Love: a word that has so many meanings and interpretations that it can be mind-boggling. And when it's expressed through dance, it can take things to a new dimension.
And 'Urvashi' is a unique dance drama that celebrates love and womanhood through the eyes of artistes Vaibhav Arekar and Sushant Jadhav. Named after the celestial nymph who is caught in a dilemma of choosing her love or staying true to the vows, this story is of woman empowerment, too.
I ask the artistes what attracted them to dance and Vaibhav Arekar says, "To be honest, right from my childhood I have wanted to be on stage and dance. I do not come from a family of any artistic lineage. So how this interest developed in me is difficult to answer. One is born with it is what I feel, and for reasons unknown, I have always had a strong leaning toward classical dance."
Sushant Jadhav says, "I always wanted to dance but did not know exactly in which style. I participated in school annual functions, but there was no one to guide me professionally. I stood at the bus stop at Khar, near (dancer) Gopi Krishnaji's bungalow, listened to the sound of ghungroos and got inspired. But I had no in-depth understanding of the art or guidance at home as my parents were involved in government service and wanted me to settle down with a regular job. It was my passion and my mother's support and faith that helped me fulfil my dream."
In 2009, Vaibhav began to freelance and received an offer to tour Poland with his dance company. He then reached out to Sushant, whom he knew from the time the latter was pursuing his diploma in kathak at SNDT University. "I was heading the bharatanatyam department there. He gave me all the moral support and assurance to help put together a team. I gathered dancers and started training them in the nuances of the art, and Sushant began to take charge as 'technical manager'.
Soon I realised that he understood my work and could guide me in its design. As a dancer-cum-choreographer, it's not possible for me to see my own work from an outsider's perspective, so he started to be the dramaturge for all my works. It was almost as if we had co-founded the dance company," reminisces Vaibhav.
It helped that Sushant was associated with many dance institutes, Hema Malini's Natyavihar Kalakendra and the Sachin Shankar Ballet unit among them. "I always dreamt of creating my own work. When Vaibhav and I started working together, he, as an established artiste, always inspired me and gave me opportunities to create my identity, and also a shared space with him. He sensed my creative sensibility towards lighting and costume designing, and I started working as a dramaturge in his classical dance productions." The Mantra Foundation, which zeroed in on the story of Urvashi, invited the duo to execute the production.
What followed was a series of discussions with the writers, and the dialogues were penned by Hemant Hazare, who also worked and directed the actors in the production. "It was after this that Sushant worked extensively with the music composer. It was done simultaneously with the choreographic ideas sorted out. Of course, the dancers of Sankhya Dance Company have been relentlessly working," says Vaibhav.
The duo's works are inspired by experiences from daily life and mythologies.
Urvashi is a labour of hard work and passion, and has a Broadway-like approach in terms of visuals, music and production. "The story lends itself to various emotions, giving us a chance to blend theatre, dance, martial arts, folk elements and music beautifully. We wanted to create a complete experience of this celestial story with drama, magic and entertainment. It is a story that will connect with all age groups," says the duo.
How do they manage to ensure that dance remains contemporary for urban crowds? They believe it's important for them to connect with their audiences. Sushant adds, "I have faith in our craft and believe that our storytelling ability will attract a diverse audience, including youngsters."