The Essence of Grace
By Navamy Sudhish | Express Features | Published: 04th December 2013 08:44 AM |
Unniyarcha is a tempestuous beauty straight out of the local folktale where as Odette is the tragic heroine of ‘Swan Lake’, the renowned Russian ballet composed by Tchaikovsky. Both the ladies are least expected in a mohiniyattam production, but then Vijayalakshmi is a danseuse who treads the untrodden. Instead of sticking to routine ‘padams’ and stutis’ she goes for themes that pique the performer in her. She brings the feminine energy to a simmering boil as strains of vadkkan pattu fill the air.
As the fiery Unniyarcha, she borrows heavily from kalarippayattu, but never breaking the original template of her art form. When the Mohini metamorphoses into Odette, the original opera score is played in the background instead of idakka and veena. But the lady in white-and-gold dancing costume is never a mismatch as she brilliantly captures the pathos and poignancy. “I wanted a break from the routine weepy padams drenched in sringara and Unniyarcha gave me an opportunity to explore ‘veera rasa’,” says the dancer.
For Vijayalakshmi, renowned mohiniyattam dancer and this year’s Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Akademi Award winner, her art form is a celebration of femininity. “I never connect grace with passivity and always look upon mohini as an intelligent and intense woman. For me she is not just a dumb beauty, the mindless enchantress,” she says.
The dancer says she was struck by the story of Unniyarcha the moment she heard it. “She was a lady of valour, a character I could easily relate to. Kalarippayattu is like a parent art form to mohiniyattam in terms of technique so it fit into the dance format very well. But the whole concept brought a revolution in the repertoire of mohiniyattam,” she says.
Demolishing cliches was her forte as an artist and Vijyalakshmi says ‘Swan Lake’, which premiered in Delhi to tremendous response in 2005, was a production everybody was skeptical about.
“I used the original Tchaikovsky music and I was very sure about it. I believe if you can protect the essence of an art form, deviations will never be a problem. The music went well with the slow swayings of mohiniyattam and now ‘Swan Lake’ has become a landmark production. It’s one of the first attempts of its kind in the realm of Indian classical dance. We were invited to the famed Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow and Conservatory Theatre in St Petersburg to stage it which I consider a great honour,” says Vijaylakshmi who has quite a few laurels to her credit including the Sanskriti Nritya Puraskar and Rashtriya Ekta Award.
As an artist she was destined to live a splendid legacy. Being the daughter of Padma Shri Bharati Shivaji, a name synonymous with mohiniyattam, she grew up in an ambiance where it was ‘impossible not to dance’.
“I feel so fortunate to have my mother and guru rolled into one. I am always in awe of her, especially for the transformation she brought in the dance form,” she says. The mother-daughter duo also has a Hollywood documentary on them - ‘Beyond Grace’ that premiered at the Raleigh Theatre in Los Angeles. Vijyalakshmi says her tryst with dance started with bharatanatyam which she practised for 15 long years.
“Then I reached a point where I could not relate to it and switched my focus entirely to mohiniyattam. The same thing happened with my mother too. She did Kalakshetra style of bharatanatyam for 25 years and then took to mohiniyattam in her 30s.”
Vijyalakshmi has only one rule when it comes to experimentation: You can always improvise, but your idiom should be strong and proper.
“Don’t mistake stagnation for tradition. When things are constantly evolving around us why always stick to a certain pattern. If you have a sound understanding of the essence and basics of a dance form you can later build on it. It’s just like language, if your syntax is perfect you can write poetry, prose or travelogue,” she adds.
The dancer says art is a dynamic ever-evolving force and innovation is the law of nature. “I am always involved in something new and different. Our latest is a production based on ‘Ramcharitmanas’, the epic poem in Awadhi. It premiered just a few days back I am still upbeat about the response it got,” she signs off.