What’s common between Bharatnatyam, Carnatic music and video games? Mathematics. On December 5, all three will be used together to stage a fantasy dance opera in Delhi about South Indian math genius Srinivasa Ramanujan. ‘Antariksha Sanchar’ features projections from a video game as a parallel narrative set to avant garde music and traditional dance. The project is an inspired effort to translate the dreams of Ramanujan in the rich cultural context of the South by imagining his journey from his house in early 20th Century Madurai to planets in the Solar System.
The live show is a synthesis of creative expertise: Bharatanatyam exponent Jayalakshmi Eshwar and her son, noted visual artist Avinash Kumar aka Thiruda of the musical duo BLOT!, and reputed multi-genre musician Sri Rama Murthy aka Murthovic have come together to create living art with India’s first fantasy Bharatanatyam dance opera.
The music score is by a Carnatic-electronic fusion band led by Murthy. Kumar’s team of game developers are meanwhile, creating a video game based on the story line of the show. “‘Antariksha Sanchar’ is an experiment in creating Indian cultural experiences for modern audiences through ‘transmedia storytelling’ —which is the technique of telling a story across multiple platforms and formats using current digital technologies,” says Kumar, adding, “This will be the first instance of such a cultural experience with this composition being attempted and representing the large opportunity that emerging talents have to tap into. The confluence of experimental electronic artists with the experience of stalwart cultural practitioners such as Jayalakshmi Eshwar results in a new paradigm of entertainment and aesthetics that signifies India’s strengths on the global music and arts scene.”
The dance opera was the first step in their plan. The aesthetic choreography of the Bharatanatyam movements and the music were enabled by visual components. The project revels in a strong sense of the South Indian identity. Members of the ‘Antariksha Sanchar’ ensemble give due credit to Kumar and his team for the visual language and backstory that highlights the temples, towns, villages, homes, monuments, customs and traditions typical to South India. Since the story is set partially in 20th Century Madurai, Kumar shares that his team worked to recreate accurate scenes and situations of the period, as Ramanujan travels between dimensions.
He moves between his bedroom and the courtyard of his family home; he visits the neighbourhood temples; he chances upon a cave holding secrets that could unlock the windows of creativity that open out into the Universe. The powerful visual drama exists in many planes simultaneously. For example, when Hanuman is shown visiting Lanka, the visual projection displays the architecture and landscape of Lanka, directly taking the audience into the scene that is playing on Ramanujan’s mind. Fantasy is juxtaposed with interpretation; as mathematician reads about celestial vehicles shaped like animals, he imagines designing them which is in turn projected on the background as the dancers enact the scene in concert. The projections have very specific styles and used steam punk format which was known to be popular in Tamil Nadu.