“We The Living represents life evolving from a chaotic, amoebic shapelessness to attain bodily form. To this are added the five ‘indriyas’ or senses, and then the nine rasas or emotions, residing like guests in the body. There is also an intense searching, as if by a devotee who looks everywhere for God, only to realise that divinity lies within. Realisation is followed by surrender and then ecstasy. With Debojyoti Mishra’s music, songs by Shubha Mudgal, Shafqat Amanat Ali, Sukanya Ghosh, and Victor Banerjee’s recitation of Rumi’s poem Human Being, We The Living was a celebration of our life force”
The Telegraph (Dec 17, 2014)
When Ms Tanushree Shankar brought ‘We the Living’ her latest performance, to the Emirates Palace Auditorium in Abu Dhabi as part of the fifteenth Abu Dhabi Festival for many it reflected as nothing less than India’s role in the event. This is all the more significant as India was chosen by the event as the year’s ‘Country of Honour’.
Ms Shankar’s ‘We the Living’ envisages human beings as living entities that boast of having transcended caste, creed and culture, besides even a unique physical form to attain a greater spiritual plane. An interpretation of ‘Human Being’ (English version is titled ‘Only Breath’), a poem penned by famous Persian Sufi poet, Jelaluddin Rumi, We the Living is described by Ms Shankar on stage as a spiritual journey that evokes human being’s progression from its raw original physical state to that of a greater consciousness.
It is striking that even while trying hard to replicate the poetic flow of Rumi’s concept Ms Shankar has had her attention well set on reproducing the rhyme and rhythm of Rumi’s original. Ms Shankar has intriguingly blended the philosophy of the thirteenth century Sufi teacher with the ancient Sanskrit ‘rasa’ concept. As ‘rasa’ means by term ‘essence’ or ‘juice’, the emotional states gone through by the audiences enjoying a performance have been compared to those by the danseuse.
It is apparent that Ms Shankar views ‘rasas’ as being used by the classical performing arts of India, much like Rumi has in his poetry, to conjure emotion and provoke reflection on questions based on spirituality and morality. According to the celebrated choreographer, all such emotions were well imparted on human beings as the latter desperately are still out in search of the secret of their identity.
Ms Shankar particularly quotes Rumi’s poem’s lines, ‘not of the earth, not of water, not of air, not of fire. I am not from the highest heaven, not from this world’, to support her view that the gist of the poem was all about finding one’s identity, following the search for which, it was realised that the search has been as a matter of fact for something that was within the human beings themselves. She adds that once that truth was realised, human beings would tend to surrender to that, which has allowed the realisation of the same.
Ms Shankar has had three short dances precede ‘We the Living’ presentation. These include a welcome dance complimented by music composed by her husband. The performance that the choreographer avers to be of the Uday Shankar style, packs the essence of all the classical and traditional dance forms of India, although not in an absolutely pure form. What the audience get to experience here is something quite innovative and improvised. Quite a modern approach, is what Ms Shankar calls it.
The adept choreographer in Ms Shankar has fine-tuned the performance to a complex score that includes a number of translations of Rumi’s poems. The English version has been recited by Mr Victor Banerjee, a renowned actor, and a Persian version is also availed along with a few songs on the five senses written in Maithili language. The songs are sung Mr Shafqat Amanat Ali and Ms Shuba Mudgal.
The music complimenting the presentation, is as innovative as the dance as they have striven fairly to stick to Sufism besides trying to realise the feel of search, where one is looking for different faiths, through music as well as effects. To be evaluative the music has delivered a suiting backdrop for the performance’s fusion spirit. Its ending with a pleasing Sanskrit song, which conveys the message that the human world was one with the same breath and sky was greatly appealing.
After becoming a member of the renowned Uday Shankar India Cultural Centre family, through her marriage to Ananda Shankar, the son of Mrs and Mr Uday Shankar, Ms Shankar has sort of carried the whole family art profession that had fallen on her lap with great zest. In fact, many of her works have demonstrated obvious reflections of the talent of her father in law who had once worked with Anna Pavlova the famous Russian ballerina to realise the presentations of ‘Radha Krishna’ and ‘The Hindu Wedding’.