Song of Surrender

Friday, 9 May 2014

In step with the times

By S Janaki

29 April 2014  It was a riot of colours as young girls in pavadais, teenagers in half-saris or salwar-kameez, and women draped in saris stepped into the atrium of the Citi Centre mall on Radhakrishnan Road in Mylapore, Chennai. They mingled with the shoppers and hung around the kiosks enjoying their ice-cream, or snacks and hot drinks, or simply window shopping.

At 5.30 pm the music flowed in from the audio system placed strategically near a kiosk, Taking the cue, a few senior dancers casually walked to the centre and broke into adavu movements. As the music played on, more and more dancers joined in groups of five or six. 

In a jiffy, there were as many as 75 classical dancers on the floor. And what did these Bharatanatyam dancers perform? The centuries old Ganesa kavuthvam. Shoppers crowded in, and spectators watched from every floor as they clicked on their cellphones, television cameras rolled and the event was even telecast live on NDTV.

The flash mob was organised by the Association of Bharatanatyam Artistes of India (ABHAI) to mark World Dance Day. It was a delight to watch young students dancing alongside senior artistes. At the end of the kavuthvam, the audience was asked to join the dance to instrumental music and many did so with enthusiasm. The artistes joined hands with the audience and danced in circles, even as some of them performed solos in perfect harmony. Holding a banner proclaiming ‘Viswa Natya Dinam’ two ABHAI members danced their way through the crowd. And as the music faded away, the dancers struck poses and  the crowd cheered. It was a joyous celebration. “We want classical dance to reach more people. We want to de-mystify it and share its celebration,” said Chitra Visweswaran, president of ABHAI, minutes before she was swept into the swirl of colour and movement.

The objective of World Dance Day as declared by the International Dance Council in 1982 is to reach out through dance to places where it is not usually performed. At the end of the presentation at Citi Centre, the message had been successfully and artistically communicated.

“It is the first time I am seeing a flash mob by so many classical dancers. It is beautiful to watch them,” said an onlooker. “It is such a delight to watch so many of them in traditional attire in a swank mall, performing classical dance,” said another.

“It was amazing to dance in a mall to a mixed audience. I am happy to be a part of it,” said a young dance student. “We demonstrated that classical disciplined dancing can also give so much joy,” said a senior dancer-teacher.

How did it all happen? It was an instance of putting social media and technology to good use. The idea of a flash mob mooted in a casual group conversation among dance lovers on Facebook was formally placed before the President of ABHAI by a board member of AAT. Enthused by the idea, the committee swung into action  and initially thought of the Kapali temple in Mylapore as the venue, but younger members came up with the idea of performing in a mall.

With barely a few days to go, arrangements were stepped up. Emails were sent out, and the youtube link of the Ganesa kavuthvam was sent to the dancers who had registered so that they could learn the item. The entire group met just a couple of hours before the event, when the ABHAI committee members tweaked the action into place. The dancers then proceeded in small groups to the Chennai Citi Centre, and what followed made everyone sit up and take note. The AAT crew led by its CEO Rathish Babu and film director and producer Sharada Ramanathan played a major role in facilitating the action.

In the midst of election fever, classical dance caught the attention of the media which generally shies away from coverage of things classical! The flash mob made a splash.

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