Bharatnatyam dancer Radica Giri’s return to dance performance marked a beautiful debut. She performed a dance drama for the first time. The dancer based in Saratoga, California and her troupe Anjali Natya performed Chitrangada, the dance drama based on Rabindranath Tagore’s work Chitrangada on a rain-drenched evening in Chennai. Yet, Giri believes the best is yet to arrive.
The adaptation in Bharatnatyam, Mayurbhanj Chhau and Manipuri dance, saw Radica’s narrating the story of Chitrangada, the heir-apparent to the throne of Manipura who falls in love with the Pandava prince Arjuna and embarks on a journey to self-discovery.
The dance drama was the first of its kind to be presented in Bharatnatyam and Chhau to the background score of Carnatic music (composed by Rajkumar Bharati). She says, “I was smitten by the character of Chitrangada ever since I read the play in its English translation. Chitrangada represents the dilemma of every woman. She has been brought up like a man, a warrior to protect her subjects, but yearns to be a beautiful woman once she falls in love with Arjuna. But, despite being torn between her two selves, she wants Arjuna to accept her the way she is.”
Since the days she first read Tagore’s Chitrangada, Radica has been continuously evolving and exploring the the beautifully crafted work of art on stage. While playing the character of Chitrangada, the warrior princess in love, Giri roped in Chhau dancer Rakesh Saibabu for the role of Arjuna. Through Chhau, Giri wanted to connect the audience to India’s East.
A former actor who has worked with Tamil directors like Bharathiraja, Radica started learning dance as a child under Guru KJ Sarasa, an exponent of the Vazhvoor school of Bharatnatyam. She eventually moved to the US after marriage, leaving her film career behind. After a decade long hiatus from dance, Radica reunited with it in 2000 and resumed her training under A Lakshman, a senior student of Sarasa, mostly during her visits to India during the summer vacation. Today, Radica is a well-known performer at the Chennai sabhas every winter and teaches Bharatnatyam to a class of 70 students at her institute Anjali Natya in California. A group comprising schoolgirls from her troupe flew down to India to perform Chitrangada. “The girls spent their entire summer practising for the dance drama,” she says. The play was translated into Tamil by Kalpakam Srnivasamurthy and choreographed by Radica’s abhinaya gurus Bragha Bessel and L Narendra Kumar.
Radica now plans to improvise on the production and stage it in Malaysia, Singapore, Mumbai, Delhi and San Fransisco. Investing great trust in the genre and the elements of dance, acting, costumes, lights and music—Radica thinks it should be promoted to bring people more closer to art. “A dance drama scores high on the element of entertainment and reaches a wider audience. Through Chitrangada, I wanted to reach out to more people,” says Radica who is presently working on another script. She concludes, “There is no harm fusing Indian dance forms or blending them with western dance forms if the story in the production calls for it.”