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Promoting Mohiniyattam

Four schools and a festival

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Four eminent schools of Mohiniyattam will converge to showcase the unique aspects of each school.


It's her fourth in the four decades she has been performing and promoting Mohiniyattam in India and the world. Her tireless efforts have significantly helped this dance form with its roots in Kerala to journey northwards and acquire a pan-Indian identity, appeal and audience.

"It hasn't been easy though, " Padma Shri Bharati Shivaji says, sitting in her Delhi home in Greater Kailash that doubles as the Centre for Mohiniyattam, her 28-year-old dance institute that she founded originally as the Kala Ambalam and that was inaugurated by the great arts patron Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay. "Ever since I decided to make Mohiniyattam my life, my efforts have been focused on infusing this form - counted among the last of the classical styles to have developed in India - with a burst of energy and rejuvenation. "

More specifically, her projects included creating a new repertoire for Mohiniyattam and curating a festival every decade. In 2001, following the Edinburgh Festival, Shivaji invited young dancers of Mohiniyattam from across different schools (in India) to showcase their work to an intimate but interested audience in Delhi. These democratic and inclusive platforms have emerged as talking points and opportunities for sharing, interaction and engagement among the exponents, aspirants and audiences of Mohiniyattam.

Simply stated, senior-most dancers (Vijayalakshmi, Athira Shankar, Olga, Pallavi Krishnan and Mandakini Trivedi) from the four eminent schools of Mohiniyattam - Kerala Kalamandalam, Kalamandalam Kalyanikutty Amma, Dr Kanak Rele and Bharati Shivaji - will showcase their school's unique aesthetic. Their individual distinctiveness will be among the core subjects of conversation at the Mohiniyattam Festival. The festival also includes the screening of a documentary called Lasya Lahari by G S Chani and a photo exhibition - that documents the story and growth of Mohiniyattam - compiled by Ashish Khokar.

"Let me be honest, " says Shivaji. "We are not expecting a power-packed audience. Having said that, over the last decade or so, we have managed to cultivate an audience for Mohiniyattam in Delhi. We, at the Centre for Mohiniyattam, believe that it is our role to reach out to the audience in a way that appeals to them. "

Look at Swan Lake for example. A choreographed work in Mohiniyattam based on the celebrated composition of the Russian composer Tchaikovsky, it is considered a path-breaking creation by Vijayalakshmi, Shivaji's daughter and a dancer in her own right. The work reveals the potential and possibilities of the dance form. Last year, at Dehli's Kamani auditorium, Shivaji and her dancers presented Mohiniyattam that was set to Rabindra Sangeet. "I think, throughout my career in Mohiniyattam, I have been trying to incorporate what wasn't in it and what are the possibilities, " Shivaji says.

The good news is, many dancers in this genre are thinking like that and pushing the envelope, both their own and that of the form. Mumbai-based Mandakini Trivedi, who initially trained under Dr Kanak Rele and has now developed her own repertoire, will perform at the festival. "Mohiniyattam is an exciting place to be in right now, " she says. "A lot of work is waiting to be done and for it to become popular, every dancer is, in a way, compelled to be creative. " Recognising that Mohiniyattam often tends to get static, Trivedi's search has really been centered on "incorporating a dynamic aesthetic to the form". Dynamism, in her scheme of things, doesn't necessarily mean tampering with content. "For a layman, what makes a difference is the treatment, " she explains. "I think Indian literature is so rich and vibrant. But what I try to do to make it more appealing is to texture it with different rhythms and body stances, leg extensions, elevations that make it intelligent, exciting and even spiritual. "

Gatherings like the Mohiniyattam festival are also ideal centres for elaborate discussions on the future of the genre. "I think it's a step in the right direction, " says Pallavi Krishnan, a Bengali Mohiniyattam dancer who lives in Thrissur. Trained in Kalamandalam, Krishnan also spent a few years studying with Bharati Shivaji. A thinking artiste who likes to incorporate the best of both worlds in her dance, she says, "At the end of the day, to appeal to an audience, I need to tell a good story, and tell it well. " You bet!

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