S.Rajam’s (Music Appreciation notes)

Wednesday, 30 January 2019


Blending tradition and technology
A scene from Antariksha Sanchar
Antariksha Sanchar—a transmedia dance opera, staged recently in Delhi and Mumbai, brought together Bharatanatyam and an upcoming adventure video game named Antariksha Sanchar: Transmissions in Space. A collaboration between artist Avinash Kumar (Thiruda) and Bharatanatyam dancer Jayalakshmi Eshwar, Antariksha Sanchar was based on a fictitious story about Srinivasa Ramanujan’s dream that leads him to build a vimana (interplanetary vehicle) to travel to the cosmos.
Presented by Red Bull Music, the project with hyperglobal progressive ideas, had its inception in an hour-long performance of Jayalakshmi on Indian mythology—depicting  birds, flights and vimanas way back in 2010 and a videogame inspired by the cultural richness of south India that Thiruda has been working on for six years now. An eclectic fusion of Carnatic music, Indian classical dance and video games, the protagonist of the story is Srinivasa Ramanujan, who expounded some of the world’s most important mathematical ideas. Jayalakshmi Eshwar played Sita, Ramanujan’s mother and S. Sushmita played Ramanujan. 
The music was set by Hyderabad-based Murthovic, a DJ and electronic music producer from Red Bull Music with two decades of experience in the field. The rest of the music ensemble consisted of Raghuram Hari (mridangam), Shri (vocals), Abhijit Gurjale (violin), Hitesh Kumar (drums) and Yanni (piano).
Divided into five segments, act one began with an elegant salute to Lord Ganesa who resides in the wish-fulfilling Kalpavriksha; this was accompanied by animated visuals and psychedelic tunes denoting Ramanujan’s mind.
A man from the future enters an old palace where he finds an ancient book. The scene shifts to 1913 to the beautiful temple town of Madurai where people are celebrating the annual Navagraha festival hailing the nine planets of the solar system. A troupe of five dancers perform  in apt synchronisation against the backdrop of digitised images of Madurai’s landscape—its trees, water bodies, fields, city landmarks and temples highlighting the city’s colours, carvings and paintings. The images are interspersed with dialogue, dance, visuals, music and expressions that carry the story forward. A saint appears in Ramanujan’s dream and tells him that he is to embark on a cosmic voyage in a vimana. His mission would be to align the nine cosmic planets.
In The Myth (act two) Sita tells her son stories of space travel mentioned in ancient Indian texts like  the Vaimanika Sastra, a Sanskrit text on aerospace technology that describes vimanas as  advanced aerodynamic flying vehicles. She also narrates Lord Hanuman’s supernatural flying abilities.
Act three provides the audience a visual treat of the flight dance. Sita tells her son about a mystical place called the Vimana temple which abounds in sculptures. The dancers depict the sculptures through movements and poses, such as the fluttering of feathers and the peacock vimana.
In act four, The Contraption—Ramanujan’s magical vehicle is created with the help of the two engines of fire and water—philosophically the two elements that help to balance body, mind and soul. The dancers perform the Suryanamaskara—to depict fire as a source of energy  to initialise the vimana. Water, which equates calmness and reflection, is used as a metaphor for peaceful meditative cooling through unwavering focus and centering. The harmony of fire and water leads to the creation of the vimana. A trance-like dance sequence for an EDM in fast tempo is accompanied by kaleidoscopic images in the background. The use of the corresponding red and blue lights accompanied by rhythmic dance movements and foot-tapping musical beats in this sequence is spectacular.
The final act, called The Pilgrimage, shows the vehicle taking off into outer space—through the sky embellished with millions of stars and fabled creatures, such as dinosaurs, aliens, gods and goddesses—and finally landing back on earth. The enthusiastic dance ensemble comprising the entire troupe and the use of vibrant colours had the audience applauding Ramanujan’s victory.
Antariksha Sanchar, which plans to tour south India this year, is a family entertainer—an amalgam of history, science, mythology, fantasy, dance, music, art and theatre. An original idea, it has made a unique attempt to communicate stories of the past to the next generation through technology. It is also a tribute to the city of Madurai—its history and heritage; legends and landscape. It endeavours to convey the message that each individual has to discover his or her own ‘vimana’ to find satisfaction and a sense of fulfilment in life.

(The author is a freelance writer)

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