Dance, drama: Ranjana Gauhar's 'Nal-Damyanti' blends the classical, contemporary
Padma Shri Ranjana Gauhar on mingling Odissi and Chhau dance styles for her dance-drama Nal-Damyanti and bringing a contemporary approach to classical dance
An acclaimed Odissi dancer, Ranjana Gauhar is known more for her unique style of classical performances wherein she often weaves Kathak, Chhau and Manipuri dances in her productions. A Padma Shri, Gauhar has authored Odissi – A Dance Divine and has a keen interest in painting, and choreographing her own productions. A film producer, script writer and researcher, she has enthralled audiences across the world and is presently also involved in creating awareness through presenting lec-dems in rural and semi-rural regions of the country.
In the midst of rehearsals for her upcoming dance-drama production Nal-Damyanti, Gauhar spoke to us about this unique performance that shall mingle two traditional dance styles — Odissi and Chhau; the challenges of combining modern technology with classical art forms; and the relevance of mythological tales in today’s times.
What is keeping you busy currently?
These days my head, heart and daily activities are totally immersed in the preparation of my new production Nal-Damyanti. It is a dance drama in Odissi and Chhau styles and is integrated with an audio-visual presentation. It merges dance with animation. I intend to present it as a unique style of an ancient art form.
What prompted you to choose the subject of Nal-Damayanti in today's times?
The story of Nal-Damayanti finds mention in the Mahabharata. It has a strong moral lesson which emphasises that an iron will is needed to ward off evil temptations in life. Even kings with integrity succumbed to such temptation in their weak moments and later had to repent. In today’s world, temptations of different kinds are around us like traps. This simple story would help to awaken the inner consciousness of the common man. It makes you think and understand that righteousness and alertness go hand-in-hand for a happy life.
It should also be engaging for the audience to watch a completely animated background set where the dancers will interact in a computer-generated environment. There will be animated characters as well that will move and interact with the performing dancers. The dance-drama is so conceptualised as to come alive with exquisite live action and dance sequences. It’s very modern in technique and it is a first of its kind experimentation from my side.
Combining classical dance with animated characters — a contemporary approach to traditional art forms — what were the challenges?
Creativity and innovations are always full of challenges and I enjoy them as they raise the bar of excellence each time. Definitely, it is tough to combine classical dance with animated characters. The live dancers have to match their movements on stage keeping in mind the moves of the animated characters. To bring uniformity in these movements by the dancers is a huge challenge. Then the audio music has to be set according to the animation and the dancer has to match steps with that. To ensure perfection, we had to undertake extra rehearsals at Kamani Auditorium so that the dancers as well as the animated characters know their moves, entries and exits on stage. The challenges are huge and we hope to succeed in our attempt. Even the dancers who are participating in this production find this challenge exhilarating.
Your earlier productions are also based on mythologicals. Is the attempt deliberate? Why so?
Indian culture has been nurtured by thought-provoking, socially relevant and morally strong tales of epics, folklores, mythological stories and legends. They have for centuries been the inspiration and the instrument in maintaining a balanced society and gently nudge people to adopt the good way of life to the benefit of everyone. Therefore, it comes naturally to me that I take up subjects that have been important to the very fabric of our lives. It brings about an immediate audience connect.
Do these age-old tales find audiences even today?
These stories are immortal because the message in them is evergreen. I find my audience enjoying these age-old tales and they suit the expressive classical dance styles as well.
Any new book/documentaries/television series on the anvil?
I wish I had more time. These days my hands are too full, leaving me with hardly any scope to work on any other format of expression.
Apart from dance, what else holds your interest?
I love reading books and playing with my three pet dogs and walking them at least once a day!
What are the future events and activities that you are involved in?
My cultural organization, Utsav, is also very active in promoting young dancers and musicians. As I said earlier, I have much on my platter. Soon after Nal-Damyanti, the Festival of Young Dancers — Sutarang-Shakti Beej is scheduled for 1 May at the Kamani Auditorium in New Delhi. Practise and preparations for both the events are on simultaneously.
We also organise two major Indian classical dance festivals in a year — Unbound Beats of India, which is for young talented dancers from India and from abroad, and Saare Jahan Se Accha, where seasoned artists from India and abroad perform.
Since its establishment 29 years ago, Utsav has provided a platform for hundreds of artists and musicians, as well as people associated with the art fraternity, especially the youth, with the objective to promote and propagate the rich cultural heritage of our country.
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