The Science of Movement

JayachandranPalazhy : Dancer Sans Frontiers


An improbable mix of artists have gathered in a cosy dance studio justnorth of Melbourne’s CBD. Here, I find myself amidst the company of ballet dancers, a mime practitioner, Japanese martial artists and just one other classical Indian dancer. We have all come together to take part in what has been hailed as a ground-breakingworkshop tour of Australia by 53-year old JayachandranPalazhy – Director of the Attakalari Centre for Movement Arts, Bangalore.

Born into a matriarchal family in the picturesque town of Trissur, Jayachandran’s love for movement began in the tranquil temple grounds of Kerala. Here, under the banyan trees and in the temples, the young Jay encountered Mohiniyattam, Kathakali and themartial art of Kalaripayattu which have forever inspired his work.

Today Jayachandran is not just an acclaimed dancer and choreographer; he is what I might coin a “movement scientist”. A graduate in physics, he has bridged the gap between science and art. Equally a student of the Dhananjayans as he is a graduate of the London School of Contemporary Dance, he has bridged East and West.
Beginning with warm-ups inspired by Kalaripayattu, Jayachandranguided us through a carefully choreographed journey over 2 days, leading us deeper and deeper into a world of experimentation and challenge. Ballet dancers boldly held thekatakaamukham gesture; a Mohiniyattam dancer launchedinto a double turn; and my angular Bharatanatyam arms cringed as I forcedthem into irregular shapes. Welcome to the weird and wonderful world ofJayachandranPalazhy.
Confronted (and a little contorted!) this room of dancers was alive withadventure. We watched each other step boldly intonew styles of movement – letting a whole new dance vocabulary unfold with every move. New sentences, newphrases, new languages of the body.

Jayachandran calls this “multiplicity in movement”: I find this ideafascinating. It’s the idea that we can combine manydifferent dance styles into one extended movement. Let me give you anexample: what if a ballet move is conducted withBharatanatyam hand gestures, then flows into a martial-arts jump beforeconcluding on the floor with the most placid of yoga poses: shavaasanam. Imagine all the untold stories, emotions and visualpatterns that we could create if we followed this line of thought. What is the potential of this new dance language, where dance has absolutely no stylistic boundaries?

As I thought about this more, an analogy came to mind that revealed a little more of what this was all about.This idea of “multiplicity in movement” is something the world of sport hasdone for decades. Swimmers often train in othersports to gain variety of movement and archers may work on fine craft toperfect their vision. There was a report on the ABCjust a few weeks ago about how AFL footballers are learning dance as way to train themselves in the idea of controlled (rather thanreflexive) movement so they may incorporate these techniques intomaneuvers on the field.

It may be bold of me to say this, but unlike our cousinsof the sports world, dancers have been reluctant to embrace variety – and this is what I think makes Jayachandran apioneer. The tendency in dance (rightly or wrongly) is to shy away fromalternative styles for fear of “watering down” one’s dominant style. Butare we better, or are we worse, for experimenting? Shouldwe follow the path that sport has taken and proven? Or in dance is this really just a distraction from the pursuit of perfecting one’s own dance style?

Left with more questions than answers, two days with Jayachandran were not enough to fully grasp all the ideas(let alone the movements) we wereconfronted with.

But two days were more than enough to be inspired : inspired by a man to whomdance clearly has no boundaries.

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