Prelude to Paris
If you are an artist, you got to present your art in Paris. And, if Paris takes you seriously, then consider, you are complete as an artist. From my own personal journey, I feel for an artist, especially for a dancer- Chidambaram and Paris are destinations that will help the soul to progress. If you know you are in a journey, then you will also know where you need to show progress, isnt it?! In that sense, Chidambaram is important for understanding traditions, and Paris is important for understanding how traditions are transient.
When I say tradition, please don't block your minds- "Oh no, here she goes again." Most of the time, I refer to traditions as a pedagogy, a methodology, a discipline, a well defined framework. Afterall, all art forms follow a tradition, it merely differs in what it aims to do. So, anyway, Paris! I knew my turn will come, but when it came, how do I carry myself and my art to a foreign land; and, how can I convincingly project myself as a cultural ambassador being true to Indian traditions? Then, one day I found my solution. My friend JC had advised me, "Deepa, what you do is beautiful. But don't be just beautiful. I would want you to explore yourself beyond beauty." Jayachandran who is popular as JC, is a scholar. He is a walking encyclopaedia who I regard greatly. He has spent years interacting directly with many sculptors, and devadasi-s. The sculptors of Kaveri belt are a knowledge bank on traditions, symbolism and culture. If we are celebrating the statue Nataraja, then, know this- it must have been an artistic exploration coming from that traditional lineages. They keep their trade a secret and they share their knowledge only with the righteous. JC achieved to take them into confidence to learn about hereditary traditions and he has shared with me on how they approached traditions. If I represent a tradition today, then these hereditary practitioners are my cultural roots. India is the only ancient civilization that has cultural continuity flowing till today; that too, because we still have a few trees that haven't gotten uprooted.
Well anyway… going beyond beauty... JC was asking me to not create hedonic experiences for the audience as an entertainer, rather, he wanted me to leave the audience with a transcendental experience.
Transcendental.... What does this transcendental mean? Why talk cryptically all the time, isn't it? Trust me, I used to also feel the same way, when some learned audience used lend me their feedbacks. But, I think I can make it easy for you all to comprehend, thanks to Hollywood.
Have you seen the XMen series? Now recollect Dr. Charles- Professor X. Prof X's mutation was that he had the ability to connect with various levels of minds across space. Now in XMen First Class, try to recollect the part where he connects to the mind of Magneto and fine tunes his conscience? Hmmm… What do you think of that? Possible right?! Well... Leaving the audience with a transcendental experience means something like that.
In my trade, the final stage of mastery is being able to achieve that, that too consistently. JC was asking me to push myself for more. Dancing anybody can do... but for what JC is asking of me, I will have to appeal to the senses of my viewers and then guide their sensibilities by working my way into the unknown spaces of their minds.
Humans are considered to be a superior species, because our minds are so layered, complex and powerful. So the task was not impossible but demanding and challenging. What also bothered me was, even if I did succeed in catching the attention of their conscience, how can I leave an imagery of God or Godhead through a native tradition that too in relevance to a global culture. A country's belief and its practices are defined by popular faith, and this is a challenge for any traditional artist because the world is so divided on matters of faith and minds are so conditioned and rigid. Will I gather the minds with imageries of beauty, giving them a taste of beauty beyond the obvious... major cause for nervousness.
My next challenge was that I must create dimensions of circularness by touching the space with my hands, feet, body and eyes such that circular energies flowing is clearly visible without any discontinuity. When it comes to working the body, the energy needed for creating circular movements is more complex and greater than creating linear movements. That is why the time cycle is slowed down in Mohiniyattam. The dancer has to show how she achieves complete control of the body to master balance. I was praying that my body would co-operate and hold up through the length of the performance - I have had serious back injuries earlier - so the fear resides in the mind and will do its bit. And I really hoped that people understood that although everything appeared slow, simple and merely graceful; in real, simplicity is still the hardest to achieve, and grace is the most difficult to practice. Other worries that favoured against me were- few seniors have performed Mohiniyattam, a market for Mohiniyattam hasn't gotten created like how there is one for Bharatanatyam, Kathak or Odissi. SO I had to do it right for Mohiniyattam!
To be continued...
Photo courtesy: Kalai Arasu