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Renowned dancer Lakshmi Viswanathan toured the U.S in June-July, performing and conducting workshops. She staged her production, 'Banyan Tree' which featured young dancers from Boston.
In this exclusive column, Lakshmi also shares her experiences, working with the Mark Morris dance group and performing at the Jacob's Pillow Festival.
'Banyan Tree' has a special connection with Boston, USA. It had its world premiere there at the Brandeis University in 1995, and toured the USA before doing 10 shows in the Madras December season of that year. A path-breaking production, it tells the story of Bharatanatyam, and weaves episodes of 20th century history, and charcters like Rukmini Devi and E Krishna Iyer into the story with stunning theatrical effect.
Invited to produce it again in Boston and present it at the Kresge auditorium of the MIT by Jothi Raghavan who was celebrating 25 years of her school Nrityanjali, I spent most of June on the project. The effort was monumental as only 2 male dancers went from Chennai,Tiruchelvan and Narendra Kumar. They were the foundation on which I mounted the show.
Selecting senior students of the Boston school, and training them was a challenge, given the time. They were hard working and enthusiastic. That was a great help. I love working with young people, and they in turn found working with me a novel experience, a learning experience....we enjoyed ourselves. For me the process is important. I could get a ballerina, a young girl from Boston Ballet to do Pavlova's Dying Swan which is a crucial scene in my production. I also developed a scene where British residents watch a 'Nautch' performance.
Tiruchelvam was a great asset during the training of the girls. Narendra Kumar brought his own to the show with effect. We were also happy to harness the talent of Sudarshan a dancer from Delhi.
Filled to capacity, the MIT auditorium went roaring with approval and applause for each scene of the ballet. Many remarked that they had never seen such a show and were stunned by its wit and style. And the participating dancers felt it a privilege to be in the show. Banyan Tree was truly the high-point of the celebrations of Jothi's school. She can be proud that her students danced well and with verve and vigour, bringing the show to a high performance level.
Jacob's Pillow Festival
The foremost American Dance festival is the Jacob's Pillow Festival. Celebrating it's 70th year, this festival was started by the earliest Orientalists in Dance.... Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn. I was invited to dance at this festival in July. A huge audience gathered in this sylvan setting to witness my show. Rama's Bow and Krishna's Flute, were two of the numbers specially choreographed for the event which received ovations.
At a face to face with the audience, I fielded a number of questions.... and some were from children who wanted to "learn this dance".
Collaborating with the Mark Morris dance group
The leading Modern dance group today in America is the Mark Morris dance group. Their 10 million dollar centre in Brooklyn NY is a new landmark of culture in that city. Mark Morris had invited me to do a summer workshop at this spiffing new centre. As many as twenty students had enrolled. The largest for any workshop they had ever had.
Giving them a bird's eye view of Bharatanatayam, I've initiated a process which is proposed to continue in the future as well. Young choreographers in Modern want to explore new movements. Working with me, one of the Julliard students was inspired to extend her vocabulary and use some of the things she learnt from me and this is wonderful.
I also studied the process of the Mark Morris technique and I must say I have learnt a lot and am sure to use that inspiration.
If you wish to know more about 'The Banyan Tree' or want to work with Lakshmi Viswanathan you can contact her at
Academy of Arts of India, 33, MGR Road, Kalakshetra Colony, Chennai 600 090
Phone : 044-491 6219