Monday, August 6, 2007

take two in Kerala Hindu

Online edition of India's National Newspaper
Monday, Jul 02, 2007
Metro Plus Kochi
Feminism, eroticism in dance
Priyadarshini Govind and V.R. Devika on dance and their offbeat careers
Photo: H. Vibhu

IN RHYTHM Bharatanatyam dancer Priyadarshini Govind, left, and art critic V. R. Devika
Rehearsals for an upcoming play had left leading Bharatanatyam exponent Priyadarshini Govind with a sore throat. But when she sat down for a Take Two with noted art critic, writer and researcher V. R. Devika she was, like her dance, most eloquent. Huddled in a corner of the Kerala Fine Arts Hall, Kochi, with people walking around, children running along the corridor nearby, loud instrumental music wafting across, they opened their mind on dance and a whole variety of other subjects, while
K. PRADEEP listened in.
Devika: Priya, I’m sure you’ll remember. It was in 1981 when we got together for a production based on a poem by A. K. Ramanujan. We called it ‘Interior Landscape,’ directed by Ranvir Shah and choreographed by m e. Since then you have certainly come a long way to become one of the top ranked Bharatanatyam dancers in the country, gracing some of the most prestigious venues in the world. How do you feel?
Priya: Yes, Devika, it has been a long way. Dance and theatre always interested me. Then came the decision to take it up as a career. Since then it has been a eventful journey. And you Devika? You are one who never lets a chance slip b y. Your eye takes in everything in art and life.
Devika: Right from the beginning my outlook towards dance was different. Even when I began learning dance I knew that there was more to it than just performance on a stage with jewels on. Performance was not everything. I looked at dan ce, maybe, like how a school teacher that I was then, would look at it. Gradually I was devising a method of teaching through Bharatanatyam….
Priya: Thinking on your feet?
Devika: Something like that. I was more into organising, composing. Dance became a source of constant learning. Looking back, I think my decision of not turning into a dancer was good. I began using dance for social work, to build brid ges between the rural and urban sections of the society. It provided a fantastic canvas for me. I realised that there is no great difference between the folk and classical dance forms. The multiplicity, diversity of India must be celebrated. Looking at your dance Priya, I have been impressed by your emotive exposition of the ‘padams.’ Tell me something about ‘abhinaya,’ which is your forte.
Priya: Like most of Kalanidhimami’s (Kalanidhi Narayanan) students I didn’t think much about the meaning of the ‘padams’ when I started out. For me it was the performance and my ‘guru’ that made danc e so enthralling. I was literally drawn completely by its magic. It opened up a new world of characters.
Devika: The interesting thing about dance is that it is different to you at various phases of your life, or at different ages. Learning a ‘varnam’ at age 24, like any feminist, made me angry. The thought was how a woman cou ld pine away for a man like this….’I rejected the whole idea then for I did not want to wait for a man like this. Later, I saw this woman when I was forty. It then meant so much for me. There was sympathy for the woman, I could understand her better. There was so much more depth in the lines of the poet. Dance can really educate you.
Priya: This is what you have picked up from experience. When we were taught, the stress was to put oneself in the position of the characters presented. It cannot be a personal viewpoint. We were taught to visualise what the poet must h ave imagined. I was fortunate to have a teacher who had gone through the whole gamut of life’s experiences but never got herself involved in the nitty-gritty of a dancer’s life. She always said that an artist should be like a lotus leaf on which the water will never stick on.
Now Devika, there are three things that I would like to ask you. What is your idea of feminism? Why is it that in dance and poetry, the focus is always on emotion and women? And finally what is your take on eroticism in form and lyric?
Devika: Feminism to me is the choices a woman can make. My mother, for instance, was a feminist. Not the radical kind but one who made my father feel that he was the most important person in the family but still managed to have her way . Feminism is that freedom to be able to realise one’s potential. The focus is mostly on women and emotion perhaps because the majority of the poets were men. Eroticism can be traced to the Devadasis for whom it was part of the profession. In Hinduism, Kama is part of the Purusharthas and even of worship. Madhura Bhakti is erotic feeling for the deity. It is there in the temples, with the bells, fragrance, colour, and the sculptures. It is an integral part of human life. Sensuality is often misinterpreted. Everything depends on how all this is interpreted by the beholder. In dance the audience become the interpreters.
Priya: Devika, how do you connect Gandhian studies to dance? Has Gandhi always been part of your conscience or was it an accident?
Devika: I think that it was always there. Becoming a school teacher was a fluke and then I became interested in Gandhi’s idea of basic education. He became relevant again when I went into rural performing arts. I strongly believe that he remains the only original. He certainly had his faults, his decision-making might have been foolhardy at times, but his sincerity can never be questioned.
Priya: But is Gandhi relevant even today? And dance?
Devika: He is still relevant. Take the case of sanitation, decentralisation, village industries….
Priya: But in the present political context….
Devika: He would have been killed for his honesty. Dance is all about communication. And Gandhi used all the tools, angika, vaachika, to connect to the remote corners of this vast country. Priya, life seems to have come a whole circle. You are now doing a play once again.
Priya: Yes. The play is called ‘Flame of the Forest,’ which is inspired by Kalki Krishnamurti’s epic novel, ‘Sivakamiyin Sapatham,’ the sculptures of Mamallapuram and Mahendra Pallavi’s ‘Mattav ilasa.’ In the play written and directed by Gowri Ramnarayan I play the role of the older Sivakami and also helped in the choreography of the dances. I know that I’m likely to be thumped after doing this. But for me Sivakami is important. Natya encompasses all these for me. A dancer, I believe, must be open to experiments, exploration. And Devika what is coming up your way?
Devika: I have registered with the University of Madras for a PhD on Gandhi and Communication. In July I’ll be attending the World Creativity Summit in Hong Kong.