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Exploring domestic violence through bharatanatya
Publication Date : 06-03-2014
Using the power of movement, bharatanatyam dancer Kamini Manikam explored the issue of domestic violence in Lipstick.
The art of movement is one of the oldest art forms. The human body instinctively responds to situations through movement before the mind and tongue can verbalise an answer. For centuries, people have danced in response to an instinctual need for emotional expression.
As a tribute to women and to highlight the issue of domestic violence, the Tanjai Kamaala Indira Dance School presented a new age bharatanatyam recital at the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre last weekend.
Featuring soloist Kamini Manikam in five repertoires, Lipstick: Celebrating Womanhood Series 1 – Spectrum Of Estrogenic Love, explored the power and beauty of a woman’s love.
The show started promisingly with Kamini performing the invocatory item, Woman, Thou Art Beautiful. Moving with dignified grace, she was angelic, alluring, and cheeky. Her footwork and abhinayas were clear as she danced from one stanza to the next, describing the beauty of the face, limbs and figure.
In Two Becomes One, she tried to blend bharatanatyam with Peranakan culture, danced to a Malay pantun and English song. Kamini mostly walked around stage holding a pretty umbrella and sat on a box, pondering. While the effort was commendable to incorporate Malay and Western music genres, it was jarring and I couldn’t decipher the concept of romantic love here.
The highlight of the night was obviously Epitaph Of Broken Vows. Dressed in black, and with long, flowing hair, Kamini, portraying an abused victim, launched into an emotionally charged monologue on marriage and relationship. Facial expressions are often easier when words are uttered so it was hard to see the concept of abhinaya projected here. Though a bit melodramatic, her acting was convincing enough as some audience shed tears.
Her monologue ended when video clips of two abused victims were screened on stage. One of the victims (name withheld), then appeared on stage and shared her story. The distraught woman, 32, depicted how she was punched, kicked, beaten, slammed against the wall, raped for 14 years and had a thumb chopped off before she successfully fled from her husband.
“Only my hand is cacat (handicap), not my soul,” she said, amidst hushed silence. “With my nine fingers, I’m still able to provide for my children. My willpower and strength helped me through. Instead of feeling bitter, I have to look at the brighter side of life so please don’t feel sorry for my fate.”
After the climax, the next two numbers were mild, as the choreography was kept simple. The fusion of the various Malaysian and Western lullabies didn’t work too well either. Instead of dancing full-on, Kamini chose to illustrate the movements by using simple gestures and a background video.
Perhaps her intention was to ensure the masses understood what she was portraying. Yes, the storyline was clear but it left me wanting more.
Some of the musical interludes by the live musicians led by carnatic vocalist, Bhavani Logeswaran, were far too long and unnecessary. This was presumably to allow Kamini time for a costume change.
In Intimacy With God, Kamini did well in the thillana, the final part of a traditional bharatanatyam repertoire. The thillana was presented in praise of the various religions practised in Malaysia. Her attractive white costume brought out the spiritual nature of the religions and she excelled when dancing the Hindu, as that is her forte. But again, one could make out the other religions only because of the backdrop (for instance, the picture of a mosque or church would be shown as she danced) and the music.
This being her first solo production, Kamini’s effort is admirable, especially since she was the choreographer, producer, director and costume designer. With some fine-tuning, the second instalment of Lipstick: Celebrating Womanhood Series 2 should be better.