When you learn about an evening of poetry and stories, you expect to hear them read out, to the accompaniment of a musical instrument. But here is an event that will literally make the prose and verse dance; in bharatanatyam. Say what? Yes, and all that, with music…Karnatik jazz.


Natya and Narration: REBELution is a bid to get the audience to experience prose and verse, to give words sensory dimensions.  With international saxophonist Prasant Radhakrishnan setting the musical mood, four artists—writer, editor of India Currents, and co-founder of the production, Jaya Padmanabhan; Vidhya Subramanian, bharatanatyam exponent, co-founder, and artistic director of Lasya Dance Company; Kalpana Mohan, humorist, journalist, and writer; and Arun Kumar, a published poet will stage their individual works as a continuum of performing arts. In a span of 90 minutes, each writer/ poet will present samples from their own portfolios with Subramanian staging some of the pieces in bharatanatyam.

South bay audiences will remember the 2010 stage rendition called “His Curls,” where Subramanian enacted the emotion of wonder, as part of her production on the nine universal emotions. “His Curls” is a short story by Padmanabhan which kept the audience guessing about the fate of the non-speaking central character.  A lone Subramanian on a darkened stage beckoned the audience into the narrative as she enunciated and underscored the emotive component thru her expressions, right up until the surprising end. REBELution’s lineup includes the piece, this time as a collaboration between writer and dancer.

“Watching Vidhya perform one of my stories was an unforgettable experience. With her theatrical expertise she swept the audience into her world. There was complete and utter quiet when she narrated the story. This show was born of that idea,” explains Padmanabhan.

When asked what it feels like to present contemporary perspectives as opposed to the traditional bharatanatyam repertoire which is based on centuries-old literature hymns, or poems, Subramanian said, “Old poems have stood the test of time. When I perform them, I feel like I’m slipping into a sari in which I feel most like myself.

ontemporary literature elicits a sense of the unknown. I begin on a fresh slate and can do what my creativity leads to while staying within the bharatanatyam medium. The contrast is polarizing yet a sort of bridging between the past and future.”

The audience at the show will get to experience this riveting contrast, for in addition to presenting the works of Padmanabhan, Kumar, and Mohan, Subramanian will be presenting traditional bharatanatyam as well, including “ojas (energy) – With that spiritual energy I yearn.” Ojas incorporates movement and narrative for a glimpse into what drove three Indian saint poetesses spanning several centuries to shun society and its patriarchal influence in pursuit of divine passions.

Rebellion of this divine and other (r)evolutionary kind is a common theme that runs through the program. “We needed a cohesive idea to thread through our work and  decided to use our individual interpretations of the word rebel to do just that,” says Padmanabhan. Kumar’s book is titled Plain Truths and is, in his own words is “a little tongue in cheek.” He adds, “I write about the familiar, looking for unusual insights in usual, everyday experiences. If an aim of writing is to strike a chord of universality, why not start with the very usual and familiar?” An excerpt from one his poems, “Party Animals,” illustrates this:

“Observe them, the novelist says,
Sipping her chardonnay,
Watch the preeners,
The cockerels, strutting
With a touch of color.
And the jackals prowling
Behind the hunters to observe.”
Mohan too, writes about the everyday and everylife in her blog www.saritorial.com. One of the pieces she will present for example, is called Facebook Face-off, where she says, “…technology and social networking are skewing my marriage and my family. My husband is a believer in communicating using the best and the most efficient of technology; in this age of Gmail, Twitter, SmartPhones and Facebook, he has begun taking communication to an extreme. He always posts. But I wish he would talk first. Isn’t it interesting how in an era of innumerable modes of communication, we’re facing probably the greatest communication challenges within families?”


REBELution does not face or pose that problem: The production promises to be an evocative forging of language, perspectives, mediums, idioms, movement, and dance; promising to awaken the familiar and encourage the new within us.n

Friday-Saturday, April 20-21, 7 p.m., Sunday, April 22, 2:30 p.m. CounterPULSE, 1310 Mission and 9th,
San Francisco. $20. www.counterpulse.org.