Punjabi love legend Heer Ranjha provides the work's thematic
base. There is also a counter-narrative, a kuravanji (a dance-drama
from Tamil Nadu). The dominant Heer Ranjha story is in the tragic
mode. The kuravanji provides moments of idealized bliss, the
young heroine Vasanatvalli being promised union with lord Siva
by a gypsy fortune teller.
The intricate and comparative
intertwining of the two stories gives the work the mysterious
quality of poetry. A viewer unfamiliar with one or both of the
stories can enjoy the dance through its tantalizing images both
ascetic and erotic. Those familiar with one or both texts will
experience it at many more levels.
Though particular characters
are not assigned to specific dancers, Ranjha is at the centre
of the work. In his character, the only constant is impermanence.
The dancers reflect this flux by continually traveling from
one personage to another, Ranjha becoming Siva becoming Heer
becoming Vasantvalli becoming mendicant becoming seer, etc.
The choreography draws
from plural vocabularies—Bharatanatyam, yoga, Chhau, modern
and Navtej's own Sufi style. The dance slips from one style
to another. An invocation recalls a Bharatanatyam recital, yet
the hand gestures offer no iconography, the feeling being of
nameless natural forces.
The paradox inherent
in juxtaposing tragedy and allegory is enhanced by number/gender
game; two narratives, two heroes, two heroines, yet three dancers,
two males, one female, assuming and shedding roles in a dream-like
trance. Bodies moving along the floor are both erotic and tragic,
emphasized by the ephemeral and constant re-pairing of the dancers,
permutations that lend the piece another, slower rhythmic texture.
Modernist movements of devastating lamentation vie with the
carefully measured ecstasy of Bharatanatyam. Chhau suddenly
becomes unabashedly sexual, while Bharatanatyam is sometimes
tinged with fun-filled Kathak!
Heer Ranjha sequences
are drastic in both visualization and sonorization, rapture
and tortured longing in the same guise. Vasantvalli, the maiden
in love with lord Siva, is all stylized innocence, the anticipation
of fulfillment actually sublimating carnal knowledge. And yet,
both the swinging moods of Heer Ranjha and the calculated playfulness
of the kuravanji waver between desire and renunciation. This
hovering is actuated in three movement types: one geometric,
denying physicality, another sensuous delving deeper and deeper
into one's own and another's body, and yet another frenzied
and stamping, as if excessive movement would contrarily cause
motion cessation, liberation.
Heer Ranjha pushes towards
death, inevitably—it is palpable, human. The kuravanji distances
itself from the temporal ugliness of physical conditions. Heer
Ranjha searches for dissolution by pushing through matter, where
as the kuravanji surmounts matter by focusing on a higher, elaborately
The use of diverse linguistic,
kinetic and musical elements—Punjabi/Tamil, Sufi/Carnatic, unmeasured/codified,
diverse backgrounds of dancers, ambiguously neutral costumes,
a plethora of ethno-centric references and virtuosic asides
of stylistic dance quotations produce an extremely complex and
fascinating work with multiple entry/exit points for performers
and spectators alike.
through the contemplation of desire has always been a constant
preoccupation of Indian thought. In that sense this dance piece
is a rediscovery of sringaar, the classical sentiment of desire.
Traditional or contemporary—this work is compelling and genre-defying.