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Janaki Rangarajan

Dr Janaki Rangarajan- Samah

The Dance of Mystic Poetry

Friday 6 April 2018

Bhavan Centre, London

Presented by Milapfest

Reviewed by Kali Chandrasegaram

Dancing the words of great poets and communicating their essence seamlessly through stylised and pedestrian movements, naturalistic expressions, commentary and brilliant dance technique, Janaki Rangarajan enthralled audiences at London’s Bhavan Centre. The music moved between Sanskrit, Urdu, Tamil and Persian lyrics creating an audio-visual feast brimming with commitment, joy and passion. The production was the culmination of in-depth research and comparative study of cross-cultural mythical and spiritual themes.

‘Capture me in your eyes, / Throw me in your heart / And lock me in’,

Rangarajan urged before beginning her dance of ‘enlightenment’. Yes, I use   the word enlightenment deliberately to reflect Rangarajan’s sincere endeavour to transcend religious boundaries and gender biases of society. Rangarajan performance is a revolution, breaking free from the ‘gentrification’ of Indian classical dance genres.

Rangarajan's dance technique is rooted in Bharata Nrithyam, an ancient Indian dance form that has the essence of all the Indian classical dance genres as we know today. This form focused mainly on communicating the mythologies using the entire body. The subject matter was essential and the technique embodied was to exaggerate and enhance the emotions. The 108 karanas (units of dance) that adorn the Chidambaram temple in Tamil Nadu from which the Bharata Nrithyam was relived and developed by eminent artist and researcher Dr Padma Subrahmanyam does not suggest that there was segregation of dance genres in ancient times. Over the evolution of man with the need of identification and classification, I believe that the ancient Indian dance form has been dissected and segregated into the Indian Classical dance genres as we are familiar with today. 

Who Am I (not), the first piece in Samah, brings together the words of Punjabi Sufi poet Bulleh Shah, the Hindu poet and philosopher Sri Adi Shankaracharya, and mystic saint-poet Kabir. The interpretive amalgamation of their thoughts is woven into a profound dance by Rangarajan, provoking the question 'Who am I not?' rather than 'Who am I?'.

In Love for Love, with its uplifting rhythms, the dancer explores in turn the joy and pain of love. She conveys the journey from falling in love with the melody emanating from Krishna's flute to complete abandonment: ranging from the subtlety of a tear drop, to tearing of clothes, to complete madness when Rangarajan mimes the tearing of her breast and flinging it to the audience, in rage and sadness echoing the words of Saint Andal. Rangarajan was still in shivers when she came out to do the next commentary following this piece. It was incredible to see the total involvement of a dancer on stage, body and soul. I salute her!

Rangarajan performs with pristine technique, which is punctuated by joyful jumps, high lifts of leg swung backwards, beautiful torso, shoulder and belly isolations. Her performance combines supreme confidence and vulnerability in equal measure. 

Janaki Rangarajan is a complete performer: outstanding physicality, eloquent vocal communication, theatricality, originality of interpretation, that recalls the exhortation of the Natya Shastra of unified and universal dance.  To this reviewer, it appears that Rangarajan is taking the dance form forward with renewed energy whilst completing the evolutionary cycle of Indian Classical Dance. 

Concept, Artistic direction and Choreography - Janaki Rangarajan

Music composition and sung by Smt. Sudha Raghuraman

Percussion by Sri. Satish Krishnamurthy

Flute by Sri. G S Rajan