Kannagi: A dance for unity

  • Arts
  • Monday, 09 Sep 2013

Istana Budaya opens its doors to an epic Indian dance drama.

IT has been a while since an Indian dance drama was staged in our theatres but this weekend, Istana Budaya in Kuala Lumpur will come alive with Kannagi – The Wrath Of A Chaste Woman.

Featuring more than 60 dancers, original compositions and a dazzling array of costumes, the mega production is aimed at attracting crossover audience.

Presented by the Tanjai Kamalaa Indira Dance School in collaboration with the National Land Finance Cooperative Society Limited (NLFCS)-Tan Sri K.R.Somasundaram Arts & Culture Foundation, Kannagi was originally performed on a smaller scale in 1997. The organisers decided to re-stage the epic because they felt it was timely, especially in this turbulent period when gangsterism among Indians is at an all time high. Since Kannagi contained all the elements of Tamil culture, it could be an eye-opener for many.

After staging Kannagi successfully on a smaller magnitude in Cameron Highlands, Pahang, and Kulim, Kedah, recently, the production is set to take place on a bigger show in the city.

“Art and culture is not only for the rich. It’s for everyone and that’s why we took it to the rural areas for those who cannot afford to come to Kuala Lumpur. The people loved it,” said NLFCS chief executive officer Datuk B. Sahadevan, at a recent press conference.

As one of the oldest Indian classical dance schools in the country, the Tanjai Kamalaa Indira Dance School, established by two sisters, has been producing numerous dance dramas and thematic performances since 1966. They were the first school to perform a Tamil dance drama called Sivagamiyin Sabatham in 2007 at Istana Budaya.

Indira Manikam, choreographer and artistic director of Kannagi is clearly a little nervous about making her second appearance at the venue but with 47 years of experience in the industry, she is confident it will be a quality production.

“We’ve been working on it for a few months and have only made slight changes from the original choreography. Most of the artistes have changed, of course, but everyone is a professional though they may not be full-time bharatanatyam dancers,” said Indira, who is also the founder and principal of the school. “We brought all the costumes from India and have kept to the original designs during that era as much as possible.”

The story revolves around Kannagi, Kovalan and Mathavi in the thriving trading port of Poompuhar in South India. Kannagi and Kovalan are enjoying wedded bliss until Mathavi, a courtesan dancer walks into their lives and wreaks havoc. Known for her beauty and dancing skills, Kovalan is mesmerised and falls for her.

It’s a tragic tale of a chaste woman, full of devotion, seeking justice for the wrongful execution of her husband, and how the heavenly forces adhere to her call. The plot is akin to the legendary Malaysian tale of Mahsuri.

Rehearsals have intensified in the past few weeks and there is excitement in the air as the dancers are thrilled to perform at the premier venue. The only original cast from the 1997 production is Basheer Hakim, who reprises his role as Kovalan. Indira’s daughter Kamini, takes on the role of Kannagi.

While the songs are all in Tamil, there will be English narrations before every scene, said Indira. There is no dialogue but the songs, composed by the late Re Shanmugam, will weave the plot and connect the 14 scenes.

According to Datuk Juhari Shaarani, director-general of Istana Budaya, there is a dearth of Indian shows in Istana Budaya.

“We don’t want our shows to only target Malay audience but we want all races to watch performances. The Chinese community holds at least one show a year but in the last two years, there has been no production from the Indian community except for one theatre show,” he said.

Juhari cited high costs as one of the main reasons Indians shy away from performing there. The average cost for a one day production can go up to a steep RM500,000, depending on how many outside vendors are engaged. This includes designing sets, production crew payment, stage rental, music commissions, etc.

Juhari said, “We have offered many Indian groups to use our venue but none have taken it up. To draw the crowd, we’re attempting to bring Tamil and Hindi pop artistes from India to perform here. Hopefully from next year onwards, we can stage at least two Indian shows a year.”

Tickets are free for Kannagi as the organisers believe “the essence and joy of Malaysian culture is meant to be shared and experienced by everyone regardless of ethnicity.”

Kannagi – The Wrath Of A Chaste Woman will take place at 8.30pm on Sept 13 & 14 at Panggung Sari, Istana Budaya, Kuala Lumpur. Log on to www.tki.com.my to download your complimentary e-tickets. For more information, please call 012-618 7805.

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Kannagi: A dance for unity


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