Swarnamalya Ganesh is a unique artiste. One says this not only because of her extraordinary creativity but because as an artiste and a scholar, her interpretation of history is something that stands out every time she puts on a costume and takes the stage. Her Sadir performances have often been open windows to history and an era bygone. But, perhaps, that is what she destabilises too, that Sadir does not have to be the dance of the bygone era, but an art form that is very much a part of our present cultures and traditions.
This destabilising, she does by re-imagining the past, creating those very spaces where specific kinds of dancing and singing existed, reinterpreting the texts so that one best understands the past in tandem with the present. This week, Swarnamalya brings to Delhi a very special production that goes by the name, “Where Stories Take Form”, based on the stories of music and dance in the British Raj of 18th and 19th centuries of the Madras Presidency.
“The idea comes from another production of mine called “Dancing in the Parlour” which seeks to look at the kind of repertoire that was performed in intimate spaces like salon performances. The Madras Presidency had patrons knows as the dubashis. They were men who were dwi-bhasha, spoke two languages and were interpreters to the British company. They were extremely influential, who were the go between the British and the locals. Knowing the language was their capital and they became extremely wealthy thanks to the liaising they did for the British. One of the things they did was entertain. Madras had 600 odd private gardens, with fountains, lakes, deer parks, etc., owned by the dubashis. They had small gatherings of people called the sadas, a name which has stuck on. The sadas represents their patronage to new-age poets. Anybody could go, and present their art. It was not elitist at all, even though these spaces were owned by elite people. On any given evening, there would be a music soiree or a dance performance. There were also small manuals which introduced the art form to the British officers. These became important 18-19th Century texts for self-learning of Bharatanatyam and are in the archives now. The new age non-hereditary artiste found great help from these texts,” says Swarnamalya.