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Preethi Athreya on COMET training

Contemporary Dancer

I was born in Madras and continue to live in Chennai – an urban Indian metropolis with its mix of rampant commodification and its paradoxical resistance to change. My training has been in bharatnatyam like most other female children in Chennai – a city which has witnessed various re-inventions of classical dance and music alongside the National movement and thereafter.

About ten years into my career as a classical dancer, I was confronted by the great gap between life and art. An increasing resonance with rational thought and the feminist rhetoric of my context made it impossible for me to continue with the aesthetic I was trained to follow as a dancer thus far.

I have for the last ten years tried to artistically pursue some questions regarding form, stylisation, abstraction of the body and emotional content within the same. Some of these experiments have been with movement in its purity and some have been with lyrical content.

I came in touch with Brhaddhvani about six years ago. I was immediately drawn in by the basic, yet challenging systems for approaching carnatic music, or rather, music itself as an extension of sound. This has been in line with my approach to dance, where the search for the essential has taken me to look at the body by itself before it becomes a vehicle of meaning and symbolism. Thus began my introduction as a dancer to COMET – correlated objective musical education and training.

I was privileged to spend some time with Prof.Subramanian who put forth some extremely strategic patterns for rethinking rhythm concepts such as tisram, misram, chatusram, kandam and sankeernam. Rather than coming up with astounding mathematical combinations, I found myself drawn to the visual aspect of the patterns themselves. The question became how to inscribe eight variations of ’tisram’ onto my body.

The concept of the gamaka as an oscillation with systematic pathways was another element which inspired me to think of a visual delineation of raga alaapana. I created a piece based on bhairavi raga alaapana as a way to find the music in the body, without falling back on lyric to suggest a narrative.

The production of the voice from specific centers in the body is another concept that shaped my work. Mrs.Usha who spent considerable time teaching me, always stressed on the correct activation of the voice from the under-belly, the chest and the head, which in turn placed the sound in unfailing clarity. The ‘pa’ note was what came from the chest. This became a sound, the production of which affected the breathing, the shoulders and the entire chest cavity. My experience of it reminded me of a physical memory of melancholy or pain. I was working on a piece about loss and longing at the time. Mrs.Usha assisted me in improvising with the note ‘pa’. We created a soundtrack which became a part of a longer piece. The pa improvisations were visually accompanied by movement along the spine of my upright body, serving to distort and realign the body – the effect was comic, tragic and absurd – precisely my intention for the narration of loss.

These are a few concrete examples of how Brhaddhvani and COMET has been shaping my life, but there are several others which I cannot even begin to enumerate. I feel extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to interact with and benefit from the work of Brhaddhvani. I support their scientific, non-sentimental, rigorous and non-mysterious approach to the learning and appreciation of music. Not all of us wish to become singers, but certainly all of us have something to gain from music when it is served to us with so much clarity, generosity and inspiration. I humbly thank Dr. Subramanian and Mrs.Usha for their efforts in educating me and allowing my own narrative to develop through their pioneer work made from blood, sweat and toil.


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