New beginnings are here for an old hero, and how

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Next week, male mythological figures, gentry or otherwise, are set to arrive in style. This year’s edition of NCPA’s Mudra Dance Week focuses on the nayaka, the hero, casting a different light over fundamental characters and myths represented in Indian classical dance. It is not a question of resurgence, for the nayaka was always there. He is the origin and often the goal. Yet, there is hardly any talk of how Krishna must feel. Radha, meanwhile, almost seems a close friend; we know about every stage of her love, from the body that wilts away in agony due to separation to the torn lips that are the result of a night of passionate lovemaking.
The nayaka of Mudra Dance Week, thus, is not a revolutionary being brought into existence, but a foregrounding of classical dance troops that are taken for granted and tend to go unnoticed. By bringing the nayaka into the limelight, the festival investigates his role in dance and broaches the delicate subject of the male dancer in Indian dance.
Though the nayika is better-represented in classical dance, she also exists to support the myth of her male counterpart. The key nayakas and nayikas of our dance repertoire are seen through the eyes of male poets and on many occasions, male composers. Amrita Lahiri, head – programming (dance) at NCPA feels that the topic calls for introspection beyond simplistic assumptions of a male gaze. She says, “If you look at nature, there is giving and taking; the woman is often the receiver, the man provides. This was the perspective and philosophy of the great poets and it has more to do with the idea of the woman being more expressive; she is the one who emotes the impact of all that is happening in the world.”
Lingaraj Pradhan, who will open the festival on April 26, is a dancer with Bhubaneswar’s Rudrakshya, a company that started out as a group of predominantly male dancers dedicated to creating and performing male-oriented Odissi choreography. “Odissi compositions are usually more suited to the female body. My guru, Bichitrananda Swain, is working on purush ang compositions. One of them is a piece on Karna that I plan to perform this time. Earlier, opportunities for male dancers were scarce. That mindset is changing slowly and more avenues have opened up now,” he explains.
Later the same evening, Shambhavi Vaze will perform with her Kathak troupe, exploring Rama and Krishna through Kathak’s intricate system of tala.
On April 27, Margi Vijaykumar will perform Poothanamoksham in the Kathakali style. Poothanamoksham is the story of the demoness Poothana, sent by Kamsa to kill the baby Krishna. Some versions of the story end with Poothana recognising Krishna’s divinity and feeling remorse just as she breathes her last.
Odissi dancer Sharmila Biswas and her troupe will perform next. Her first piece is Ramashtakam, which describes the attributes of Rama. It will be followed by Shiva Parvati Shabda, which shows how the male and female energies in a dancer’s body are a cumulative force.
She says, “As dancers, we have to be completely neutral; only then can we express what the role demands, whether it is male or female. Odissi is considered to be soft, lyrical and graceful and it is taken for granted that women look better in this dance. But through a dance that juxtaposes male and female energies, you can compare two different techniques and see how they complement each other.”
Bharatanatyam dancer S. Divyasena will present a joint performance based on Krishna with Kuchipudi dancer Shobha Korambil. Divyasena, who is also trained in Kuchipudi, explains that her experience in both styles made the task of choreographing across dance forms easier on April 28. She says, “We will explore three phases – Krishna the child, shringara Krishna and bhakti Krishna. We will perform an invocation and thillana together. The other pieces include a varnam, a tarangam and an ashtapadi.”
On World Dance Day, April 29, Odissi dancer Sujata Mohapatra will perform a suite of three pieces. This includes two pieces on Rama and one pure dance piece set to Raga Hamsadhwani, all choreographed by her father-in-law, the legendary Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra.
Sheejith Krishna, who brings an all-male troupe to the festival, also dances on the same day. Krishna credits his understanding of a gender-specific dance vocabulary to his training in the Kalakshetra style.
“At Kalakshetra, the same bodily movements and gestures are taught in gender-specific ways even as female and male dancers learn together in the classroom. Male dancers inherit a distinctively masculine style in this tradition. But in other schools and styles, it is possible that the female teacher might teach the male student to imitate her feminised body language. The male dancer too, might follow the female teacher blindly, without making the movements his own.”

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