Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Architecture in motion

Her body is still as stone but her eyes speak. The motionless curvaceous figure is frozen in time, but warm. As light exposes her seductive frame, music streams in and the audience senses the sculpture move. Is that imagination or is the set dancing? Even as an enchanted audience waits eagerly for the dancers to enter, the revelation takes them by surprise. The set is the cast. Rani Ki Baav, a Kathak ballet by Mukta Joshi uses performing art to tell the story of an ancient temple in Gujarat. Ironically most temple sculptures are like books in stone teaching classical dance in it purest form. So when a dancer explains how these beautiful and seemingly everlasting pillars, walls and domes could have been crafted, it seems like art has come a full circle.

The ballet tells the story of how the master-piece was built. With a Vishnu idol in its sanctum sanctorum the temple was built in 1100 AD by queen Udaimati. The step well called ‘Rani ki baodi’ is an architectural marvel. A repertoire of thirty-five dancers brings to life the seven storey underground structure. Transporting the audience back in time, step by step human pillars emerge out of thin air. Dancers carve their bodies into walls depicting stories from the Puranas. Joshi interprets through poetry how each figure must have been conceived by the sculptor and then given form out of raw stone. In a span of 50 minutes the empty space of the stage as well as the imagined site of ‘Rani ka bhav’ transforms into a workshop where artists build architecture through art.

“When I started I had the challenge of interpreting history. I decided to base it on my understanding of aesthetics. I studied ancient sculpture and then thought to myself. A lady striking a dancing pose could not have modeled for months together for the sculptor to copy and recreate. So I came to the conclusion that the artist must have derived inspiration from classical poetry.”

‘The young lady waits for her lover, wearing fragrant flowers, holding a mango branch in blossom’ the poetic rendition gives enough material for an artist to create, be it on canvass, in stone or on stage. The expression that woman may have had, the season when the mango blossoms, the mood created by the fragrance yet loneliness that fills her heart with both hope and dejection. Joshi feels the sculptor created his masterpiece based on his interpretation, not by creating portraits of real dancers.

In Rani Ki Baav projections of actual photographs are used to create the context. Use of multimedia as a supportive element in a dance ballet can enhance the theatrical impact; a technique Joshi is not shy of using. In her other production ‘Pungiwala’ Joshi used shadow theatre. An adaptation of The Pied Piper this ballet was for children and the scene of a million mice was created using shadows. However the Kathak remains pure and the music unadulterated.

A disciple of Roshan Kumari Mukta Joshi is an exponent of the Jaipur gharana and the founder of Nrityadhara Kathak Research Institute based in Thane. Her other dance ballets include Bansileela and Kathak-Lavni Jugalbandi.

- Post by Prachi Wagh

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