Priya Kumar Collaborates With Simon Thacker’s Svara-Kanti
Devadasi culture combines with pioneering dance and music innovations in a major international collaboration between Gujarat and Scotland this month. Gandhinagar based Priya Kumar and her Piah Dance Company worked with UK guitar virtuoso and composer Simon Thacker’s Svara-Kanti ensemble, which also features three Carnatic percussion masters from Chennai, to produce MaNN Vasanai (Tamil = The Scent of the Earth). Priya’s spectacular dance production explores the Apsaras, beautiful celestial water nymphs living in Indra’s heaven, and premiered in an epic eleven-minute video on the first week of May 2019.
Mann Vasanai marks the first exciting phase of a new series of international collaborations for Priya, an established Indian contemporary dancer and former Zee Dance India Dance Season 5 top 12 finalists. Having explored and researched Devadasi culture for the past year, she has brought her contemporary choreographic inspirations, with movements inspired by Bharatanatyam and Karanas as explored by Dr. Padma Subramanayam, to a track from Thacker’s acclaimed Trikala album for the highly unusual and thrilling sound of Western classical guitar and Carnatic percussion ensemble.
Devadasis were groups of women, living and working in temples, who provided services to the temple gods and devotees with their primary role to preserve and present the arts, specifically dance. The Devadasi system went through various cycles within its lifetime and was finally abolished in the mid-twentieth century by the Madras Devadasi Abolition Act. Whether the new order of dance was qualitatively better than that of the Devadasis, or whether it was all lost in transition, is something we will never know and will forever be debatable. In Hindu Mythology, dance was considered an artistic medium to represent the Apsaras, originating with the Devadasis. MaNN Vasanai is a dance piece that imagines, depicts and explores the world of the Apsaras.
Priya Varunesh Kumar founded Piah Dance Company in Bangalore in 2011, but her roots have always firmly been in Gujarat. Particularly inspired by native Indian art and culture, she has been striving to create choreography pieces that can help share the rich world of the Indian arts across the world. A noted educator, she has given workshops for students all over the country. Her YouTube channel, with over 57,000 subscribers, shows a vision of powerful traditions woven into modernity.
The music was composed by Simon Thacker, a Scottish guitar virtuoso and composer whose world-leading explorations in Svara-Kanti, with leading performers from Carnatic, Hindustani, Baul, and Punjabi folk music, have seen him tour across South Asia, including for an audience of 60 000 in Dhaka. MaNN Vasanai is an instrumental piece he wrote featuring his inimitable guitar wizardry, with Carnatic luminaries Neyveli B. Venkatesh (mridangam), K.V. Gopalakrishnan (kanjira) and N Guruprasad (ghatam), recorded at AR Rahman’s AM Studios.