Charting new territory
DANCE HIV/AIDS, its proliferation and prevention, formed the theme for an unusual dance production in the Capital recently.
SUITABLE MESSAGE: A scene from Niddaan, a dance production on AIDS awareness.
It is not often that Indian classical dancers depart from the set pattern of presenting aesthetic productions highlighting the visual beauty of dance, the joy of music and the exciting colours of indigenous fabrics. They can't always be blamed, since the technique of classical dance is steeped in a theory of aesthetics that stresses stylised portrayal, presenting even unpalatable subjects in a beautiful manner.
In a world invaded by crassness and problems reflecting ever seamier depths of human nature, it is an understandable dilemma for dancers to choose a theme of contemporary relevance that will also suit the medium of classical dance. A theme such as HIV/AIDS is particularly difficult, and that is why Kathak dancer Rekha Mehra and choreographer Sashidharan Nair deserve praise for their recent production, Nidaan.
Designed as a multi-media presentation, the dance drama is intended to raise awareness of the causes of the spread of the virus and stresses that since there is no cure for the disease, the only way to contain the epidemic is through prevention. It is based on the premise that in India, the spread of HIV infection is more through hetero-sexual contact, though the other means of transmission, such as through transfusion of infected blood, etc., are also prevalent.
Thus the dance drama begins with a depiction of love and pleasure as glorified in ancient times, when physical gratification and spiritual attainment were seen as parallel goals of a human birth. Sashidharan Nair's choreography for this segment stood out for its subtlety.
This approach to the dance composition was remarkable throughout. Devising movements that were sensuous while not crude, the group presentations were successful in conveying the sense, of physical intimacy with multiple partners. Similarly, in representing modern-day gadgets like motorcycles, ambulance and the like, the tableaux and movements were clever without being comical. While stylisation prevailed throughout, the message at each stage was also apparent to an audience uninitiated in dance. Of course, there were slide projections to help the understanding.
On the whole it could be said that the production showed it is possible to harness technique to convey a theme in a manner that the technique remains the medium and not the message. It must be clarified here that though Rekha Mehra is a Kathak dancer and performed cameos in the production, the choreography did not make use of Kathak at all. Nair's choreographic signature is an amalgam of Chhau, Kathakali and Creative dance techniques which he evolved to a high level of excellence during his long years as choreographer at the Sriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra.
While the lighting was extremely evocative and effective through most of the performance, one felt that more light on the dancers' faces during bhava portions would have helped bring out the import.
Mixing shadow projection with the audiovisual on Khajuraho was a creative idea. With the projection screen in the centre and two dancers in silhouette on either side, the only drawback one felt was that the movements of the two live dancers could have been more synchronised to add to the visual effect, sometimes coordinating with the projected sculptures, sometimes contrasting with them.
The smoke effect was good at times but reduced visibility by the end. Anyway, choreographers really ought to think of an alternative to the smoke machine. Smoke wafting around and catching different coloured lights looks good, but the hissing of the machine before the visual effect always plays spoil sport.
The dance production began a good hour and a quarter late due to what were announced as technical reasons. The restive crowd, not the usual faces one finds at classical dance shows, degenerated into a hooting mob. It was entirely to the credit of the performers and choreographer that such an audience settled down within 30 seconds of the curtain opening and stayed quiet throughout.
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Chennai and Tamil Nadu