Deconstructing classical dance to find new meaning in the contemporary.
From 2016-2018, Chowk Productions embarked on the Pallavi Series, exploring what happened when odissi dance was deconstructed to its component parts. From basic stances to dancers’ physicality, the Pallavi Series was a way of developing a new language of movement to bring the classical odissi dance form into the contemporary. Now, with Pallavi through Abstraction, dance itself is brought to a new, pure form, more abstract than ever before, as Raka Maitra choreographs both softness and strength in this final iteration of the series.
A “pallavi’ refers to both a repeated refrain in carnatic music and category of classical odissi, stripped of story and characterisation, and is dependent on its accompanying music, as it moves from slow, graceful movements, to gradually increasing its tempo and intricacy as the performance goes on.
As the performance begins, we see dancers Raka, Sandhya Suresh, Caroline Chin and Anushka Ghosh line up onstage, along with musicians Safuan Johari and Rizman Putra of NADA. Safuan begins live mixing the songs the dances are set to as well as the soundscape for Rizman. He dons a white robe and paints his face white that shows almost a form of purity yet when he begins singing, it’s haunting and provocative.
Rizman begins to ‘joget’ to the music, with the dancers’ steps become more pronounced, every movement made onstage both seen and heard. It feels intimate watching them in the theatre, allowing us to fall into a trance as we follow the flow of the beat and music, juxtaposed alongside this story told through their bodies. As the lights shine on the dancers, it makes them seem larger than life, and makes us feel how much we have missed the performing arts. Watching them, we are reminded of how the arts can transcend differences in culture and background to powerfully communicate meaning and emotion to an audience.
Each time they stamp, the dancers seem to be planting each footstep firmly on the ground, as they attempt to come to grips with this new, absurd world they’re in. It is these expressions of the abstract that make us think out of the box, as our imagination runs wild, watching them strike a pose with every movement.
Listening to Safuan’s music, Rizman continues to move along to it, bringing out the melody’s emotion and mood in his steps. As the dancers slowly walk about the stage, reacting to the music, every step is simultaneously filled with hope and trepidation. The aim of the performance is to explore odissi’s possibilities through increasingly complex movement, as extrapolations based off the form’s repertoire. While there were parts of the dance that lacked energy and poise, towards the end of the piece, we started to see more coordination and confidence in the dancers’ movements and steps. Though it took some time for them to get there, they eventually did!
An abstract performance that crosses boundaries, it was as if we could feel Pallavi Through Abstraction’s intent without explicitly spelling it out, finding ourselves lost in the piece. And as the music groaned, it felt like we were heading towards a dystopian world, finding hope again as it faded away. Perhaps this hope comes from how the dance conveyed our need to see beyond our differences, accept each other regardless of our cultures, and help each other. It is only then, through abstraction, that we grow together, cross new boundaries and create new art with this new language.
Pallavi Through Abstraction played at the Drama Centre Black Box on 26th and 27th February 2021.