- Ulaganathan Ganesan
e-mail: ulag_nath@yahoo.com

June 19, 2014

It was a Vani Ganapathi show and needless to say the Chowdaiah Memorial Hall in Bangalore was packed to capacity on June 13. After a long, long time, Vani was coming up with a unique Bharatanatyam performance and it was called Dwaaram. Loosely translated, she called it ‘door’ though I felt the exact translation would be ‘hole.’ It was dance, theatre and music at its best and she had the brilliant Sathyanarayana Raju, the well known Bangalore-based dancer and guru, partnering her.

Speaking about the project in innumerable media interviews prior to the event, Vani said   ‘Dwaaram’ was conceptualized in 2006 and that she had discussed it with her mother Indubala Ganapathy, and later planned it with friend and art consultant, Usha RK. Vani then approached Sathya who agreed to come on board as dancer and co-choreographer. “Doors have eyes and ears but this time we will present their talking. Presenting Dwaaram is a dream come true for me,”  she said. Sathya agreed, “It was an incredible experience working on the creation of this performance. The joint performance in itself is much like a ‘dwaaram’ and there is a lot of positive energy within.”

The dance drama shows life through doorways which are always open. And the doors have been mute witnesses to a lot of drama--be it mythological, historical, contemporary or mythical. The one and half hour long dance feature is based on experiences in life through the perspective of five doors - Rajadwaaram (palace door), Veeradwaaram, (fortress door), Gruhadwaaram (a common house door), Deivadwaaram (divine door) and Athmadwaaram, (door of the soul).

It opens with Rajadwaaram, a story from the Mahabharata. Vani presented interesting scenes of how Yudhishthira lost all his wealth, his brothers, himself and Draupadi in a game of dice against his uncle Shakuni. As Dushasana unwrapped Draupadi’s sari, she swore to keep her hair untied until she drenched it with his blood. Veeradwaaram was the tale of Kanthirava Narasaraja I of the Wodeyar dynasty who was popularly called Ranadheera Kanteerava. The brief episode narrated the king’s accomplishments and valour. He was known to have fought off an assassination attempt and also helped the State by building canals and encouraging culture and sports.  Sathya danced with tremendous energy and used the stage space admirably.

Next came Gruhadwaaram, where the door is witness to the wrangling, romance and finally the passionate patch-up between two lovers, an angry young woman and a man trying to win her back. The fourth, Deivadwaaram was a devotional number wherein two distinctly different stories unfolded. The devotee poetess Andal and her total surrender to the Lord and how she wears the garland kept by her father Vishnuchitta for the Lord in front of the sanctum sanctorum. There is another devotee who wants to see Lord Krishna before he dies and waits in front of the closed doors. Krishna finally grants his wish, opens the door and gives darshan. Athmadwaaram was the finale that showed the transition of a person who conquers kama (lust), krodha (anger), lobha (greed), moha (temptation), mada (pride) and matsarya (envy), to achieve moksha (salvation).

Brilliant singing by Srivatsa and the lively musical ensemble was a great asset to the production. Vani, who vehemently opposes dancing to recorded music, had assembled very able and   understanding musical accompanists. The show was grand, with an elaborate set-up, costumes and lighting. Props were mostly door - even the compere Usha had to squeeze herself to come out of a door to make the announcement before each item - and special mention must be made of lighting by Chennai based Murugan.

A good attempt no doubt, however one felt that better stories could have been chosen and there are plenty of episodes in history as well as mythology. Occasional background commentary in English had a jarring effect. As dancers and choreographers, both Vani and Sathya complemented each other and the chemistry worked well on stage. “There's something to learn anew all the time,” Vani had said and it surely must have been a good learning experience. And, does this open the doors to a new level of classical choreography? One has to wait and watch.

G. Ulaganathan is a senior writer and journalist based in Bangalore.