Dance drama on gandhian ideologies

To mark the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, Kalakshetra Foundation in association with the Ministry of Culture, Government of India, is premiering a production titled Shanthi Sutra. The dance production combining Bharatanatyam and theatre captures the common threads that connect Mahatma Gandhi and Rukmini Devi Arundale.
Dance drama on gandhian ideologies
During rehearsals of Shanthi Sutra ; Revathi Ramachandran, (inset) VR Devika


The idea for this visual spectacle formed in early July and initial research to link the two stalwarts was carried out by VR Devika, the founder of Aseema Trust, which links traditional performing arts and education. “Mahatma Gandhi wove and Rukmini Devi spun. So, I wanted to find common ‘threads’ that could connect them,” she begins. “Though they worked in different areas at different times, they shared similar ideologies — Rukmini Devi’s idea of dance never being isolated but interspersed with nature, lifestyle, handlooms and ‘Indian’ness and Gandhi’s perception that freedom is not alone but has to have social regeneration, are a striking example,” explains Devika, who holds a Ph.D. on Gandhi. 
While she wrote an outline for the script, it was Kalakshetra Foundation’s Director Revathi Ramachandran, who gave it life. “When I began research on how to translate this concept into a dance drama, I began understanding that these visionaries shared the same views on textiles, ahimsa, religion — sarva dharma sama bhava (destinations of the paths that all religions follow are the same) — environment, etc. So the first step was to find songs that would resonate with the theme,” she says.
Lyrics by Namakkal Kavignar, a variety of verses from the Upanishad, Hitopadesha, Bhagavad Gita apart from an amalgam of songs were decided upon. She adds, “These were set to tune by K Sai Shankar of Kalakshetra as he’s very familiar with our style of performances.” Seven musicians will form the orchestra while 19 dancers will light up the stage in Shanthi Sutra. Revathi elucidates, “The choreography was done by many of our senior faculty members because they are so talented and I felt that every individual could enhance the multiple components involved — after all, they understand the stage best since many of them have trained directly under Rukmini Devi Arundale.” 
Apart from penning the final script, Revathi has also introduced certain element of theatre to the performance. “Krishnakumar Balasubramaniam from Little Theatre assisted us by working on some of the dialogues, which will also form part of the dance drama. As for the costumes, the trademark off-white khadi colour will form the base apart from different colour schemes,” she shares. A folkdance native to Tamil Nadu, pinnal kolattam, has also been used to symbolically show how different aspects have been woven into a “single tapestry”.
To view Shanthi Sutra: Thread of Peace, visit Rukmini Arangam, Kalakshetra Foundation, Kalakshetra Road, Thiruvanmiyur, on October 1 at 6 pm. Passes for the evening (selling at no cost) are available at the office of the Foundation.

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