Connected to India last spoke to Raka Maitra, artistic director of Chowk Productions, Singapore, in 2017 when Chowk Productions was working on 'from: The Platform'.
From then to now, "We have been focussing on stabilizing the company, training and more training,” says Maitra, speaking to Connected to India at the digital premier of her production Pallavi through Abstractions at Kalaa Utsavam 2020 - The Indian Festival of Arts.
A “pallavi” is both a repeated refrain in carnatic music and a category of classical odissi that is pure dance, stripped of story and characterisation, accompanied only by music. At first slow and graceful, a pallavi in odissi gradually builds in tempo and intricacy, blossoming as the music unfolds.
“In 2018 we created 'Pallavi with Stillness' and traveled with the work to India - the response was quite overwhelming, and that is when I thought I would bring the elements of all the three pallavis - space/time/stillness together and create the final work 'Pallavi through abstractions',” shares Maitra.
Pallavi through Abstractions is the final outcome of the Pallavi Series (2016-2018), a three-part choreographic exploration of the grammar of the odissi dance form. It explores odissi’s relationship to space, time and stillness, offering lines of increasingly complex movement, placement, stillness, and shifting balances extrapolated from odissi’s repertoire.
“This will be the last, and I don't think I will be creating any other work that is only about deconstructing the Odissi technique," explains Maitra.
Her production house, Chowk, is rooted in Odissi and seeks to create an Asian contemporary dance expression that dissolves the dichotomy between tradition and modernity.
Speaking in detail about the three Pallavis in abstraction, Maitra says that in “Pallavi and Space - I used the basic stance in Odissi, the chowka to create the full length work- the focus was just on that one stance”.
“In Pallavi in time - I explored the 'tribhanga' or the three bends of the body in Odissi,” she continues.
While “Pallavi with stillness - was focused on the torso, I tried to slow down and look at the small nuances of the different torso movements of the body”.
Kalaa Utsavam goes hybrid in its 19th edition and artists are filming their productions rather than performing it on stage. Maitra spoke to Connected to India about the filming experience.
“Filming was a whole new experience, in one word I can say it was terrifying and hard,” exclaims Maitra.
“We are not trained to do it, but our director Ler and his team were extremely accommodating and kind,” she adds, speaking of the unique collaboration between her and dancer-choreographer and local filmmaker Ler Jiyuan whose dynamic camera lens frames the pallavi.
“In a live performance we get energised by the audience, there's a magic that happens - but while shooting it was difficult to keep the excitement and the energy up,” she adds. “The audience will be watching the show from the comforts of their home and I am hoping the film can hold their attention - but we won't know till it actually goes live”.
Choreographed by Raka Maitra, who is also a dancer along with Sandhya Suresh & Caroline Chin in this production, Pallavi through Abstractions features music by Bani Haykal with musicians Uma Katju, Lakshman KP, Caroline Chin and Saran Jith. The production manager is Elizabeth Tan and it is filmed by Ler Jiyuan.
Catch this riveting story of a dance form that transcends borders here.