The lives of Seetha, Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi, and Aparajitha, a modern woman, are brought alive on stage with a cast of 16 dancers. Seetha raised her children Lava and Kusha without any help, while Rani Lakshmibai fought against the British in a daring stand for Indian independence. Aparajitha is a heroine emblematic of thousands of modern Indian women who fight “societal odds and conservatism through the strength of their character,” says guru V.P. Dhananjayan. “The production had to reflect three periods in history,” he explains, “and the music, dance, and the costumes had to be coordinated to create an authentic atmosphere for each period. It was like working on three dance productions at the same time.” The movement between historical periods is held together through narration in English by Shanta Dhananjayan and Rathna Kumar.
T.V. Gopalakrishnan composed music for this production after watching how the Dhananjayans had conceptualized the dance sequences. “This goes against what is normally done, where the dancer starts choreographing after having the music composed,” says Dhananjayan while commenting on the long process of choreography. In the first episode, Sreelatha Vinod, a talented disciple of the Dhananjayans, plays the role of Seetha. To reflect this classical period, Valmiki’s poetry in Sanskrit is set to classical Karnatik ragas. In the second episode, Sujatha Srinivasan portrays the life and period of Rani Lakshmibai using folk music and Hindi lyrics. Aparajitha is a character drawn from the milieu of any Indian city and is played by Pavithra Srinivasan. The Tamil lyrics for this piece are composed with modern fusion music. An able cast of male and female corps dancers takes on supporting roles. “At the Madras premiere on Sept. 11, we portrayed 50 characters using 16 dancers. The costumes, make-up, and convincing portrayals tricked several audience members into thinking that there were more dancers in the wings,” says Dhananjayan with a laugh. A couple of years back, I watched Dhananjayan perform the role of King Dasharatha begging Kaikeyi to not separate him from his beloved son Rama. The pathos and the dignity in portrayal on stage made me realize that his art only gets better with every passing year. “In this production, I will be playing the sage Valmiki; a Muslim mullah who advises Rani Lakshmibai; and a present-day teacher who advises Aparajitha to follow her dreams in the last episode,” says the veteran artist and choreographer.
To see Dhananjayan on stage is only one of many reasons to watch Ekaantha Seetha. This is yet another production that will celebrate the unity in choreographic vision of gurus Shanta and Dhananjayan. Their choreography has always had brilliant group dance sequences marked by imaginative entries and exits, combined with thoughtful moments to hold the narrative together. The principal and corps dancers who will translate this vision on stage are well known. Every professional associated with the production is acclaimed within his or her chosen fields. Ranjitha Ashok, a writer, is responsible for script, costumes are by Lakshmi Srinath, and set design by Lakshmi Krishnamurthy. Dr. Prashanth and Dr. Raghuraman have contributed Sanskrit and Tamil lyrics. The many talented artists celebrating the strength of Indian women through their collective artistry is going to make Ekaantha Seetha a production to remember. —Nirupama Vaidhyanathan Saturday, Oct. 14, 6 p.m. Smithwick Auditorium, Foothill College, 12345 El Monte Rd., Los Altos. $20, $35, $50, $100. (510) 796-5252, (510) 526-2183, (408) 983-0491. www.sulekha.com Sunday, Oct. 15, 6 p.m. Irvine Barclay Theatre, 4242 Campus Dr., Irvine. $18, $28, $38. (949) 854-4646. www.ektaacenter.org www.thebarclay.org