Gender is not black and white but shades of grey. Social stigma and bias pervades our society even as transgenders are fighting for their rights. Danseuse Hemabharathy Palani has broached on this socially sensitive topic in her latest work called ‘Uruvam’ (means form), a contemporary dance piece inspired by the mythological character of Ambe in the Mahabharatha. Prior to Uruvam, she conceptualized and created Chaaya (means shadow), another performance based on a social theme. While Uruvam is about osmosis of genders and sexuality Chaaya is about emerging from the shadows of sexual abuse at a young age.
Hemabharathy is a senior repertory member of Attakkalari Centre for Movement Arts, Bangalore. From the tender age of 12, she trained in Kuchupudi under renowned dancer Vyjayanthi Kashi. Apart from Indian classical dance forms like Bharathanatyam and Kathak, she has also trained in kalarippayattu, yoga, ballet and Pilates. “Gestures are used extensively in classical dance. Being a trained classical dancer, it was not easy to express myself only through body movements without any gestures”, she says talking about the transformation from classical to contemporary dance.
Chaaya is a tribute to unsuspecting victims of child sexual abuse. In the backdrop of an electro-acoustic musical score, Chaaya recreates the turmoil of womanhood, battling to erase a traumatic past. “Even if the child is not able to comprehend the gravity of the event, the body remembers it for many years”, Chaaya trails the stories of a few who are living with the scars of abuse and exploitation.
Hemabharathy was the recipient of the Robert Bosch Art Grant 2009, an award for young and talented artists by Robert Bosch Engineering and Business Solutions Ltd. In Uruvam, a creation that transcends time she has woven mythological stories, personal experiences and inputs from psychologists and experts. This 22-minute solo dance work, choreographed and performed by Hemabharathy was a yearlong project. “I want to use dance as a platform to raise the voice of the transgender community. This is my contribution to society for everything that dance has given me”, she says.
Uruvam, developed and produced under the auspices of Robert Bosch Art Grant gave Hemabharathy the freedom to express herself. The background scores are by Australian music composer Leah Barclay and the digital design and graphics are the work of Japanese media artist Matsuo Kunihiko. “I could devote all my time to my work as I did not have to worry about the money. Raising funds is a challenge”, she says.
As an upcoming artist on the Indian stage, Hemabharathy has many awards and accolades to her credit. She received the Priyadarshini award from the All India Ferderation and was conferred the title of an ‘A’ grade artist by the national television channel Doordarshan in 1999. In 2003, she was selected to represent India in an international choreography event in Essen. She was part of a team that performed at the Rashtrapathi Bhavan in front of the Heads of State of India, Brazil and South Africa. Hemabharathy has performed in Bonn, Frankfurt, Essen, Venice, Monaco, Munich, Dusseldorf, Bologna, Lublin, London, Yena, Amsterdam, Yokohama, Norway, Japan and China as part of the Attakkalari repertory. She is part of the current multi-media dance production ‘Chronotopia’ which toured Europe in March 2010.
An enduring journey through pain and suffering, varied perspectives and unheard voices made it to Hemabharathy’s storyboard. Through creativity and the power of her agile body she introduced a level of abstraction to real life stories. She studied the subject with passion and collated her experiences into performances that carry a social message.
Uruvam premieres at Alliance Francaise de Bangalore on 12th Jun 2010. The show begins at 7:30. Entry is free.
This article was published in The Hindu on the 10th of June 2010. Below is the link to the online version of the article.