacharya brought his composition on the 10 incarnations of Vishnu the preserver. On examining the poetic lines attributed to the first incarnation – Matya (Fish), I re-imagined the composition in dance. The words spoke to me of the process of churning that appeared parallel to the mental activity many of us are engaged within the present Lock-down. I reached out to the well-known Veena artist Saraswati Rajagopalan. Together we transcended and recreated the essence of the written text. While I spoke of the essence of the making of the incarnation as body movements, Saraswati Rajagopalan adapted the essence in music.

The Fish incarnation like us churned in the deep, dark waters (seen as the Lock-in). Gradually, it empowered itself with nature outside. From micro, it became macrocosm and rose to the surface enlightened under the brilliant sun – to save humanity!

Conclusion 

The Lock-down contemplation on dance, content, and technique assumed fascinating uncharted dimensions relating to the human mind and body in the COVID Lockdown. The written words evolved as embodied texts. The danced imagination translated into the different dance language reached out to comprehend the reality of a newly emerging world.

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