By Nikita Menon
Dance often has the ability to communicate, move, evoke, and entertain, but seldom does it have the power to take the rasika on a trip around the world while in the comforts of cushioned theatre seats. Anjasa, does just this. Though my relationship with this production started in 2016, it’s conception and production goes further beyond. Interestingly, akin to Anjasa’s ability to transport the audience from one monument to another, the production itself has seen a fair share of the world.
Although the production premiered in 2015 in Singapore, my maiden rendezvous with Anjasa began in 2016 when it first hit the international arena at the Bangalore International Arts Festival. Later that year, Anjasa made its way to the UK, a space where people were electrified by the vibrancy of Buddhism. Despite the early winter chill, the incredible reception from the audience was beyond warming. It’s one of those experiences that makes one realise how powerful art can be, you know? Having the capacity to send the audience at the Capstone theatre to the Lumbini Gardens in the 6th century feels incredulous. The production eventually wended its way to Kuala Lumpur, Colombo, Kandy, and once again India, at the prestigious Natya Kala Conference in 2019.
Reminiscing about past shows is such a delightful experience since each and every performance came with its unique share of memories, stories, and scope for laughter. They were like intangible souvenirs I took away from every tour. From galloping through a local train in India while wearing a horse mask during the first Anjasa tour to a mid-rehearsal chaat party during the last, I have a boundless list of memories. The Sri Lanka tour, in particular, was special. In Colombo, Anjasa was staged at the famous Nelum Pokuna Mahindra Rajapaksa Theatre. During the first bump-in, I remember walking on and on within the theatre towards the stage and wondering how much more I would have to walk before I got there. Turns out, I was on stage. I was an ant on a 690 meter square stage; we all were.
I remember how “warming up” meant sticking our limbs out at the heater in London and water was replaced with Costa’s Lindt hot chocolate in Liverpool. I remember the sleepless rehearsals, the chai overdose, the sightseeing and our impromptu photoshoots, the wardrobe crises, the midnight dinners, the backstage banter, the pre-show jitters, and the post-show high. I remember every memory that seasoned the tours to become extraordinary.
While the premise of the show, concept, choreography, and costumes have remained a constant through each of these performances, as a dancer, every performance felt as fresh as the first. For a change, I was not Shiva, Krishna, or Sita, and no one was. We were Apsaras, monks, swans, creepers, and pillars – each with its own idiosyncratic identity. As a performer, I was constantly challenged to bend the language of Bharatnatyam whilst never breaking it. The novelty of Anjasa transcended beyond its concept; the Southeast Asian inspired music, the delightfully sui generis costumes, and the augmented style of Bharatnatyam amalgamated to make chisel the production to the refreshing one it is. Anjasa unraveled more than just Buddhist monuments.