Last evening, I performed at the Attic, a small, cosy space in Connaught Place. I performed a shloka and alarippu in misram, and then an ashtapadi, a kirtanam, a padam, and my very own brand new tillana.
I think from the moment I stepped onto the stage, and perhaps even before that - I had a feeling about the performance. First of all, I did my own make-up. While Bri Mohan ji is a terrific artist in his own right, it was something else to be able to have control over my own appearance - the colour on my face, the shape of my eyes, nose and lips.
I had been very clear to highlight what I wanted to emphasize in announcements. My performance was introduced as - "Aranyani’s performance explores the ways in which Krishna and Rama relate to the human world. For a while now, Aranyani has been exploring the relevance of Bharatanatyam beyond the religious narrative, and one that is inclusive of secular audiences. Aranyani’s claim has always been that she does not merely relate stories of gods, but describes and explores the human emotions that underpin the myths. Most human emotions are universally relevant. They transcend race, gender, class, religion and nationality. In this respect, Aranyani explores stories about Krishna and one tale about Rama in terms of the vast depths of human emotions they are able to describe through mythology. The pieces chosen in this performance display varied emotions from the mischief of a little child, to the worries of a father, the demands of a teacher, the stubbornness of an adolescent girl, the feelings of suspicion and fear, the sting of regret, and the meditative potential of initial pangs of love."
The performance went very well, if feedback is anything to go by. There was a 'meet the artist' session after the performance before which I had enthusiastic applause through 3 or 4 bows - unsual in Delhi for a classical dance performance. As the questions were asked, I slowly became more and more confident about answering them, and I think I did very well in explaining what I had wished to do in the performance.
Leela Venkataraman, dance critic for the Hindu, asked me whether in a piece about the Ramayana, it was possible to completely remove the devotional and spiritual aspect of dance, and perhaps whether it was even fair to do that.
I clarified that in my view, there is a difference between devotion and spirituality. And I also clarified that while the announcements highlighted the human aspect of the characters in the Ramayana, I was in no way trying to say that the pieces were devoid of spirituality or devotion. I was merely highlighting a shift in focus from the religious aspect to the human one.
I think I may rethink the use of the word 'secular' in my announcements, or perhaps I will need to explain what I mean by 'secular' in a deeper sense. That would only make my announcements longer, but I think its worth it. Sadanand Menon, a good friend and an art critic himself, although very quiet, interjected in this particular discussion between Leela ji and me.
Others asked me whether I changed my dancing when I perform abroad. I said I didn't. In fact, when I began to perform outside of India, I went with the assumption that my audience would be unfamiliar and would understand little. And so from the very beginning, my announcements were long and explanatory. I admitted that in fact, my way of dancing/announcing has changed over the years in India, not outside. Because even within India, I have shed the presumption that people know what I'm talking about. Although culturally more familiar, I believe for the one or two people outside the familiar territory, it is worth speaking for longer and dancing for less if it means I will reach out to more people.
There were many other interesting questions that made me think before answering, but it was good that I got a chance to explain a few things. I was extremely tired and unwell, and bleeding from the foot to boot, so we ended the conversation after 25 minutes or so.
From the feedback I got, everyone had a favourite piece, but largely Ni Urai Pai (Ramayana piece), the Padam and my Tillana got some critical acclaim, so to speak.
Hearing feedback about the Tillana was a relief. Leela Venkataraman mentioned that my tillana could have had longer movements, but in the space provided in the Attic, it was nearly impossible to do even static movements without compromising on the full stretch of an adavu. Some spaces, I hope spectators will understand, are not meant for Tillanas. I chose to do the Tillana because I had promised my musicians that I would choreograph it by this time, and that I would perform it. It was also a good space to test it out, since the audience was small, although quite an informed one. But mostly, everyone I met absolutely LOVED the tillana. I was overjoyed and relieved, and hope to perform it on a larger stage where its dynamism and intricacies can really shine through!
Now, I'm off to volunteer at Gati's IGNITE! festival of Contemporary Dance - a first of its kind festival in Delhi that I am happy to be a part of!