If one veers away, consciously, from dance academia's love of jargon and politically correct
phrases that connect dance to sociology, anthropology, feminism and other 'isms', then there is
little to say in this introductory note.
UTPALA is a radical departure from my previous work. More than my previous solo VAITHARANI -
the crossing, this has been slowly taking root and blooming inside of me for a long time. Ever
since I encountered that frail flower seller at the crowded market in Bangkok in 2000, the lotus
has been moving inside my mind, heart and beneath my eyelids. Several versions and short
performances have been attempted before this full-length version.
Even now I feel that there is more that has been unsaid and unwritten in the choreography than
what is revealed on stage. The phrase, "a thousand petals, a thousand lives" was added to
show the metamorphosis of the human soul through the various 'avatars' of Lord Vishnu. I had
developed a section of choreography like a moving painting with Butoh intensity. Two
dance-actors melting into the ten incaranations while offering lotuses in prayer. The long
diagonal took a full ten minutes and was accompanied by an intense vedic chant. This section
got rapturous responses in workshops and short showings but I felt as if I was hitting a block.
One section could become the beginning but... and that one word remained. BUT.... (a tiny voice
inside) "Beautiful choreography could not be used as a filler if the intellectual framework of the
narrative did not ring true for me" (Another tiny voice) "Why should always the mind supersede
the moving body? Why can't heart speak instead?" Why can't dancers and choreographers
communicate "heart to heart"? Voices... questions... a quiet civil war...
UTPALA slowly grew through several workshops and discussions using Tai Chi as the main motif.
My kalari teacher Shaji John suggested this Asian movement form as a beginning. The idea of
serenity and detachment could be conveyed beautifully. Strength and contemplation could best
physicalised by Tai Chi, he felt. The dancers started three months of training with senior
actor/dancer M. Palani. Many times I wanted to give up and work on my own but it seemed that
my ideas of still and running water and of lush lotus ponds needed more bodies on the stage.
River as a metaphor for woman, creativity and life is a familiar theme for me since 1988. Ever
since DAUGHTERS OF THE OCEAN and the narrative of Goddess Saraswati, the flowing waters
have been a predominant backdrop to my work In VAITHARANI (2002) it was the mythical river
of death that was explored. And now , UTPALA. The version performed in Kuala Lumpur in May
2003 for Ramli Ibrahim's SUTRA festival has undergone many more avatars. Except for Palani,
the original ensemble has changed. The world of the Lotus has expanded to include the stories
of ISIS of Egypt, KWAN-YIN of China as companions to the familiar Lakshmi myth from India.
UTPALA - as you watch it - is a work that is just beginning to breathe. No matter how many
hours of rehearsal, a performance needs to be mounted, with the alchemy of audience and
performer, for the actual work of creation to begin. Chennai, my hometown, has always been a
wonderful touchstone for my creative journey. Using my signature idioms of acting, singing,
chanting, classical rhythms and contemporary movements discovered through ensemble
improvisations, UTPALA has been a patient canvas for our collective search for meaning and
To the generous and patient dancers I offer my gratitude and a special salute. To organizers
and presenters who have invited me knowing that it may not be a safe work to program, I offer
my continued appreciation. To the musicians who have contributed so brilliantly to this eclectic
score, a special thank you for the haunting soundscape to my imagination. To all my friends and
colleagues who have guided and stimulated me through this very difficult year, this is my
offering as a tribute to your unflinching faith and unconditional love.
Artistic Director & Choreographer
Chennai, December 2004