Akademi presents: Arunima Kumar and Shane Shambhu offered a thought-provoking comparison of the ways in which these two artists, both trained in classical dance (Kumar in kuchipudi, Shambhu in bharatanatyam), have chosen to interpret their respective dance form for today’s audiences.
Kumar uses her remarkable qualities and her understanding of the dance to reveal the essence of classical form in a contemporary creation. From the moment the lights pick out the crimson presence of Kumar in her latest work, AUM kara, a sense of mystery prevails. She seems to dance from a point of stillness around which her arms and hands are fluid expressions. Connected powerfully to the floor, her body is nevertheless lightness itself and her eyes remain calm and reverent in the face of divinity.
In DHeeM – Dance of the sculpture, the subject is well chosen, for the sculptural qualities of grace, beauty, rhythm and ecstasy are those that Kumar inherently possesses. Her torso is again held in total control, like a block of stone out of which the emotional body emerges. There is a feel of love and compassion, and a deep contentment – even ecstasy – while her physical and rhythmical mastery remains supreme. There is something more of Kumar herself here, which may be a subtle evolution in her creative approach.
In her final offering, Maheshwara – Celebrating Shiva, Kumar chooses a piece of traditional choreography by Padmashri Guru Jaya Rama Rao in which she gives full expression to her virtuoso technique. It is a revelation how such a small gesture as the opening of a hand can be magnified into an event of breathtaking power. Throughout her dances, Kumar’s beautiful shapes and mastery of every fine detail are a joy to watch.
Classical dance, whatever its roots, carries with it a cultural identity. In Pogunilla, Shane Shambhu explores how deeply ingrained such identity is. Symbolically, he divests himself of his outer robes to reveal a shirt and jeans. It is the beginning of a journey in which he re-choreographs a section from a well-known classical bharatanatyam work in a contemporary idiom. The contrast with Kumar’s classical form is revealing. Shambhu’s body is more relaxed, his centre more fluid, and his gestural conversation is more informal. Kumar’s dance is essentially upright, whereas Shambhu’s is in all directions, engaging the floor in ways that would be unthinkable in classical form. Shambhu relishes this freedom of movement, but if the outer form has changed, his cultural and religious attitude has not. This is what he cannot escape.
In his second work of the evening, Dr Jagad & Mr Haridas, Shambhu is in full theatrical mode, with a table of phials, a chart of scribbled formulae and a plastic rat that suffers a squelchy death. In this retelling of the Jekyll and Hyde story with a DNA twist, the point at which Dr Jagad creates his alter ego, Mr Haridas, in the laboratory is where the dance begins. Finding new forms to portray psychological drama is the fertile ground of contemporary dance and Shambhu experiments with the DNA of bharatanatyam to this end with great conviction.
Since the evening’s works inevitably invite a comparison of the approaches of these two artists, it is this: Kumar keeps her subject matter – and her music – close to the roots of her cultural and spiritual heritage, and even when she creates a work, her form is never far from an expression of classical dance. Shambhu, by contrast, thrusts himself into a contemporary situation and challenges himself to devise a grammar that is pertinent to his narrative. Both approaches are valid, and each brings to the stage a living response to the cultural and spiritual heritage they share.