Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Choreography in Indian Classical Dance

Choreography in Western Dance may seem limited. But the fact remains that elements of choreography are the basic part of conception in any Western dance creation. But choreography in Indian Classical Dance has not evolved to the extent to which it has in the West. This is because classical dance began as an independent presentation. The purpose of the performance and with it the stage kept changing, and it is this that impacted the presentation.
Most classical dances were created to be performed in temples. Devotion was the sole essence and purpose behind the performance. Dance was a medium of prayer, and an intensely personal one at that. Naturally, the temple platform and the presence of devotees was enough for the presentation. No special thought was given to the aspect of how the presentation could be made more effective.
Later, during the 11th century AD, the dance moved into the courts of the kings. Instead of the temple platform, artists were to perform on a separate half-circular stage. The devotional undertones were replaced with tenets of pure entertainment. This expectation of 'entertainment' from the art form was perhaps the reason why the focus shifted towards the arena of presentation, and therefore, choreography in Kathak.
The shift from a Temple platform to a semi-circular stage brought all three dimensions of Space (i.e. height, length and depth) to the forefront. It opened up the option of using of three main directions and two sub directions on each side and elements like Utplawan, Challang etc. were also used to make better use of this Space. The aesthetic aspect of dance was slowly gaining more importance, because now the performance was for the audience, not for the 'self'.
Today, the stage is a lot more accommodating and, at the same time, demanding. There is a dual purpose to dance - artistic self-fulfillment through creativity as well as visual appeal for the audience. And it is innovation that has lead to the fulfillment of both.
In innovation, it is essential to essentially consider all aspects of choreography for enhancing its effectiveness. In the context of the contemporary stage, consideration for all three basic elements of choreography i.e. Space, Time and Energy must be studied correctly and implemented in a technically perfect manner.
Main aspects of choreography-
1. Theme:
The theme is a critical element for the success of any composition. In Kathak, the theme is represented in two ways - Nritta and Nritya.
a. Nritta
In a Nritta-based composition, the repetitive cycle of the Taal is the main theme. Within a cycle of the Taal various movements, rhythm patterns, compositions (which may be ad-lib i.e. Upaj or pre-fixed i.e. Bandish) are presented in a manner to come back to the first beat of the cycle (sum) at completion, using the artist's body as the medium. A musical composition equaling the cycle of the Taal (Nagma) is used as the measuring scale in this theme.
This theme is easy to understand and appreciate. However, the exact theme to be presented must be decided based on the audience. For instance, complex mathematically challenging patterns should be avoided in front of common public while they can be presented with aplomb in front of connoisseurs.
The Nritta theme, although used predominantly in solo performances, is equally effective for group presentations. A Taal-Mala ( a serial combination of more than two Taals to make it as one cycle) presentation, for example, is more effective in a group setting as it may be too long a cycle for a solo performance in terms of acceptance by the audience.
b. Nritya
In a traditional Kathak performance, Nritya comes in the form of Vandanas, Thumris, Bhajans and Gat-Bhavs. In all these, the theme is mostly based on various mythological situations and characters. Even Indian audiences often comment that the themes seem repetitive. The stories of Radha - Krishna, Yashoda - Krishna or Rakshas - Sanhar represent fundamental human emotions and feelings. And while these feelings are still relevant today, the context is not.
Radha & Krishna embody the emotion of love in the Indian Culture, but they may not be known universally. However, the relation between a man and a woman is more commonly understandable by persons of any nationality and culture.
In today's day & age, using a contemporary theme to represent these emotions is a good idea, because the audience can relate to them more easily and they will also be attracted to the novelty. E.g. A Vandana can be made more relevant if the feeling of devotion is represented by prayers to Nature instead of to a particular God. Even internationally known literature, used as the basis for themes for Indian classical dance, may appeal more to the foreign audience and make them aware of Indian classical dance.
The theme could be common issue of today or an anecdote from mythology. But, whether it is Nritta or Nritya, must be understandable, heart-warming and intellectually stimulating for the audience.
2. Music
Music is a very important element of an Indian classical dance performance. The selection of music to represent any Nritya-based theme must support the mood. Many times, just with the right music, the dancer is in a position to quickly establish the theme being presented.
An elaboration of some aspects of music:
Indian classical music is vast, comprehensive and well structured. The Raags are divided as per time zones and have their own personality i.e. they reflect a particular set of 'moods'. In Indian classical dance, various types of Malhars are used in compositions to represent Varsharutu because of the inherent mood they create, which complements the theme of the dance.
When it comes to the impact music can make on the overall composition of dance, it can be gauged from the fact that, many times, music inspires a composition itself. E.g. Guru Pt. Rohini Bhate's composition of TIME - the inspiring music was western but the composer had used 'Nagmas', which is a purely Indian concept. Another example of theme based music selection in choreography can be seen in another of Rohiniji's compositions - Kathputli (Puppet). The theme is based on a representative woman, who is entangled in daily chores to the extent that, for her, the entire process becomes mechanical. Unlike in the previous example, in this composition, the theme inspires the music. The music selected was pure 'Metronome beats', the monotonous notes of which effectively bring out the repetitive colorless nature of the woman's daily chores. In the theme, when one of the women tries to break this monotony, the metronome beats give way to melodious notes to represent change and when the woman successfully dis-entangles herself, the happiness is brought out through a 'Taraana'.
Many times fusion music can be used very effectively in choreography innovations. Such music can be fusion of instruments from East & West or can also be of these two different types.
In Nritta-based themes, several Indian classical music compositions have been used without any modifications in Kathak. These music compositions do not have any specific theme. Melodious music and suitable beautiful visualization itself are the points of appreciation. Such themes are universal and can appeal to large audience, taking Kathak closer to them.
3. Space:
According to Western concepts, the main elements of choreography are Space, Time and Energy. Let us analyse these aspects in the context of Indian dance.
The main elements of Space are directions, levels, planes and volume.
Directions: In the early times, Indian classical dance mainly used only very few directions. All 'Sam' used to be directed towards the right and entry used to be from the left. Hence, the vocabulary of directions as well as movements remained very limited. But through subsequent innovations by stalwarts, many new directions were added and today the Kathak vocabulary is very rich and provides great scope for creativity.
However, one element needs to be highlighted. In general, while considering a stage, the musicians sit on the left of the audience. Because of this, the center of the stage for the dancer gets shifted from the actual center of the stage. This poses significant challenge for the artist because, if the original center is taken for choreography, there is less space on one side. While if the center of available space is taken for choreography, this center does not align with the center from the audience's perspective. Therefore, there is a need to look at either the seating positions of the musicians on both sides, using the modern technology for maintaining the rapport or putting up an equivalent decoration on the opposite side to the musicians for maintaining the balance of the stage.
A lot of work has also happened in the area of use of levels and planes by many choreographers and Kathak has a good knowledge-base for the use of these elements.
4. Energy:
The requirement of energy in different elements of Kathak is different. For example, in a Paran the energy needs to be thrown out while the 'Thaat' is an example of contained energy. So, within the different elements of Kathak, different types of energy can be represented. Therefore, in a new creative presentation, different energy levels can be very effectively presented through known, established elements of Kathak.
Prerana Deshpande is a traditional Kathak Dancer of repute and a creative choreographer of rare calibre. She is one of the leading Kathak exponents and a complete solo Kathak dancer of her generation. Internationally acclaimed as a creative dancer, she is widely acknowledged for her mastery over various aspects of Kathak.
Prerana studied Kathak under Guru-Shishya Parampara (Master - Disciple tradition) from legendary Dr. Rohini Bhate, the doyen of Lucknow and Jaipur gharanas for over twenty years. She is regarded for her exquisite command over the fundamentals of Kathak - Rhythm, Grace, & Expression and for her creativity rooted in the tradition of this dance form. Greatly appreciated by all audiences for her expertise in Kathak, she is regularly invited to perform as a solo artist at all major venues and festivals in India and abroad.

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