From Slum Dog Millionaire to Temple Dancing
An Indian Performing Artist to be bestowed with the Medal of the Order of Australia is no mean feat. The “Increasing Recognition of the Indian in the West” should have made an appropriate title for this article. But I have other ideas. The connection between temple dancing and Slum Dog Millionaire is a question begging to be answered no doubt. Let us just say that we are talking about a far more interesting topic, story telling across cultural boundaries.
Be it the story of Louis Lightfoot or the story of Jamal Malik. Indians in 2008/ 2009 have gained a reigning international presence with their expertise in weaving a story it seems. We saw it in literary works such as the White Tiger by Aravind Adiga and Danny Boyle’s cinematography of the slums of Mumbai and the scintillating scores of AR Rahman in the same movie. Tara Rajkumar’s Mohiniattam in Temple Dreaming amongst others, where she steps into the life of an Australian pioneer, Louise Lightfoot. The common thread in all these ventures is their ability to portray a story bringing parallel cultures and worlds closer.
The cultural artful expression of story telling gains an invaluable aesthetic beautiful choreographic spell in the dance forms of Mohiniattam and Kathakali in the hands of a great performer, dancer, teacher and researcher Tara Rajkumar. Tara Rajkumar brought her passion for this artform to Australia nearly twenty five years ago. Her expertise in weaving a story is no different to Danny Boyle or Aravind Adiga in Australia.
So unparalleled is her contribution to this dance form that the Australian Government has conferred upon her the rightly deserving title of the Order of Australia this January 2009 for her contribution to performing arts. Although bringing no monetary reward, the Order of Australia is the highest commendation that a civilian can receive in this country. Tara Rajkumar is one of the first Indian migrant performing artists to be bestowed with this grand title. “It was all such a surprise!!” says Tara.
Working through Tara’s well documented career in Dance in Australia causes one to be more than impressed with her works and her association with Monash University. Tara’s efforts to bridge the gap between the East and the West by increasing dialogue and understanding through her projects, presentations, papers and productions have continued for the last twenty five years.
Tara’s journey in story telling through her dance form started over thirty five years ago in England and has moved through three continents only to rest in the shores of Australia. She was the founder of the Akademi in England which runs to this day. Tara Rajkumar’s dedicated work sees her gain Fellowships in the prestigious Monash University and sees her holding the position of Director of Performing Arts at the Monash Asia Institute. She is also the founder and director of her dance Company and School, Natya Sudha.
From Australia, she has extended the boundaries of Mohiniattam and used it along with the dramatic story telling strength of Kathakali in a large number of acclaimed productions, for example Krishna the Celestial Dancer based on the Narayaneeyam, Mohini the Divine Enchantress, Temple to Theatre which toured in the United Kingdom, and Mahamaya.
Once again her works that deal with parallel cultures is seen in Prakrithi, where she presented choreography to the poetry of famous Australian poet, Judith Wright. Her solo performance in the contemporary work, Malache – Despatches from Another World with Arena Theatre Company in Melbourne was a roaring success. Malache was later re-invented for the Green Mill Dance Festival and presented at the prestigious Malt House Theatre as a double bill along with the great Odissi and Bharathanatyam Dancer Sonal Mansingh who presented “Dhraupadi”.
Both Malache and Dhraupadi explored the power and strength of women. Malache received many accolades in the main Australian Dance Magazine “Dance Australia”. Tara’s creative adventure with dance continued in ‘What She Said’ using the Kurunthukali poems of Ramanujam which focused on women’s empowerment. A little known fact is that she was invited to take a cameo role as an Indian dancer in the film “Emma’s War” starring Lee Remick!
Tara was honoured in the Victorian Parliament and included in the Victorian Honour Roll of Women Shaping the Nation, “honouring her contribution to Victoria and the Nation” in Arts and Education on the occasion of the Centenary of Federation. “I have always wanted to take my dance form to the general Australian public and have tried to find contemporary stories through which this can be done” she says. One of Tara’s major works has been her choreographed production called “Temple Dreaming” performed at the Alexander Theatre at Monash University in 1996 which later toured in India at the invitation of the Indian government. Temple Dreaming was perhaps one of the first projects that acted as a catalyst in making her what she is today.
In this project Tara reflected the dreams of an Australian, Louise Lightfoot, who arrived on the shores of India on the way to England and fell in love with its dance forms. Louis Lightfoot dedicated her life to dance by studying and promoting Indian classical dance forms. “I have recently curated an exhibition of her work and am working with eminent dance professionals and scholars in India to form worthy high quality collaborations.” Whilst this project is continuing it seems that Australia is thankfully waking up to the pioneering efforts of brilliantly talented performers such as Tara Rajkumar. Another Indian getting recognised in Australia and the world over for the first time in the performing arts category is truly a historical moment establishing humanity’s movement towards a global existence.
“In this production assisted by Monash University and Australian Arts Council, Tara Rajkumar uses the martial arts of Kerala namely Kalaripayattu along with Kathakali in a dance language at once contemporary and traditional” – Leela Venkataraman, dance critic in Juxtaposing Traditional and Contemporary 28 November 1997 on Temple Dreaming
” Tara with serious dedication has produced this lively piece … of teamwork .. to honour the memory of a Non Indian Artist..in perpetuating the artistic links between East and West” Nandini Ramani from Hindu 19 December 1997
“Malache is a contemporary story and it is spoken in English making it fully accessible to an Australian audience. Rajkumar gave a rivetting performance” A Fine Contrast by Patricia Laughlin in Dance Australia Magazine dated July 1996
“Tara and students have travelled between past and present as they have between India and Australia to set the stage for the future” Shobha Sekar in Shruti Magazine dated June 1996 entitled Muse from Down Under