Vikram’s Across not Over
Sitara Studio in Dadar, with its rough look, peeling walls, high ceiling and a come-one-come-all neutrality of character, was the perfect space for Junoon to present Across, Not Over last week. It conjured up no preconceptions about what we were about to witness. The mind became a tabula rasa waiting to receive fresh impressions. Supported by the India Foundation for the Arts under its Arts Practice programme, Across, Not Over, choreographed by Chennai-based contemporary dancer Preethi Athreya and performed by Kolkata-based Kathak dancer Vikram Iyengar, was aimed at seeing how the two forms of dance could interact to produce a third, equally valid, form.
It was an intriguing piece of contemporary choreography that occasionally revealed an underlayer of Kathak consciousness, like some old palimpsest peeping out through new overwriting. For the first fifteen minutes, the dancer, wearing a pair of dark pants with a yellow belt, the kind that you and I might wear, stood in an upstage corner of the performance space with his back turned to us. No traditional performing artist ever does that. It is on the face that emotions inscribe themselves and tell their story. But here, the dancer's initial stance itself said there would be no story, or at least none in the accepted sense of the word.
His story unfolded on his back, narrated by his bones and musculature working around the spine. Absolutely still from the waist down, the dancer stretched and contracted his muscles, arched back, dropped a shoulder, lifted an arm to make a hand gesture reminiscent of Kathak and squeezed his shoulders backwards to bring his scapulae together to create a Rorschach test-like effect. The lighting contoured every line of each image.
Although there was no accompanying percussion and the dancer's movements were slow and deliberate, they were governed by rhythm all the same. The sound track played what one might call a lehra, the repetitive melody that accompanies Kathak, but with a difference. This sound, though continuous, was not melodic. It was like a dry surface being swept rhythmically with a stick broom or like someone walking over a carpet of dried leaves. That, combined with the flow of images on the dancer's back, made for a hypnotic effect.
Suddenly a thumri broke out over the scraping, crackling sound, creating a frisson between the traditional words describing Krishna and their interpretation on the dancer's back. Aawata Shyam lachak chale mukut dhare/Murali aisi baji sab man ko hare. There comes Shyam wearing a crown, walking with graceful gait / Playing his flute and winning hearts. The 'lachak' of Krishna's gait is an animation of the tribhang or three-break pose in which Krishna is generally portrayed as standing. The dancer twisted his torso off-axis from his waist to represent it.
And all this while a pair of bright-coloured sneakers stood neatly in the downstage corner diagonally across from the dancer. As one watched Iyengar's back dancing, one couldn't help but wonder when the sneakers would come into play and how? A line of deliberate tension was thus created between the two opposing points and it was along this line that the dancer moved when he finally turned to face us.
Now began what one might call the second movement of the dance. The earlier verticality, so much part of Kathak, was abandoned for work on the ground. This involved rolling around, balling up the body and extending it to form interesting shapes. In the process, the dancer was allowing it to be streaked with the royal blue powder that marked out the performance space. This is where the sneakers revealed their purpose. Iyengar wore them on his hands and tapped out an endearing little dance. Then, ritualistically, as though he was tying ghungroos round his ankles, he put them on his feet and danced Kathak, streaked in blue. Krishna?
The latter part of the dance was performed to a recorded conversation on the sound track between the dancer and a group of young people, regarding the response that the word 'classical' evoked in them. Reactions went from the pious "spiritual" to the down-to-earth "boring". As the dancer removed his shoes reverently, the accompanying conversation aroused mild mirth in the audience. We never laugh in a Kathak performance. The last frontier had been transgressed.
With Across, Not Over, Vikram Iyengar and Preethi Athreya have cleared a space for a Kathak- trained body to discover another, equally rigorous way of expressing itself. As an experiment, it was immensely stimulating; as a performance, gripping.
Published On : 01-04-2015