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The art of choreography

To capture the essence of a work, one may need to let go of fancy ideas held dear otherwise, feels Kapila Venu

My very first independent choreographic work was a collection of Bharatiyar (Subramania Bharati) poems in Mohiniyattam. I grew up adoring Bharatiyar and his poetry. One day, I heard a recording of Bombay Jayasree singing ‘Theertha Karaiyinile’. I can never forget that moment. My eyes filled up, my heartbeat rose and there was that moment of irresistible desire to do something. I knew that I could not breathe another normal breath until I had danced to it and when I had, a momentum picked up and I couldn’t stop until I had choreographed five poems of Bharatiyar and made a full two-hour concert out of it.

My process with dance choreography was fairly simple and straightforward. I did a lot of homework in terms of text and potential for interpretation and then, at some point, I would stop, go to the studio and start improvising. I didn’t make a plan beforehand and usually out of the chaos a piece would finally be fashioned. Then, performance after performance one kept discovering new things and it slowly became a coherent, pulsating body. When the piece finally settled, that’s when one started working on the nuances and subtleties.

An actress once explained to me the concept of “killing your darlings”, which I understood as having the courage to let go of a lot of the fancy stuff you come up with and grow fond of even though it may not be relevant to the current work. This is something I always keep in mind.

With Nangiarkoothu and Koodiyattam, the process is different. Here, it is clearly the work of an actor and a story-teller. Once you identify the story you want to tell and do your research, the most important task is to write an attaprakaram (acting manual).

Guru Ammannur Madhava Chakyar often talked to us about how challenging attaprakaram writing can be. One needs a deep understanding of the text and both languages, Sanskrit and, of course, Malayalam. But one also needs to know well the technique and its possibilities and limitations and always keep in mind the sensibilities of spectators. Once the manual is written, this forms the skeleton of the performance.

Kapila Venu

Kapila Venu
 
| Photo Credit:
Manoj Parmeswaran

In Koodiyattam, one is always in pursuit of moments, feelings, phrases and descriptions to dissect and elaborate. The intoxication lies in elaboration, in the ability to freeze time and transport the audience to other spaces and realms.

I depend heavily on my mentor and father, G Venu, as an outside eye for every work of mine, which is why any choreography in Koodiyattam or Nangiarkoothu has always been a collaborative process initiated by either of us.

Speaking of choreography, two absolutely profound experiences have been being choreographed by Japanese dancer Min Tanaka and choreographing for American experimental dancer Wally Cardona. Min opened into my very naive understanding of choreography a flood of new processes, thoughts and perspectives. Starting with non-linear narratives and filling the body with images to finding new forms, embodying myriad types of characters, textures, forces and qualities, relating to space and temperature, conversing with the forces and so on.

Kapila Venu

Kapila Venu
 
| Photo Credit: Thulasi Kakkat

Working with Wally was my very first experience of choreographing another body. Mind you, it was not just another body but a body rich with experiences of working with several cultures and languages submitting to you with complete trust. It was a privilege. It was also a realisation of how becoming someone else’s outside eye needs you to use completely different faculties. Observing someone deeply over long periods of time, hours at a stretch also awakens the ability to be your own outside eye in some sense.

(The writer is a choreographer, curator and Koodiyattam and Nangiarkoothu exponent)

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