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    Hanuman’s Lanka adventure gets some martial arts and new compositions

    It’s a story that’s never lost any of its freshness, no matter its many re-tellings. The ‘superhero’ who  crossed an ocean with a single bound and single-handedly defeated hundreds of asuras (demons), captured our imaginations much before radioactive spiders and iron men came into the picture.

    So in 2011, when dancer-teacher Anita Guha was asked to create a Bharatnatyam dance drama for the annual Cleveland Thyagaraja Aradhana (a week-long festival held in Ohio, USA), she looked no further than her favourite god, Hanuman. Now, ahead of a US tour—a two-month, 20-city extravaganza—she is debuting a tighter, crisper version of her epic, Sundara Kandam, in the city. “It is a very challenging subject. I knew I could explore many varieties of dance and emotion through it,” explains Guha, the founder of city-based dance school, Bharathanjali.

    New dimension
    The 80-minute production begins with Rama and Lakshmana coming to Kishkindha in search of Sita and meeting the vanaras (monkeys), Sugriva and Vali, before moving to Hanuman’s adventures in Lanka. Guha admits she read the entire Valmiki Ramayana before embarking on the project. “His version brings out the character’s earthiness—a Rama who laments the loss of his wife, a Hanuman who is plagued by despair when he can’t find Sita. These emotions are in stark contrast to the calm, stoic figures we are familiar with,” she says.

    Known for mixing forms, the 54-year-old has incorporated mime and martial arts, besides bringing in influences from Kathakali and Mohiniyattam—especially for the expressions of the vanaras and the asuras. “One of my favourite sequences is the fight between Sugriva and Vali. Though I scripted it, it is choreographed by dancer Thiruchelvam TK of Kalakshetra, who has brought in various martial art forms, like kalari, into it,” she says, adding that many of the ‘effects’—like the vanaras’ grunts and screams—are provided by her.

    Experiments
    While the production does not use sets—it relies on cyclorama and lighting to project colour, to create the effects for fire, water and the like—music and dialogue are integral. Composed by Carnatic vocalist Neyveli Santhanagopalan, Guha says that many of the compositions are unique. “To describe Lanka, I employed the technique of an asura mannari (procession), where they talk about the city using 108 shlokas. And Neyveli set it to music with the rasikapriya ragam, which gives it a creepy feeling,” she says. And if the Tamil dialogues are too high-brow, an initial 10-minute English introduction has been added to ensure that even the uninitiated is clued in.
    August 1, at the Music Academy, from 7 pm. Rs 250-Rs 5,000. Details: in.bookmyshow.com

    Surya Praphulla Kumar

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