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When dancers perform poetry and become the poems

Published : Jun 20, 2016, 11:34 pm IST
Updated : Jun 20, 2016, 11:34 pm IST

Recently, I was called to attend a unique dance event organised by the very talented Bharatnatyum dancer Lata Surendra.

Moments from the dance show. (Photo: Madhusudan S. Menon)
 Moments from the dance show. (Photo: Madhusudan S. Menon)

Recently, I was called to attend a unique dance event organised by the very talented Bharatnatyum dancer Lata Surendra. I had met her during Abhishek Bachchan’s wedding and have been following her like a fan ever since.

Ms Surendra is an extraordinary performer and has also been awarded the ‘Kalashri award’ by the Kerala Sangeet Natak Academy.

It is said that a person who is well-read and well-travelled can understand and express dance in the best possible manner and this perfectionist disciple of the eminent Vidwan Kalaimamani Guru T. S. Kadirvelu Pillai has proved it time and again. Apart from being a dance teacher, mentor and guide to Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Ms Pillai also holds a Masters in english literature and aesthetics and has diplomas in public relations, advertising and journalism. Such is her knowledge and he belief in her art that its power can be felt as soon as one meets her. This beautiful event that she planned for months was something that I will never forget for a long time as it had not just dance on display but also knowledge; something which is very important for a dancer.

After the inauguration, what followed was a journey through dance into the soul of various poets. Disciples of Guru Asha Sunilkumar of Sanskriti Academy of Fine Arts presented an absorbing excerpt from the poem Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva by RabindranathTagore in Bharata Natyam. Tagore’s ‘fires of creation and the dark without Origin’ soon moved on to Harivansh Rai Bacchhan’s Pralay ki Raat coming to life through the talented disciples of noted Odissi exponent Guru ShubadaVaradkar. Dance is truly ‘music made visual’ and some danced the same path, by using penned compositions. Bharata Natyam dancer – Keerthana Ravi highlighted saint Purandara Dasa’s composition wherein a Gopika was absolutely taken aback on seeing Krishna at an unearthly hour, by her door. The canvas then shifted from Vrindavan to Kailas with Jayeeta Dutta, talented disciple of Muraryi Saharan Gupta, visually etching the opulence of Shiva and Uma in a swing an unusual composition by Kazi Nazrul Islam, the revolutionary poet from Bengal. Renowned teacher, exponent and choreographer Guru Debi Basu’s disciples highlighted through Odissi the emotional lyricism within the saint poet Jayadeva’s poem with the allegory of the human soul’s love — Jeevatama pining for Paramatman, ‘Feeling the essence of God in all creation through beautiful contemporary folds - came the contemporary dance choreographer – Abhishek Rathod and his team. Kalashri Lata Surendra laced the traditional varnam in Bharata Natyam, with lines from the 13th century Persian sufi poet Rumi. Developing the lines of a traditional varnam –she used verses from Rumi in an interesting formatting and blending tradition and innovation,

Reaching out with her feel of Zen poet Matsuo Basho, in Subramania Bharati’s poem was Dr Suman Badami and the strains of love and romance were carried onwards in the performance by Rohit Gopinath and Divya Gopinath. Shashikala Ravi then delineated a kshetrayya padam wherein the poet highlights a young woman’s curiosity about Krishna or moovagopala at that age when young hearts are in ‘love with love’ Kathak Guru Renu Sharma then sought to focus on fragile emotions penned by Norah Jones and Lee Alexander. The fragile strength of love and lover’s quarrel was then carried onto sublime terrains through Mohini Attam by disciples of Guru Jayashree Nair — Divya and Sujatha Nair. Young Jahnavi Shukla, disciple of Guru Sumitra Rajguru, was followed by Kuchipudi dancers –disciples of Dr Sailaja Desai then took up the poem of Jandhyala Papayya Sastry with the poet urging all humanity to awaken to the human element within them through the poem, ‘Pushpa Vilapam’ — the ‘lament of a flower. Contemporary dancer and choreographer — Richard D’costa then sought to bring to life his own poem. Tradition and innovation then continued the momentum initiated, with energised performance by Guru Dr Ranjani Ganesan Ramesh and daughter Kum Daksha Swaminathan Ramesh, Sheetal Ravi dancing out her husband’s poem, chaste Bharata Natyam performance by Guru Lata Rajesh’s daughter Sidhi Pillai and disciple, Ankur Bhallal and committed dancers of Smitalay with an interesting fusion of Odissi and Bharata Nrithyam and Guru Chhayakhanvate’s disciples with imaginatively choreographed movements.

Vaidehi Rele, the grand daughter of famous dancer Padma Bhushan Dr. Kanak Rele and the daughter of Uma Rele, the principal of Nalanda Nritya Kala Mahavidyalay, took up Vidyapati’s poem, showcasing the unusual stance of Krishna pleading forgiveness from Radha. Poetry once again drifted in with Prachi Save Sathi evocatively bringing to life Tagore’s famous poem –Champa Flower. The center then seemed to focus on women with Simran Godhwani disciple of Guru MurariSharan Gupta, taking up the saga of every woman through a poem by Gulzar, interlaced by Sargam Composed by the great Maestro Padma Vibhushan pandit Birju Maharaj.

Disciples of Guru GeetaVenkateswar — highlighting Subhadra Kumari Chauhan’s –Jhansi ki Rani, renowned Kathak exponent Teena Tambe gathering the devotion of Meera as she merged with the idol of Lord Krishna and disciples of kala Lata Surendra taking up the beautiful poem by Maya Angelou (Phenomenal Woman) concluding the classical dance section with a Taraana orpure dance that had the kinesthetic of Kathak and Bharata Natyam merging in a beautiful visual display of co-ordinated artistry. The final segment had Jigarsoni and Soni’s School of Garba dance with their power-packed Dandiya performance concluding with G Dance and fitness group — Hitesh Kothari

After the inspirational and enriching show when the super charged Ms Surendra was about to say goodbye to me I asked her what inspired her to choose a divine theme like this. The avid reader in her came out and said, “Sandip. just look at communication today – Poetry has disappeared from our hearts and language is reduced to symbols. Dance has always used lyrics penned by saints and composers transforming ‘communication’ to a ‘communion of souls’. I thought to myself that having each dancer take up one poem at least could help awaken viewers, to a forgotten page in time that had humans treasure the romance and poetry in words.’ The graceful dancer said, “I was just working out a new theme with Rumi the mystic sufi Persian poet.”

Sandip Soparrkar can be contacted on