Natya Darshan Seminar
EPIC WOMEN - Conference / Performance conclave

Subtitling Indian classical dance recitals for the sake of the audience
- Ashwini Kaarthikeyan
Photos: Vipul Sangoi

December 24, 2012

Sarawati Vasudevan's critical comment alongside Sudnya Shroff's response with regard to the English subtitling of my classical dance recital in Chennai on the 15th of December at the Bhavan's TAG Auditorium, Chennai, leaves me pondering. My need to subtitle the classical musical compositions in dance arose from the space of wanting to share the depth of the poetry and imagination in the dance choreographies, with an audience whose mother tongue is different from the song being danced to. I also believed that it would help those who are not eloquent with the theatrical language of Bharatanatyam.

However, two days ago, I saw a Koodiyattam dance recital (classical dance form from Kerala) by a most gifted dancer, Kapila Venu, at a conference in Chennai on dance, convened by dancer Dr. Anita Ratnam, entitled 'Epic Women.'

The Koodiyattam dancer Kapila Venu, transported me to an inward space of deep fulfillment despite the abstractness of her language and form. This dance was accompanied by ancient drum sounds alone. Kapila's tender voice wove melancholic melodies in a foreign tongue between each scene, as she narrated a heart wrenching episode from the epic of Ramayana.

At first, my being churned inside a maddening storm of emotions as my intellect struggled for more clarity. Soon, by the sheer power of the performance, I found myself in full surrender to what was being danced. There was a sacred hush in the audience, as if each one of us seemed to have held their breath lest the butterfly that had descended from the heavens, disappear / vanish / become invisible to our inward eyes. The power in the music, line, form, costume, and Kapila's inner core, kept stirring an other-worldly cauldron of an unfathomable heavenly mystical beauty. I felt as if any movement from any of us in the audience would have rudely jerked down a dark impenetrable veil, bolting shut a magical glimpse into the heavens!

This morning, in retrospect, I recognise that there seems to be a thin line between understanding the classical dance forms intellectually vis a vis becoming a receptacle of light from a spontaneous child like, playful, intuitive instinctual, heart space!

I would also like to share my husband Kaarthikeyan Kirubhakaran's response below, to Kapila Venu's Koodiyattam recital that has been posted on our blog

Flesh dissolved. Breath suspended.
Becoming one with what was seen.
A trance too sacred to be broken.
A oneness with something so divine
That neither thought, nor, applause dare intrude.
A reluctant return from the one to the many,
When the one who worked this oneness,
Steps back, letting go the shored up seconds
And the many know once more, that time exists!

- Kaarthikeyan Kirubhakaran
(Poet, Writer, Filmmaker)

Ashwini Kaarthikeyan is a Bharatanatyam dancer, poet and painter.