A month on, we analyse the hits and misses of VK Arts Ltd’s production, ‘Tripundra – The Embodiment of The 9’, which took place at The Substation on 1 July 2017.

VK Arts Ltd staged its maiden production, ‘Tripundra – The Embodiment of The 9’, at The Substation a month ago. Featuring four classically trained bharatanatyam dancers, Tripundra came across as anything but an inaugural performance. What made it an exceptional one? And what could have been better? Scroll ahead to read ChutneySG’s take on the hits (mostly) and misses of the Lord Shiva-centred ‘Tripundra – The Embodiment of The 9’.

1. The Costumes

All four dancers were clad in costumes in a brilliant combination of orange and black. These shades seemed like the perfect choices to represent Lord Shiva and the nine rasas revolving around him. The dazzling orange turned crimson under the lighting and occasionally faded to a shade of tangerine when viewed from certain angles. The selection of colours played a great part in keeping the audience captivated throughout Tripundra.

2. The Interludes

The monologues between each rasa were a clever idea. For those not familiar with the stories of Lord Shiva or the use of hand signs (mudras) in bharatanatyam, these interludes helped to paint a clearer picture on what story each rasa was depicting. Sherene Jeevitha Joseph, who is also theatre trained, was the perfect person to recite these informative monologues.

Her enunciation of both English and Tamil words, expressions and emotions accompanying them made each interlude leave the audience wanting to see more. We (myself and Editor Uma Nathan) fell in love with the delivery of Vairamuthu’s Tamil poetry that was used to describe the very first rasa, love (shringaram):

உன்னோடு நான் இருந்த ஒவ்வொரு மணித்துளியும்

மரண படுக்கையிலும் மறக்காது கண்மணியே.

3. The Research

We were, without a doubt, bowled over by the extensive research done to put together Tripundra. Each rasa explored the different tales revolving around Lord Shiva, his family and his devotees. Some of these stories have many variations, but to be able to tie them with the relevant rasa is a process that requires thorough research and creativity. Unlike many other dance productions which have chosen to incorporate the same stories repeatedly with some minor changes to choreography, Tripundra presented stories that are not very commonly performed.

For example, the radical idea of depicting two rasas – disgust and fear – by assuming the roles of aghoris was in fact one of the strengths of Tripundra. People generally view aghoris with fear and disgust. To express this emotion of disgust by behaving like aghoris is definitely not typical. The behaviour of aghoris’  – getting high on drugs, being obsessed with corpses, surviving and thriving on unorthodox “meals” – was beautifully and flawlessly portrayed. The music piece chosen to accompany this segment created an eerie and unnerving atmosphere akin to the general perception of aghoris. Kudos to these four ladies for being able to effortlessly present such complex emotions to the audience.

4. The Expressions

Not only were these stories revolving around Lord Shiva well explored, they were also choreographed to involve technicalities in facial expressions (bhava). Our eyes were given no time to rest – we were constantly capturing and admiring every single expression on each of the dancers’ faces. The ability to portray each rasa not just through the stories but also through facial expressions was definitely one of the plus points of Tripundra. It was the dancers’ expressions that kept the audience entranced and mentally invested in each segment of the production.

5. The Style

It was made clear from the very beginning that this style of bharatanatyam was unlike the conventional style that most other bharatanatyam performances are based on (the Kalakshetra style). Having attended many bharatanatyam recital – from arangetrams to classical dance productions – and possessing a fair amount of bharatanatyam knowledge (I happen to be classically trained too), the difference in style was evident. The quartet of dancers were extremely learned, trained and skilled. They danced not just with their bodies but with their powerful eyes as well.

6. The Form

Tripundra was a bold attempt in the sense that it presented the audience with a rather unorthodox fusion of different dance forms such as folk and contemporary. Having incorporated such steps without disrupting the production’s momentum was simply more proof of how versatile and multitalented these dancers are.

7. The Lighting

The appropriate and extensive use of lighting in Tripundra was spectacular. It helped to enhance the performance, especially when the shadows amplified the effect of the roles the dancers played. Now and then, we found ourselves pausing to ponder on whether our eyes were playing tricks on us whenever the lighting changed the colours and even the patterns of the dancers’ costumes.

8. The Space

One minor setback of Tripundra was the space constraint of the stage. The Substation’s Black Box seemed a little too small to contain the quartet of powerful dancers. A bigger venue might have allowed them to use the space to better depict the stories and rasas. Choreography, especially during the complicated string of beats, could have also been better presented with more space (jathis).

9. The Sound

The occasional audio feedback throughout the production was an aspect that could have been improved on. Although it may not have had a significant effect throughout the entire show, it was an occasional source of distraction for the audience. We also had to strain our ears to hear the male vocalist’s voice – either because he was too soft or the sound engineer was unaware of the lowered volume of his microphone. Whichever it may have been, it was a shame that the audience was denied the singers’ vocals and music in their full splendour owing to a technical glitch.

The near flawless portrayal of the nine rasas revolving around Lord Shiva was a spiritually and artistically elevating experience for us. The sisterly rapport between the dancers was evident in each segment through well synchronised steps. Tripundra could possibly be one of the finest bharatanatyam productions crafted and performed by youths alone.

ஊர்வசி, ரம்பை, மேனகை, திலோத்தமை

பூலோகம் வந்து செய்த நாட்டிய கச்சேரியை காண,

நான் செய்த புண்ணியம் என்னவோ?


Images courtesy of Override Photography.

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