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A Coda to the Summer

A Coda to the Summer

From middle school on, I can mark my summers with what happened in dance. There was the summer in Pittsburgh. There were summers when classes went from daily from 9 am to 5 pm. There was the summer spent at dance class in Vizag, the one touring for Mohini Bhasmasura. 

Right now, we're in the last week of this year's summer camp at Sri Sai Dance Academy. As I write this, we have one rehearsal, and our program to mark the end of the camp. (Hope to see you there!) Here's a few thoughts I've been chewing on over the past few weeks of dance class that aren't logistics: 

  • In Mastergaru's choreography of Sivashtakam, this particular line is choreographed with three variations, instead of two like all the other. Roughly, it is speaking to those who wholeheartedly learn and chant this in the morning for Lord Shiva, who carries the trident. It is followed by a line that promises a son, wealth, friends, wife, and ultimately, moksha. 

The line is as follows: 

svayaṃ yaḥ prabhāte naraśśūla pāṇe paṭhet stotraratnaṃ tvihaprāpyaratnam

For all three variations, the hand gestures are the same, literally translating the song. The footwork is where the magic happens.

The first variation is simple steps, following the cuts of the talam (khanda chaapu: thaka thakita). 

The second variation is a steady walk where each step takes two beats of the talam. This means sometimes, the walk is going against beat. It is insistent, unyielding, and steady. 

The third variation begins with "thaka dhimis", punctuating the phrases even more emphatically, before going into "thakitas", heightening the urgency. 

This is a call to action, and that is beautifully, brilliantly elevated into the language of dance by Mastergaru. 

I would put a clip here of that snippet of the item, but amazingly, for the thousands of times I've done this item in class and on the stage, I can't seem to find one single video. I'll need to fix that. 

  • When learning an item, it's critical to understand the song in its entirety - lyrics, meaning, melody, and rhythm - to be able inculcate the choreography correctly. I see students running into trouble with the spacing of movements if they divorce the words from the rhythm and the melody, and confusing the mudras if they don't understand the meaning clearly. This is a no-brainer, honestly, but the impacts of not adhering to this are far-reaching. 


  • The development in complexity of the first half jathis is pretty steep. I was reminded how awe-inspiring and overwhelming jathis are to students who have just finished their steps. It is sheer brilliance how the sequences are developed in the jathis. I was paying particular attention to how the steps sequence associated with the phrase "thalaangu thom thaka thadi gina thom" would reappear in various contexts as we progressed through the first half jathis.

On a side note, this is a very enlightening and entertaining excercise: approaching any new item by trying to map the movement phrases or the choreographic structure to previous steps, jathis, and items. It is amazing how the exact same snippet feels so different depending on its context. 

  •  In Mastergaru's choreography of Annamacharya's Kulukaga Nadavaro, the first sequence of "Kulukaga Nadavaro Kommalara" where the dancer follows the winding path of the palanquin bearers is slow, as if she is sweetly and demurely asking them to move more gently. So, the next line "jalajala raalenee jaajulu maayammaku" has simple footwork (samam and kunchitam on both sides, followed by standing). The next sequence of "kulukaga nadavaro" is where she walks in double-time to keep up with their quick pace. In parallel, "jalajala raalenee" involves agratala sanchara instead of samam. This is another example of how, with simplicity, subtle modifications of footwork can do volumes in heightening the emotion and weaving a narrative. 

I did find a video of this, from Navarathri a few years ago, so here's the snippet of that section. 

I'll leave you with that and have a more "proper" piece planned for next week. In the mean time, come see us this Saturday! 

P.S. The fabulous Nataraja of words in the cover photo was made by Sandhya Kiran Aunty. It is a source of joy and inspiration, as is she. 

Narrative and perspective in choreography

Narrative and perspective in choreography

Lemonade Lectures and the Role of Dance in Society

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