Song of Surrender

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Of sraddha and sadhana

By Gowri Ramnarayan

When the renowned Bharatanatyam artiste said to me, “I’d like to act,” I thought she was joking. Imagine my surprise when she agreed to do a role in Flame of the Forest, a play I wrote and directed, with the kind of enthusiasm rare even among actors.  

Star dancer though she was, “I’ll do it again,” became her refrain at play rehearsals. She unhesitatingly admitted doubts, seeking guidance in learning this new skill. After finishing her scenes, she invariably stayed to watch other actors in rapt silence. She had to know the whole to actualise her part.

Priyadarsini Govind’s role in the play was of a betrayed lover and war victim, struggling to find peace within. As a theatre director, I found it exhilarating to watch her grit in grasping the elements of the new craft. At a recent workshop she admitted, “I had to start from the basics, even learn how to walk naturally on the stage.” She polished every detail until it became a spontaneous, shining inner experience.

After this, I got to direct Priya in two dance theatre performances. In the first production she had no ego hassles in partnering a less experienced, younger dancer. “Through Sita’s Eyes” was our second collaboration; Priya explored the psychological growth of this archetypal woman, as envisioned by poets in six languages. Blending instinct with introspection, she individuated every phase of the character – from carefree innocence to disillusionment. Perceiving Sita’s trauma peaking not when abducted by a demon, but when abandoned by her husband, Priya transformed Sita’s odyssey into the ceaseless striving of the human spirit against eternal odds.

An unforgettable rehearsal moment came when shy Sita identifies her two male escorts to the curious tribal women in the forest, “The dark one is my beloved, the fair one my brother-in-law.” As the trio move on, I asked Priya to turn and glance at the villagers. I still get goose bumps when I recall Priya, kneeling as a village woman saying farewell to the visitor, rising as Sita, and walking away with a backward look under her delicately raised pallu. That single glance captured the essence of the character—brimming with fellow feeling, warmth and lucent soul bonding.  

Though Priya had been talking for sometime about “giving back something to the art that has given me so much”, her appointment (July 2013) as the new director of Kalakshetra, Chennai, came as a bolt from the blue. Starting with founder Rukmini Arundale, this 77 year old performing arts institution has been headed by “insiders”.  Trained by gurus belonging to other schools, more solo performer than guru or group choreographer, Priya has no administrative experience either. While her artistic standing is unquestioned, sotto voce apprehensions are rife about her ability to fulfil the role of director of an institution internationally famous for its elegant aesthetics, pedagogical training, and inspired ensemble choreography.

To start as an outsider may be daunting. But is it an insuperable disadvantage? Especially if the entrant has no problems with starting as an earnest novice in a new field? With team spirit? Ready to consult, listen to suggestions? Meet challenges? “You talk about theatre, this is life,” you may say. But are they so different? Aren’t ego-shedding sraddha and sadhana as vital in life as in art?

1 comment:

  1. I have just read with interest Gowrie's report on the Indian theatre in Chennai. I was in India in 2003/2004 and attended the winter arts Festival with my friends Anandhi and Gowrie with whom I was staying and was extremely impressed with all the performances. It was my introduction to all forms of India art and every was well attended. I have since welcomed several of your most talented dancers to my home in London and continue to keep in touch with a all my friends in Chennai.

    Mari I'Anson. London N3 1QN UK.