A portly man wants to dance. So he seeks and gains an education in it. Starting with North Indian kathak, he proceeds to Orissa (odissi), Andhra Pradesh (kuchipudi), Kerala (mohini attam), and finally to Tamil Nadu (bharatanatyam). That is the premise of “Sense Beyond,” a dance production created by the young, iconic dancer/choreographer Madurai R. Muralidharan.
Known to push conventional boundaries in his work, Muralidharan was inspired by the film icon Kamal Haasan to create the make-up and costume for the overweight protagonist Yadav in his own production. In the movie Avvai Shanmugi, which is a remake of the American Mrs. Doubtfire, Haasan transforms himself into a rotund nanny to be with his daughter. On stage, Muralidharan will don a specially prepared costume and make-up to depict Yadav, and then journey through a transformation, both physically and mentally into an ideal student of dance and a model dancer. Yadav will shed his excessive weight, and symbolically his past baggage, and immerse himself into the art, which elevates and satiates him beyond the sensory level. Hence, the title.
“By weaving the story through the whole of India, Guru Muralidharan has brought about a confluence of the diverse and rich culture of India seamlessly woven into his creative script,” says Deepa Mahadevan, artistic director of Bay Area’s Thiruchitrambalam Dance Company. “Moving away from religious overtones, this piece portrays the journey of a man in his step by step evolution as a dancer.” A disciple of Muralidharan, Mahadevan is the primary coordinator for the production, responsible for the interaction with all participating dancers and dance schools.
Representing the various dance forms are prominent bay area teachers and their students. Aerodance, led by Ranjani Manda will set the stage for a “Holi” dance sequence; Anuradha Nag will lead her students (Tarangini School) in kathak; Niharika Mohanty and her students (Guru Shradha) will present odissi; Bindu Pratap and students (Nritanjali School) mohini attam; and Deepa Mahadevan and students (Tiruchitrambalam School) bharatnatyam. Also participating is Shirni Kanth, who runs the Mythri Natyalaya School. Kuchipudi will be showcased by India-based Uma Muralikrishna, accompanied by students of Natyalaya (led by Jyothi Lakkaraju) and Nrityananda (led by Himabindu Challa) schools of dance. Muralikrishna has shared the stage with Muralidharan often, the most recent as Madhavi in the dance production Silapathigaram, which had also brought together several Bay Area dance schools in 2010. Both dance-dramas have been produced by Kala Iyer’s Kalalaya.
The theme of the “Sense Beyond” being secular, specific emphasis has been placed on it being presented in a nonreligious format, with a crossover appeal. The lyrical or language component, so often the reason for alienating Indian dance from a more mainstream audience, has been minimized. Audiences of any hue and calling will be able to associate themselves with the sentiments of the story. The music has been composed by Muralidharan himself; and recorded in India with some leading musicians such as instrumentalist Rajesh Vaidya, percussionist D.A. Srinivasan, vocalist N. Kesavan, violinist Embar Kannan, and flautist Navin (who featured in A.R. Rahman’s Slum Dog Millionaire score).
What the audience can expect is to experience the energy that is the undercurrent in all of Muralidharan’s choreographies, in the narrative, and in the music, which Mahadevan says, is “styled as a Broadway musical.”
Sunday, Oct. 30, 4 p.m. Smith Center, Ohlone College, 43600 Mission Blvd., Fremont. $20, $30, $50. Tickets: www.sulekha.com. (510) 209-8783, (510) 305-9285.