Singapore-based Bharatanatyam artist Mohanapriyan Thayarajah in conversation with Ekatmata Sharma, throws light on his narrative behind ‘Param Padam’, a performance based on snakes and ladders.
What went behind creating a Bharatanatyam piece on the board game Snakes and Ladders?
I aim to bring new narratives through Bharatanatyam that can resonate with young audiences, especially from the urban cities. In this fast-moving world and modernising cosmopolitan society, traditions and customs are neglected and often portrayed as old-fashioned and irrelevant among the youngsters. Our traditions not only bring an identity of who we are but also add more value to our lives. The negligence of tradition can cause a loss of audience for art and culture. It is important to educate youngsters in society about what heritage can contribute to better our morality in lives. Parama Padam is one such initiative to bring to the vanguard the unknown factors of the Ancient Indian game and its philosophy, teaching good moral values of human life in a thematic Bharatanatyam recital.
In the choreography, you showcased saints from the Bhakti Movement, any particular reason for the same.
The approach to the choreography is an imagination through a journey of a soul who tries to reach the hundredth square, the seventh door of Vaikunda, the abode of lord Vishnu. He meets Chitragupta, the account of good and bad deeds of humans and gives examples of Saints who have attained Mokasha and asks why he fails every time. The souls explain Lord Rama’s Family visit to the poor Thyagarajah’s home to have a meal, The mount of Lord Vishnu, Garuda flies Tukuram to Vaikunda, and Periyazhawar receives the Darshan of Vishnu and Mahalakshmi appearing in Garuda. But Chitagupta gives the examples of Ravana, who is Shiva‘s Devotee, and Meera, the ardent devotee of Krishna; he expounds on the Snakes, vices and ladders, virtues in their life journey. The soul realises at the end Salvation or the Hundred Square is not just a place of destination but a way of existence.
I also wanted to showcase the fascinating literary work of various Saint from different regions of India so that it brings diverse yet authentic flavour to the music and gives variety for the audience to savour pan-Indian musicality as well.
What challenges you faced while working on this unique concept?
This performance is only sixty minutes, and I was on stage throughout the entire duration of the show as how the game is played until the end. The concept can be complex in translation to Dance. In order to keep the effective translation of the message I had to choreograph the content precisely. This helped many audiences of Parama Padam to enjoy the message, dance, music, theatre and lighting effects. For this solo work, I worked with the dramaturg, who is someone who holds a critical and crucial role in the making. I was very fortunate to be able to work with the Melbourne-based Drametrug Lim Howneagan who added lots of perspective from the audience’s point of view and made sure that my abstract ideas were communicated clearly to the intended. This process of building the composition made me rework some of the elements in the production, certain scenes I had to choreograph differently to achieve what I wanted to present to my audience.
Do you believe male Bharatanatyam dancers are given their due like female dancers on stage?
The scene for male dancers is changing though not equal numbers to female dancers but there is a bar lifted in numbers in recent years. As far as the artistry of an artist is concerned male dancers have been treated equally and they bring on stage some of the incredible works. Considering the financing for dance can be daunting in many circumstances. Being a male dancer to bringing revenue to the family has been always challenging because of the expenses of putting up a showcase from paying for orchestra, costumes, lights and other logistics. The honorarium or the artiste fee received from most performances and festivals will not be sufficient to recover costs. As such, there won’t be a match in numbers as this profession requires lots of investment, commitment and sacrifice of time for the emersion in the field.
How is Indian classical dance perceived in Singapore?
In Singapore, the Indian art forms have been flourishing day by day with freshness but it is definitely largely Bharatanatyam and Singapore has become a melting pot for Indian arts in general. There are many reputed institutions that have been propagating Indian arts at its best standards. Many Internationally acclaimed dancers, musicians, and theatre practitioners have been regularly visiting Singapore and performing at many festivals. This enabled the local artistes to be inspired and aspired to be an artiste in different principles. Singapore government an immense support by give a grant to the art organisations and individuals to develop capability skills, propagate and perform. Most performances are ticketed and presented very professionally. Pay for the arts is actively practised in here. It has enabled many dancers to have more confidence and to thrive in the field, present their original works and tour them globally as well.