Swarnamalya Ganesh revives dance from the Nayak period, together with an exhibition
Embarking on her doctoral research seven years ago, on the Nayak period’s influence on Bharatanatyam, little did renowned dancer and actor Dr Swarnamalya Ganesh know she would find herself entwined in the multifaceted history of Bharatanatyam. Examining the lack of evidence on the dance post the Chola period, Ganesh was keen on exhibiting the rich contributions of the Nayak period to the dance form and reconstructing the repertoire of the same. Born from her exhaustive research, Ganesh will debut her findings as an introductory film, a curated exhibition, a lecture and a grand performance. “In order to spread the context and relevance of these lost repertoires, I have also put together a special exhibition of paintings, sculptures, rare portraits, photos, costumes, jewellery, and audio footage,” says Ganesh. Along with this, she will deliver a lecture which explores interesting stories and anecdotes from the Nayak period at the MGR Janaki College of Arts and Sciences, titled Tales from the Attic.
Pan Indian connect
“Bharatanatyam is not just a dance form. We’re dealing with a 1,000-year history, so it’s not only hard to connect the dots, it’s also important to involve other art forms such as sculpture and music,” feels Ganesh. The highlight of her work, however is the pan-international connections Bharatanatyam has—Sufism found its way into the form through the spice route, while the Marathi Lavani and Gondhal traditions permeated Bharatanatyam over time. “Plus, the Devadasis were instrumental in the evolution of the dance,” shares Ganesh. Having studied the art form rendered by Devadasis—the hereditary performers—she reminisces on how they were the true proponents of the dance. “They were immersed in all aspects of performance—they would sing, dance and play instruments, too,” says Ganesh.
For her, the reconstruction of dance repertoire in the Nayak period is far more than a history lesson. “We’re involving Gondhal players and Manganiyar Sufi singers. Only very little of the final product is rehearsed and I want to bring back the extempore tradition to a public that is used to seeing extensively curated solo performances,” she says. Explaining the origin of the name From the Attic, Ganesh says, “We normally leave things of the past in the attic, but years later, revisiting them grounds us and gives us a sense of identity,” she concludes.
From The Attic is at the Music Academy on March 19. A curated exhibition on the Nayak and post Nayak periods is at the Roja Muthiah Research Lab from March 15 to 20. A lecture at the MGR Janaki College of Arts and Sciences is on March 14. Details: 9840424703
— Divya Karthikeyan