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Contemporary STEPS

Aparna portrays political realities through her dance, writes R. UMA MAHESHWARI

FOR APARNA Sindhoor, a Mysorean based in Boston, Bharatanatyam is a medium for expressing her discomfort with situations, contexts and people - with war, rape and unequal access to resources. It also expresses her discomfort at having to continue dancing to a tradition, to themes that make no sense. Aparna, helped by her spouse, Raju Sivasankaran, has engaged herself with employing Bharatanatyam techniques to themes that give prominence to contemporary human situations within contemporary politics.

In Hyderabad on a brief visit Aparna performed for an invited audience. She first trained in Bharatanatyam under her mother, the renowned dancer and social activist, Dr. Srivalli. Aparna started the Navarasa Natyalaya in Mysore and is the director of the Navarasa Arts Academy, in Somerville, Boston. She also teaches in the Dance Complex in Cambridge. She was awarded the Human Resource Development grant by the Government of India for her work, Vachanadara and A Concise Portrait of the Indian Woman. Her other works include Agua - Thanneer - Water written by Raju Sivasankaran - based on incidences in Madurai and in Cochabama, Bolivia over the struggle for water; and River Rites, about the Narmada Bachao movement.

She performed short excerpts from her productions Agua, When I Was Most Beautiful and Draupadi (based on Dopdi by Mahasweta Devi). A dialogue followed the recital. She began with When I was Most Beautiful - a deeply disturbing Japanese poem on the ravages of war. Aparna gave life to the tragedy inherent in the poetry - of war and killing and the destitution of women. In a poignant moment she lifts the veil - both literally and metaphorically - this veil could be a child lost to the war, or one that enshrouds perceptions of a community, a people, or a mask. To a poem she has sung herself, to no other musical accompaniment except a guitar she danced to simple pada jatis and underplayed, yet powerful abhinaya, a contradiction she accomplishes so well. Aparna followed this up with an excerpt on water (Agua - Thanneer) and a song about the Narmada Bachao Andolan - of a river (mother) Narmada and her people. During the discussions that followed the short recitals, Aparna explained that it was her mother who inspired her in taking up issue-based dance. Although Aparna loves Bharatanatyam as a form, there are aspects in it that she finds (and always found) disturbing, and she has tried to evolve out of - keeping icons on the stage, the pada sevai stances and wearing bells, for instance. She tries to blend her own thought process with the form as much as possible, and has brought in movements within the form that do not confirm to the textual tradition. This has brought forth sharp criticism, she confessed. For instance, when she showed rape in one of her productions (Draupadi) there was criticism that natya sastra does not accept showing rape. She has also been questioned on whether her work actually makes `dialogues' with an audience not already `clued in' to issues such as the water issue. But she counters that by saying her performance in Narmada with people not used to Bharatanatyam performances got an instant response from the audience as it was an issue deeply felt. Questions from the audience in Hyderabad included her choice of subject, her method of choreographing pieces, her sense of satisfaction in being able to perform on these subjects and acceptance by the audience. But she said that choreographing merely to make a social statement is not what she did, and that it has to be felt deeply within. Among her efforts includes building a repertoire of compositions around political social issuesthat are passed down through students. In this endeavour, she teaches her students some of these compositions but she is also conscious that she is, in effect a Bharatanatyam dancer-teacher, so the varnams and the jatis need to be taught. Aparna's recital, one felt, deserved a larger audience and she has promised to return to Hyderabad for a major performance later this year. Then the Hyderabadi audience can have a taste of what it means for Bharatanatyam to become politically charged.

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