By Priya Das
Adorn my hair with his blood” cries a crazed-with-revenge Panchali, and an equally wild Bhima lovingly crowns her with the bloody innards of Dushasana. One can almost smell the blood. This is the highlight of “Bhibhatsam”, the second rasa to be highlighted in Lasya Dance Company’s “Navarasa-Her Choice.” Bhibhatsam, meaning revulsion, promises to get a significant percentage of the audience gasping and the rest turning away in disgust, exactly the reaction Vidhya Subramanian, artistic director of Lasya Dance Company is gunning for.
“Women are complex creatures, we can inspire and cause life around us to be energized through anger, love, and bravery- the entire gamut of emotions, sometimes in one day, or an entire lifetime such as in the Mahabharata! Every woman is intense, there’s so much to explore, evoke, and express,” says Vidhya, who has a penchant for cutting-edge women-related themes.
“Navarasa-Her Choice” comes after a gap of 2 years, during which Vidhya has been busy reclaiming her solo-dancing career in earnest, especially in India in the interim. Known for her fire-brand style, one looks forward to seeing new visages to traditional themes and altogether new ideas being presented. She will start the evening with a stunning solo, and will be joined on stage by senior dancers for a sort of introduction to the nine emotions being presented- in order, Shringara/love, Bhibhatsam/ revulsion, Veeram/bravery, Bhayanakam/fear, Hasyam/laughter, Karunyam/ pity, Adbhutam/ wonder, Roudram/ anger, and Shantam/peace. Vidhya herself will elaborate on 3 rasas- Love, Wonder, and Laughter.
Each senior dancer was tasked with owning one of the other rasas. Anger is played by Vinidhra Mani, embodied by Kannagi, a character from the Tamil Silapadikaram, whose husband is unfairly behaeaded after being falsely accused of thievery by an irresponsible King. Enraged at the injustice, Kannagi curses the King and burns down his city. “I understand Kannagi’s anger, but getting under her skin of righteousness enough to want to burn down a city took some doing. With only a few days to D-day, I’m frequently looking to rev myself up and stoke my anger, looking for a reason to get angry, so I can play Kannagi convincingly when the time comes- I only get 8 minutes!” says Vinidhra, a junior at college working in the bio-medical field when not dancing. Her solo dance of destruction will be a sight to behold.
Given the intense spotlight on drama, Vidhya has designed the costumes to ease instant-immersion into the mood. The senior dancers are all in black, with a single layer of color signifying the mood. Not surprisingly, Kannagi will wear red. The live orchestra is sure to sweep the audience into a heady emotional continuum, via always-evocative vocals by Asha Ramesh, mridangam by Narayanan, violin by Shanthi Narayanan, tabla by the young Vikas Yendluri, flute by Ragavan Manian, and sollukattu (dance notes) by Madhavi Cheruvu.
Vidhya’s portrayal of Wonder promises surprise from the get-go, her portrayal of Surphanakha’s attempts to seduce Rama sure to regale. ShriVidhya Shrinivasan, another senior dancer and a PhD in Molecular biology, plays a Kunti fearful for her sons on the eve of the Kurukshetra war. “I now hear stories of war in Iraq with a new sensitization. I feel a new connection with Indian mythological stories…Kunti was just a character before, now I realize that she’s a mother, like me.”
Reprieve from the intense drama comes in the form of superlative dancing by other dancers. Vidhya’s choreography progresses from a 2-beat piece right on up to a 9-beat rhythm, forming pure-dance interludes in between the stories. “I’ve never seen choreography this unique – Vidhya (Auntie) has made it so that each dancer feels like s/he has a significant role. To know that I’m a part of this magic is truly humbling.” – Sushmita Shrikanth
A unique perspective is shared by Maya Seshadri, a also Bollywood-dancing member of the Mona Sampath Dance troupe, featured in NBC’s America’s Got Talent in July- “Having dabbled in different styles of dancing since I was five, I’ve come to appreciate my roots and the core of my dancing in Bharatanatyam. It grounds me when I perform Bollywood.”
Like the character I will be portraying- Tagore’s Chandalika, who’s liberated by Buddhism from her state-of-outcaste and cries out that she’s reborn, the audience is sure to emerge feeling a surge of intense involvement, an emotional cleansing.
Sunday, Aug 8, 2010, 4pm.
McAfee Theater, 20300 Herriman Ave, Saratoga.
Tickets $15, Group of 4 (must arrive together) $50