Mohiniattam at Woodford Folk Festival

The recently concluded Woodford Folk Festival 2018/2019 allowed diverse forms of visual art, dance, and music from a multitude of cultures to come together. It was an opportunity to be immersed in both Australian and International culture, arts, dance, music, discussions, performances, food, and community. This year, Brisbane based Bindu Rajendren, Mohiniattam performing artiste, of Natya Sudha Dance Company, showcased Indian classical dance by performing for second year in a row at the Woodford Folk Festival.

 

 

Bindu Rajendren trained under the skillful tutelage of Shri Kalamandalam Mohan in Bharatanatyam, Mohiniattam, and Kuchipudi for over 17 years. Since 2014, Bindu has chosen to specialise and pursue advanced training in Mohiniattam, a feminine dance style from Kerala. She trains with Natya Sudha Dance School and Company in Melbourne under the esteemed guidance of her Guru, internationally renowned Mohiniattam and Kathakali danseuse and educator Smt Tara Rajkumar OAM.

 

Bindu’s solo performance at Woodford Folk Festival extended the festival theme of connecting with the environment and explored ecology’s significant role in our lives. She presented two choreographic works, highlighting the need to care for surrounding ecology by demonstrating how animals are considered sacred in Vedic philosophies.

 

The first item was a Ganapathi Stuti choreographed by Bindu, which showcased both abhinaya and pure nritta. The music was set in Ragamalika and Aadhi Thalam. The dance extols the virtues of the elephant through the depiction of Lord Ganapathi, showing characteristics including the elephant’s magnificent gait and fan-like fluid ear movements – ‘Karna Chamara’ – in Mohiniattam style. He is shown being loved by his mother Parvathi and giving bliss to his devotees.

The second item was the Sarpa Varnam, conceptualised, composed and choreographed over nine months by Bindu and her Guru Tara Rajkumar. The music was set in Ragam Chandrajyothi and Punnagavaralli in Aadhi Thalam. The varnam highlights the story of the famous pilgrimage site Manarshala, a well-known serpent temple in Kerala. It depicts the glory of Lord Adishesha and the legend of Mannarshala temple, including its current role as a pilgrimage site for women seeking fertility and a refuge for serpents. The dance includes both nritta, nritya and natya elements with a strong emphasis on abhinaya, a core aspect of Mohiniattam. Both the Ganapathi stuti and the Sarpa Varnnam highlight the need to protect all creatures to ensure environmental stability and sustainability.

Bindu also conducted a Mohiniattam workshop, teaching participants some of the basic chuzhuppu, adavus and nadais of Mohiniattam. She also taught ‘Dance of the Snake’ to over 60 enthusiastic participants, with the session concluding with a Navarasa demonstration.

Pat Symons, World Folklines Coordinator and Folklorica events manager, commented that Bindu “has been able to elevate Indian classical dance to another level at Woodford”. She has attracted Woodford audiences to engage and watch her perform traditional and new choreographic works showcasing her Guru’s cultural lineage and Mohiniattam’s tradition. Audiences were enthralled and moved by the choreographies, with some commenting:

“I love watching Bindu dance. The best abhinaya I have seen.” – Yashan

“Thank you for bringing heaven to earth. Your dance form is perfect. I watched so many performances. All artists are perfect (but) your grace stands out. Your performance and words that you weave into storytelling in the introduction are pulling all the strings to uplift people. Pure virtuosity.” – Matarishvan

“A massive thanks to Bindu Rajendren for her soul-satisfying ‘Dance of the Divine Enchantress’ workshop. This was a big highlight for me, learning the language behind movements and the subtle additions of facial expressions. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to explore the enchanting nuances of Mohiniattam dance – the dance of Mohini – as well as connecting with the extraordinary Bindu. Dance of the celestial enchantress workshop was my favourite part of the festival.” – Bel

“Thanks so much on your divine presence in Woodford; I was in your workshop dancing with the enchantress. I am so moved by all the mudras and movements.” – Jen

Besides her popular solo performance and workshop, Bindu also performed with four Brisbane-based artists under the name Aikyam. Aikyam presented two shows and a workshop at Woodford, which were very well received. They performed Poorvi Thillana and a Bhoomi Keerthanam using verses from the Atharva Veda, and also conducted a music and dance workshop incorporating tala and laya, which Bindu was instrumental in leading. Her solo Mohiniattam choreographies in Aikyam included a Devi Stuti on Bhadrakali and the popular Ayappa Ashtakam ‘Harivarasanam’, both performed to live music.

Under her Guru’s expert guidance, Bindu continues to further her theoretical, performative, choreographic, emotive and expressive dance skills in the traditional Guru Shishya Paramapara format. She regularly travels to Melbourne and works closely with her Guru to learn, compose, conceptualise and choreograph works that are both relevant and traditional. She is currently working under the mentorship of her Guru Tara Rajkumar to format and curate Natya Sudha’s Mohiniattam margam, incorporating over 40 years of her Guru’s choreographic and in-depth research works.