Srishti, Nina Rajarani
22 August 2020
Manch UK Facebook
Reviewed by Sanjeevini Dutta
Nina Rajarani Srishti Dance Creations premièred their first digital dance film on Friday 22 August on the Manch UK Facebook platform. Fourteen minutes long, it offers a most complete and satisfying experience for the viewer: compact, multi-layered, visually exciting, tonally rich and performed with verve.
Srishti Squared, created entirely remotely, had a two week ‘making and filming’ period, followed by the assembling and editing phase. The six dancers and three musicians had to film themselves at the end of each working day on devices they could access easily, such as video cameras and mobile phones. At the disposal of the director/choreographer were the dancers’ homes and gardens which served as ‘the set’. The choreographer Nina Rajarani, assisted by Sooraj Subramaniam, had to double up as art directors, choosing the location in the home, how the furniture and props were placed: grey and white furnishing needing a dash of red and green cushions, for instance.
Nina points out in her Making of Srishti Squared that in digital film, the camera angle and the editing become additional choreographic tools. Assisted in the editing by kathak dancer Shyam Dattani, the duo, with studio editors from Chennai, push the boundaries of the art form of digital dance. The deployment of split-screens – now six, or twelve, or even twenty cells, in unison or in contra-point, creates a novel experience for audiences. The multi-layering device of seeing the singer’s face overlaid by the dancer offers up possibilities which only film provides. The choreographer in this case also becomes a visual artist, a graphic designer and sound score orchestrator.
The film opens with a luxurious, unhurried circular motif, executed by dancers to the glorious vocals of Y Yadavan, both by the bharatanatyam (Shivaangee Agrawal, Suhani Dhanki and Kirsten Newell) and kathak dancers ( Shyam Dattani, Abirami Eshwar and Saloni Saraf ) moving seamlessly between the two, all in outdoor locations. The harsh tones of a discordant violin (Vijay Venkat) suggest an unease. Soon the screen opens to the percussion instruments in close up, the ghatam with Prathap Ramachandrans’s fingers creating magic and the dancers in cells above conveying crisp lines. The next section with the screen cells, multiplying and filling up all the empty spaces suggests the geometric progression of the coronavirus. The most visually alluring of the sections is the screen with the twenty cells showing the close-up of the dancers’ feet as they strike the jatti, heel, side of foot, ball of the foot. The black-trousered legs with the dash of colour of a kurta create a pure, geometric graphic. The next section, suggesting confinement and the feeling of claustrophobia, is played out within the confines of corridors, where the sides appear to close in on the dancers. The striking visuals are conveyed by taking away the colour and using the minimalism of black and white with only one additional colour: black and white with red; black and white with blue. The dancers are very expressive, finding their individual ways of conveying the feeling of being trapped. The abhinaya section again is beautifully sung by Yadavan to the line ‘I will overcome the mountain-like obstacle’, with each dancer contributing and building the sthai bhava. Lines of text appear on the screen, serving both meaning and the visual design. The last image is of the dancers descending the stairway to the sonorous sweetness of Vijay Venkat’s veena, emerging in the daylight and passing under a gateway, to a new day.
Srishti Squared has provided fourteen minutes of pure pleasure. The film is an example of what could be referred to as a ‘Covid dividend’- the special circumstances of the lockdown that have provided a spurt to creativity and pushed digital art to new heights.