Synchronising with mood, movement

Miracles still happen! Many art lovers of the present generation have not even heard of it, until it came as a huge surprise to them. Almost 200 years after the major Russian classical music composer, Tchaikovsky, wrote his celebrated “Romeo and Juliet Overture” in 1812, people at a recent Indo-Russian cultural forum in Chennai to honour Tamil writer D Jayakanthan, were astounded that it could have a new “Avatar”. 

This singular orchestral composition dramatically came bang on time from a mystic treasure-house as it were, as the organisers screened a vintage DVD of a dance performance of the outstanding Indian danseuse,  Padma Subrahmanyam choreographing “Jatayu Moksham” from the great epic “Ramayana” to Tchaikovsky’s grand music. It was 25 years after she had mesmerised a large audience in Moscow in 1987 with this brilliant piece, correlating a western classical music composer with an ancient eastern dance tradition. Padma, who has been continuously performing on stage for the last 60 years, decodes how she did it in a rare interview to M R Venkatesh of Deccan Herald in Chennai. 
Excerpts:
What inspired this project and how it became possible?

Well, I did not have any specific occasion in my mind when this came in my mental picture. As I was listening to this music, the whole choreography came to my mind simultaneously. This was way back in 1987. It so happened that when I was resting, I was listening to Tchaikov­sky’s symphony. By the way, I am also a student of western music. My master’s degree was in “Ethno-Musicology”, and Tchaikovsky is one of my very favourite composers.

When I was listening to the “Overture” of this great composer to “Romeo and Juliet”, every musical phrase had a mood and movement in my mind. And without any big effort, the scenes that I had portrayed (in my dance) from the “Rama­yana”, starting from Sita asking Rama to get her the golden deer, till the death of “Jatayu” and Rama giving liberation to the father-like bird, everything fell in place for me, in one intuitive grasp as it were.  Of course, I listened to it (the music) several times. But to give a visual form to what had been in my mental activity is yet another thing. So what happened was, as soon as I completed this in my mind picture, I had a flash of thought! How I wish I could present this in Moscow!

It was providence I think. Within a week, I had an invitation to perform in Moscow and other parts of the (erstwhile) Soviet Union, as part of the India Festival there. Immediately, I thought this was too much of a coincidence. It was much more than that. I thought it was god’s Will. And when I presented this in Moscow, the press wrote there that “Padma has united the soul of India with that of Russia ”. Later, its echo was there when I perfor­m­ed in London and America. Much more surprising than all that was I had a standing ovation when back home I performed the same piece at the Music Academy here.
Would you call this a stunning fusion of eastern dance and western music?

No. I would not call this a fusion. It was not something which can be termed a product of contrived creativity. It was not contrived at all. The whole thing flowed from within and you saw how the music, movement and mood completely merged. It was really nothing but god’s grace. This is how I look at it. How did you synchronise these two traditions?

See, technically speaking, from the point of view of dance technique, there is nothing western in it as you would have noticed. It is based on my reconstruction of the movements from the ‘Natya Shastra’, called the “karanaas”, “Jaaris”, movements of the leg, etc. that is the whole body is used to bring out ideas, concepts and also the mood. So, every musical phrase (of Tchaikovsky) seems to completely synchronise with the mood and movement (of my dance). And one more gratifying experience in Russia is that even an average Russian child is aware of the “Ramayana”. So, such factors also aided the fusion?

Of course, it aided. And one very strange experience that I would like to narrate here, which I have never said all these years. In one of my other performances in Russia at a place called Donetsk, I was performing this item. In that perfo­rm­ance, I had a very strange feeling of the presence of the composer, which I didn’t feel even in Moscow. When I was dancing, I had a special vibration in my body. I felt the presence of the composer. But I didn’t know anything about that hall.

After the show, I asked the Director of the Philharmonic Hall what was there behind my back curtain, as I felt some special vibration from there. And to my pleasant shock, she said the huge organ which used to be played by Tchaikovsky is kept right behind that curtain. I requested the Director to remove the curtain as I wanted to see it. And when everybody had left, with just the officials there, I perform­ed the whole item once again with the curtain open! So, this was a very strange experience! I did not know anything about what was there or that Tchaikovsky was regularly playing that Organ there. So, that is why I say this whole item is God’s Grace.
Does this show our classical dance forms have a universal import?

Most certainly. Particularly, when the dance is directly following “Natya Shastra”; it is the fountainhead of the various streams of both classical and folk arts, not only within the Indian sub-continent but also the whole of Asia, in fact Eurasia.  

Hence, I wanted to create a Memorial shrine for Bharata Muni and make that the pivot of an Asian Museum of Performing Arts. It is called “Bharata Museum of Performing Arts” and there will be an “Ilango Adigal Auditorium”. This complex named, “Bharata-Ilango Foundation for Asian Culture”, will be a pan-Asian research centre. The land for it at Pattipulam village near Mamallapuram was given by J Jayalalitha in her previous tenure.

She also gave a personal donation of Rs 27 lakh for the project. 

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