For fierce critics of classical dance, who often rue that dancers don’t look beyond mythological literature, might have to change their stance now. Classical and contemporary dancers have increasingly sought inspiration from non-mythological literature of late.
For fierce critics of classical dance, who often rue that dancers don’t look beyond mythological literature, might have to change their stance now. Classical and contemporary dancers have increasingly sought inspiration from non-mythological literature of late. From Swami Vivekananda to Kabir’s poems, dancers have taken to various other forms of writing to explore the philosophies of life and showcase them through dance. And it’s not just about adapting the non-mythological literature on stage, it’s also about putting it in the right context. For example, how does one expound the words of wisdom by Kabir on love and death through hastamudras that were traditionally developed due to mythological literature and characters Often battling such challenges, dancers have taken a step forward to explore such words of wisdom. Odissi danseuse Shubhada Varadkar had experimented with Swami Vivekananda’s poems recently. She had adapted some of his works to Odissi on stage. However, her most challenging aspect was depicting certain emotions since there were no hastamudras for that at all. “In classical dance, you solely rely on your hand gestures and facial expressions and body language to convey your point across. But, here I had to take help from our existing hastamudras and then modify it so that it would suit the philosophy of the poems, which was to how that each soul is potentially divine and the struggle is to manifest this divinity,” says Varadkar. Another well-known Odissi dancer Jhelum Paranjape has also adapted Sant Gadge, Tukaram and Bahinabai’s works extensively on stage. In an earlier interview, renowned Bharatnatyam danseuse Alarmel Valli had spoken about her collaboration with poet Arundhati Subramaniam. She had said that much depends on the way in which a poem is interpreted by the dancer. “When you interpret a theme in dance, it is refracted through your own ‘modern’ perceptions and understanding of life, infused with your awareness. It is therefore contemporary, albeit couched in an age old, classical idiom,” she says. She added about how the challenge was to give the poem a fabric of melody to evoke the cadences of the language and also to find the right syntax to translate the metaphors. “Since I simultaneously try to weave my own dance poem around words, the dance therefore becomes a poem, embroidered around a poem,” she explains. While classical dancers have certain restrictions and limitations, contemporary dancers don’t have such boundaries. Noted contemporary dancer Astad Deboo, who recently adapted Manto’s works on stage, admits that a contemporary format gives you more space than classical does. “Manto’s stories were fairly simple to execute on stage because it was about a time when India and Pakistan were going through Partition. However, my most challenging work was Rabindranath Tagore’s poems. I wasn’t going to use Rabindra Sangeet, and yet had the challenge to not deviate from the core philosophy. However, since my production was about interpreting Tagore, I wanted to show how I understood Tagore. Having said that I don’t think the dance fraternity is moving away from mythology. Now we also have modern interpretations of mythology,” he says, citing examples of dancers who have also gone ahead with interpreting Shakespeare and modern-day poems.