'Divya Kasturi's To Varnam With Love' – another point of view
Image: Screenshot taken from trailer.
Melodious singing by Divya heralded To Varnam With Love (30 September, 2021, The Place, London) as a spotlight highlighted a stepped podium on the stage with one or two dolls on it, reminiscent of the South Indian autumn festival Golu celebrated during Navaratri. These steps were gradually populated with many dolls, as they are during the festival, accompanied by an emotional narrative live on stage by the dancer, establishing an interconnectedness of dance, history, lineage, humanity and even architecture. It was engaging and refreshingly humorous.
The dance sequences were graceful and stood out in a fitting dialogue with an exciting musical score. The exploration of the core idea of the relationship with the varnam was an emotional journey that moved me. I found the intensity of this experience relatable. Through this journey one surrenders to the art form, becoming one with it, immersed in the piece.
The visuals were stunning, with the inner sancta sanctorum, the garbha griha of the temples dimly lit in alluring hues (the garbha griha, housing the main murti or image in a temple has one entrance, generally facing east so it can be lit by the rising sun, and is without windows). Tamil lettering on the back screen and projected on the performance area highlighted to me the interaction with the lyrics and the joy they bring to a dancer as they unravel themselves word by word, syllable by syllable
And then one was transported to Divya’s village, with flowers blooming everywhere, thronging crowds straining to get a glimpse of the lord, with an apt suspense created by the dancer saying, ‘it is said Shiva reveals himself … ', and before one knows it one feels part of the crowds observing the idol carefully carried by the image-bearers, led by dancers, singers and musicians bringing the deity into the garbha griha; and the suspense lifts as Shiva reveals himself with guttural shaivic sounds and breath echoing around a silhouette of the dancer: the same image with which she inaugurated the piece, this time with her back to the audience – powerful and complete.
Parvati Rajamani is an odissi teacher and performer (and a consultant psychiatrist) based in Bedford. She trained in Delhi with Harikrishna Behera and Madhavi Mudgal. She is Artistic Director of Ananda Arts.