Danseuse Bharati Shivaji is an interesting combination of performer, choreographer and guru, she has been researching in Mohiniyattam for over two decades and has played a significant role in the reconstruction of the dance form, re-orienting and revitalizing its concert format, and expanding the parameters of its technique and idiom.
Vijayalakshmi, belonging to the younger generation of Mohiniyattam dancers, brings to the dance form a fresh perspective and insight. Inspired by her mother and guru, Bharati Shivaji's repertoire, she has tried to present new choreographies by drawing upon traditional and contemporary sources.
Many years later, I was interviewing Bharati Shivaji, who also happens to be the co-author of this book, for a programme on All India Radio. She came across as a rather gentle, slightly wounded bird that was pained over the neglect of the dance form. She was dancing a few days later in Delhi and invited for recital.
Out of sheer politeness I went. In a matter of minutes, not only did she wipe away the damage all those years ago, but also won over a firm supported! Despite the limitation of style, for some rasas cant's just be performed in the style for the simple reason that the raison d'etre of this form is bhakti or devotion and shringara or love. Where there is love and devotion, where is the space for raudra or anger and vibhatsa or disdain?
What set Bharati's dance apart was the underlying bhakti. It was complete surrender of the dance and the dancer to the Supreme Being, which has been treated akin to the beloved by so many of our poets. Sure there was enticement or mohanam, but it was as if Radha was beckoning to Krishna. It was so ethereal and subtle that there was no question its "otherworldliness".
The spiritual content of the form them becomes the overriding factor in deciding its quality. Spirituality that is transparent as it is palpable and the dance then becomes an offering to the Supreme Being and the dancer a mere medium. And herein is the biggest challenge of all for dance per se is so body dependent that after a point it becomes self-limiting. For its biggest strength - the body - is also its biggest limitation.
And Mohiniyattam, a dance devised only for mohanam, faces this major hurdle. But when the over riding emotion or bhava, is bhakti, that the strength of the dancer's training and understanding comes into play - where the spirit and thought must transcend the mere body to join the celestial in a dance of complete surrender.
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