Stirrings of life

Roots, conceptualised by Chitra Chandrasekhar Dasarathy, was a metaphor for who we are

It is well-acknowledged theory that dance in general and Indian classical dance in particular has an inextricable connection with nature and draws from it in abundance. The arrival of spring as a prelude for Shringara for instance, is an oft-visited dancer’s delight, with evolved aesthetics of presentation. While the poetic connection with nature is common in Indian dance presentations, the umbilical organic connection is something with much exploration potential untapped. ‘Roots’, conceptualised and choreographed by Chitra Chandrasekhar Dasarathy and performed by the Ameya repertory, was an attempt to seek answers to intriguing questions such as, "Where do they go and how far?". The choreographer’s note unpacked the possibility of roots, not merely as a place of return or of belonging, but as an entire assemblage pulsating with life, growth, thoughts, striving and much more, as a metaphor for who we are.

A relevant way to collate perspectives on a thoughtful piece of choreography, starts from the direction where the choreographer presents their intention of the piece. ‘Vrddhi’ was about the stirrings of life, from independent tiny wisps to a spindle and then to a labyrinth together. ‘Samavaaya’, through a Vachana, brought out the blending of the divergent, such as dry soil and moist earth, and the challenge of navigation of the root towards its emerging persona as a tree, to find life. Fullness of life, leading to new challenges of unmooring and breaking and drifting of the roots, was the essence of ‘Sarasaangi’. ‘Manjal’, in its own voice, talked about all that the rhizome is celebrated for and how it takes form below the surface, unseen by human eyes.

The simultaneously contrasting characters of being, with the root seeing itself as the tree and vice versa, was highlighted in the last part of the production, ‘Akasamallige / Latak Chandni’, two names of the same flower of the Millingtonia tree.

There was a promise in the opening moment, a simple, but invigorating morning raga, ringing a new beginning. The music composition by Praveen D. Rao, sufficiently coated and layered the music design by the choreographer, Chitra Dasarathy, to align with the organic thought process. The choice of ragas had a significant logic tied to the conceptual progression, contributing to the wholeness of the production, with a few snippets of the music gently lingering in the mind. Among several moments that stood out in the process of creation of ‘Roots’ for the choreographer, she particularly mentions the finding of raga Sarasangi to bring out the fullness of life, resonating with music, language and rhythm. "The conceptualisation of the movement did not deny the fundamental elements of Bharatanatyam, such as the mudras, but I did not feel dictated by them. I also trusted what each dancer brought into the process of creation of the movement,” she added.

Stirrings of life

There were sections that were visually and conceptually aligned with the choreographer’s note and were balanced well between staying true to what was being conveyed and the beautiful aesthetics of presentation. However, some obvious aspects were overlooked, which took away from the consistency, visually. While choreographing the entire first section ‘Vrddhi’ in Muzhumandi was an interesting idea, the straight spine and the typical stylized emoting of the Bharatanatyam face, did not quite resonate with the idea. There was an immediate comfort in the dancing when there were words or syllables in the music, which is part of the Bharatanatyam habitus, making one wonder if lacing in words or a script in certain sections would have made the meaning more accessible. If the norm of Bharatanatyam was one pole and the demand of the concept was the other pole, the visual movement conceptualisation in the production struggled to swing freely between the two.

A significant part of trained movement generally tends to stay remote from everyday life. ‘Roots’ was an earnest attempt to steer away from this generalisation.

The metaphors and associations of the nature of the roots, without drifting too much poetically or philosophically into irrelevance, was a clearly engaging aspect of the production. Through the moments of poise and struggle of the production, what came through was the effort and the journey of the team and most importantly the process of building something, without an overemphasis on the final product.

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