To be the flag-bearer and global ambassador of the very graceful Mohiniyattam is no mean honor. To Aswathy Nair, dancer-choreographer from Thiruvananthapuram, this honor came her way when the Ministry of Cultural Affairs empanelled her as “Promising Artist” in Mohiniyattam.
As part of this empowerment and recognition, the dancer and her troupe took Kerala’s very own seductive 'lasya' dance to the world outside when they performed in Ivory Coast. The occasion was the Festival of India Abroad, to mark the 70th-anniversary celebrations of our Independence. The show was held under the auspices of the Ministry of Cultural Affairs.
Overwhelmed by the response to Aswathy’s visual extravaganza, the ministry has sought her support in taking the dance form to more countries. To win this achievement, the dancer had to go through a tight selection procedure, which involved a screening process covering a period of six months. On being asked to name her theme if selected to perform abroad, Aswathy came up with the answer “Amma”, meaning mother. She has not looked back since.
Aswathy swung into action and within the limited time she had, arranged an elaborate dance scene. Her children Aradhana and Adwaith, students Janaki Ramesh, Aparna Nandakumar, Aparna Vijay and Sharika Mohan carried the plan forward and danced their way into people’s hearts. It was an international audience in Ivory Coast with several countries sending in their artistes. Hence, the performance too was on a massive scale in front of a mammoth audience.
Her theme was translated into French and read out before the show began. Ivory Coast or Cote d’ Ivoire, once a French colony, still maintains its French leanings. Hence, the nuances of the dance had to be explained in French. “But even without a translation, people would have enjoyed the essence of our performance,” said Aswathy. Our choice of “Amma” was well appreciated. “A mother is the synonym of love and the whole world can relate to that truth”, she continued. The program was a big hit. To add some fun to the honor, Aswathy and her troupe got back home only after enjoying the Onam festivities there. They were honored as the chief guests.
Aswathy, the dancer
A disciple of Kalamandalam Sugandhi, Aswathy is equally at ease with Bharatnatyam and Kuchipudi. She runs the Lakshya School of Performing Arts in Thiruvananthapuram. Her Mohiniyattam set to Vayalar’s poem Ravana Puthri, which she performed for Surya, had won her a great deal of appreciation.
She has also performed Edassery’s Pootha Pattu and Kumaranasan’s Karuna, under the direction of Lenin Rajendran. Her well-choreographed dances have grabbed wide attention in and outside Kerala.
The theme called Amma
The dance was conceptualized and presented in Ivory Coast in a special way. Designed in three levels, the visuals had the effect of a flower opening out its petals. The first part consisted of the truth of universal motherhood, the power one derives from Lord Shiva. The mother-son bonding of Parvathy and Ganapathy was the core theme.
The second part titled Janani moved round the mother-foster mother love Yashodha had for her naughty son, the little Lord Krishna.
The third theme elaborated the munificence of the Mother Earth. The dancers brought out the truth of how the Mother covers the Earth with boundless blessings, but man’s greed destroys it all. Deforestation, corruption, exploitation and various ills were depicted. Then came Nature’s backlash. The Earth would have been wiped out, had not the Mother, the great benefactor, come to her children’s rescue. She forgave them all and covered her children with love.
The dance wound up with Vande Matharam. The highlight of the choreography was the accompanying music. A beautiful 'ragamalika' of verses in Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Sanskrit complemented the 'thalamalika', all arranged and sung by Sreedev Rajagopal. The verses and lyrics were from the works of Sri Sankaracharya, Kalidasan, Thanjavur Ponnaiah, Irayiman Thampi, Purandaradasan, Muthuswamy Deekshithar, Vallathol, O.N.V. Kurup, Prabha Varma, V.Madhusoodhanan Nair and Kavalam Anand.
Five 'ragas' and five 'thalas' were set to showcase the characteristics of the five elements, the ‘Pancha Bhoota’. Aswathy’s husband Anil, her students, Sreedev and friends helped her put together all of them. “Vandanam”, a poem by Dr. Kala Kishore, a student and also a close friend, was also incorporated into the dance as an obeisance to the Mother.