Dance, as a personality...

Mayuri's moves

Dance, as a personality...

Mayuri Upadhya was putting together a qawwali piece for the highly-acclaimed Mughal-E-Azam with Feroz Abbas Khan. The Broadway-style musical had to equal the K Asif classic not just in grandeur but also in class and style. “I had designed a beautiful moving piece for the qawwali, but sir (Feroz) wanted a baithak. I wasn’t too sure of how appealing that would be; my choreographed pieces are all about movement,” says Mayuri. But the final act took her breath away. “We finally decided to come halfway, both of us, and the piece looked so beautiful! People walked up to me to compliment me on the qawwali piece specifically, just as sir had predicted,” she smiles.

That’s the way Mayuri is — passionate about her work and extremely dedicated, but willing to learn in spite of her proficiency in her craft. “It was the first time I was doing theatre. It’s a style that was very different, and I wasn’t well-versed in it. The narrative is the hero here,” she says candidly. The founder of Nritarutya, an organisation for developing contemporary dance, this danseuse has performed with her troupe before PM Narendra Modi for the ‘Make In India’ event and the Queen of England, besides top industrialists. It’s her signature productions that have created an indelible mark on her audiences — be it ‘Make in India’, ‘Madhur Milan’, ‘Katha Parva’, ‘Madhushala’, ‘Mangalyam’, ‘Nav Durga’, or works like ‘Kaali’ (commissioned for the royal family of Mysore Wadiyars).

Mayuri’s dance is all about rhythmic artistry in a spatially demanding setup. The movement is fluid and magically moves from thought to expression, creating what we call the ‘wow’ factor. What do you call the style? Well, that’s a seriously difficult question to answer. The lady is  trained in bharatanatyam, kathak, kalaripayattu, chhau and odissi. Wait, there is also power yoga.

“I think whatever you see of me on stage is due to some manufacturing defect!” she laughs, reminiscing how she would dance to everything from ABBA to Hawa Hawai to Brown Girl In The Ring in her childhood. “I don’t know where the madness comes from and how it has developed, but it’s there. I think my style is an Indian contemporary style. Many people call it the Mayuri Upadhya signature style!”

For Mayuri, every project is different. “Dance is not a cut-and-paste job. You need to understand what is the purpose of your piece, how you can translate the emotions to stage and touch the audience. For that, you need to be versatile,” she says. Her organisation offers commercial services for corporate events, wedding and social events, films and advertising, and even choreography consultation.

The challenge in her job is not the daredevil aerial pieces or co-ordinated choreography, feels Mayuri. “Rather it is artiste management. You are working with people out there, sometimes 8 or 10, sometimes 100! While you are working on a project, you are like a zombie — completely on auto mode. Working without a break can get extremely challenging and stressful. So when you are dealing with such a scale, dance is just one aspect of it; it’s your people-management skills that are actually at test. It’s an emotionally demanding job,” confesses Mayuri.

She says that most of the time it is meditation that helps her conceive a dance piece. “Meditating certainly helps. Once I know the specifications of the required piece, I turn to my intuition. I can visualise how it will turn out,” she says.

Mayuri is convinced that dance knows no boundaries, and she wants to ensure that through Nrityarutya everyone has access to this art. She organises Prayog, an annual festival there, which is a series of dance experiments. “It attracts the most diverse audience — from 16-year-olds to old people being wheeled in to watch a performance! I want to be known neither as a purist nor as a mass commercial performer. I want to cut across age, thinking and social strata with my dance,” she says.

Mayuri’s work was recently seen in the film Mirzya as well. “It was a completely new medium for me. Here, it’s just the lens of the camera; you make it your friend and there you have it! I’m not particularly attracted to films, but the deciding factors really are the director, the script, and how my elements are given space in the film.”
When her team performed at the ‘Make In India’ event at Hannover in Germany, it was a very special moment for Mayuri. “When you perform abroad for your country, it’s an astounding feeling. We were a troupe of 106 dancers and both, the performers and the audience, had become one. Art really goes beyond the stage; I could sense it. You are not seen as a dancer but as the dance.”

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