When six renowned classical artistes perform at the Mudra Dance Festival this week, there won't be just dancers on stage. From Kabir and Adi Shankara to Jayadeva and Annam-acharya, the dancers will also invoke the presence of a host of medieval Bhakti poets.
The theme for this year's Mudra dance festival, organised by the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA), is the Bhakti movement.
The festival, which will be held from April 24 to 28, will feature performances by Bharatnatyam dancers Rama Vaidyanathan and Alarmel Valli, Odissi dancer Sujata Mohapatra, Koodiyattam dancer Kapila Venu and Kathak dancers Prerana Shrimali and Sanjukta Wagh.
In addition to the dances, festival curator Arundhathi Subramaniam has also organised four film screenings, three poetry readings, a Koodiyattam drama workshop and a discussion with poet Gieve Patel about Bhakti poetry.
"The Bhakti movement is a great literary heritage of radical freedom," said Subramaniam, a poet. "We live in a world where the spiritual and the sensuous are seen as mutually exclusive. Bhakti poetry is a reminder that they are not." The poets selected for Mudra represent a range of Indian languages. There will be a reading of saint-poet Tukaram (Marathi), a film screening on Akkama-hadevi (Kannada) and dance performances on Lal Ded (Kashmiri) and Salabega (Odiya).
Chennai-based Bharatnatyam artiste Alarmel Valli, whose performance will mark the finale of the festival, has chosen to dance to five poems by 15th-century Telugu poet Annamacharya. "I was enthralled by the complex emotional inflections and nuances, the vibrant colours and the musicality of Annamacharya's verse," said Valli. "Many of his poems, both existential and erotic, are unique and sometimes startlingly 'modern' in tone."