In Praise of five Gods: Ajith Bhaskaran Dass the dancer!

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Panchayatana (Pancha : 5 and Yatana : God) the system of worship in Smarta Sampradaya , expounded by Sri Adi Shankaracharya, consist of the worship of five deities: "Adityam Ambikaam Vishnum Gananaatam Maheswaram", ( Aditya : Sun God; Ambika: Devi; Vishnu : Narayana; Gananaatam : Ganesha and Maheswara : Shiva). Ajith Bhaskaran Dass and his students creatively expressed and explored the philosophical significance of the five deities in an enthralling manner in their dance production Panchaayatana.

“Many things inspire me. It could be a lyric of a song, a poem, a line from a book, even a place that I visit. These spark my imagination then I try to visualize images and try to translate it into dance. The spark of idea is followed by a lot of thinking, research and discussions. Whatever the idea is, I must first be convinced by it otherwise I cannot create. My endeavour is always to transform a ‘Performance’ into an ‘Experience’”… Ajith Bhaskaran Dass

Ajith Bhaskaran Dass the versatile performer, choreographer, music composer, natuvannar born in Malaysia gave up a career in law to follow his passion and also set up his dance school, Suvarna Fine Arts in Malaysia. He has performed extensively locally and abroad, in prestigious venues as the Lincoln Centre and the Joyce theatre, Broadway, New York. He is familiar as the judge for the Singapore Youth Festival, Indian Dance, as well as the programme Dhool V happening in Vasantham Channel.

Chatting with Ajith

How and when did your dance journey begin?

My sister was learning dance from the Bhaskars in my home town in Johor Bahru when my father organized their classes in the early 70s. I used to tag along and was mesmerized by the movement and rhythm. I started formal classes when I was 15 under a senior disciple of the Bhaskars, Bhanumathi Krishnan. When I was in Kuala Lumpur to pursue my legal studies I went under the tutelage of Ramli Ibrahim. Later on had training under Adyar K Lakshman and the Dhananjayans in Chennai. When I returned I joined Shantha Bhaskar who conducted my arangetram in 1991.

How many productions have you done so far?

To date, over 40 productions including thematic recitals and full length dance dramas.                                   

Favourite among your productions ?

I have many favourites. ‘Gourisvara’ explored the female and male principle energy and the idea of cosmic duality was inspired after a trip to Chidambaram. ‘Vismaya Vriksha’ an entire thematic recital was inspired by trees; by a poem written by Tagore, in Bano Bani (Message of the wild). It was challenging to explore various texts and mythological stories woven around the tree and also to discover new ways to portray trees through dance. The lyrics, was by Singaporean based dancer V Balakrishnan and tuned by internationally acclaimed flautist GS Rajan. 

I understand you do your own music for your productions.

For me the music is equally important as the dance, they are inseparable. I have some training in classical music but more than that I have a keen ear for music that will uplift the dance. Most of the times I collaborate with my musicians who help me crystallize my musical ideas. I have very specific ideas about the ragas and the raga bhavam that should blend with my choreography. Even the links between the dance and the music that accompanies the narration is very important to me. The dance and music have to be a seamless whole.

What made you pick this theme, Panchayatana?

Since it is our 20th anniversary I wanted to do a production which goes back to the core of the art form which is dancing about divinity, for divinity and with the divine. I wanted to explore an entire pooja on stage making the performance a prayer akin to visiting a temple. I chanced upon an article on the Panchaayatana pooja established by Adi Shankaracharya and that was ideal to form the base for our production.

What is your next venture?

Bharathanatyam is a language of dance for me so the possibilities are endless. I am working on several ideas now which includes a dance theatre production on the challenges in the life of a dancer, based on works of Rumi and Byron. Also I have always wanted to present a thematic Bharathanatyam feature entirely in Malayalam and hope to work towards that soon with the right collaborators.

Panchaayatana was performed to live orchestra and was jointly organised by Singai Tamil Sangam and Apsara Asia on 20th July at UCC, Theatre.

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