Thursday, September 29, 2016

Dancing the Moods: Ragas, Makams and Dastgahs

As a dancer and also someone who had started out an academic career originally in Psychology as the primary discipline, I am perpetually interested in the "moods" and psychological states affected by performance.  The raaga system within classical Indian music has a number of ways of classifying music, and one of these is by the psychological state evoked by each Raaga. In addition, the rasa theory from the Natyashastra treatise, which also links the performance to the evocation of a specific mood within the spectator, also holds a significant centrality for the classical Indian performing arts.

In the context of classical Odissi dance, we dancers work with highly structured repertoire pieces, which are composed by our gurus, and senior gurus of our lineage traditions (gharanas).  For me, in the context of Odissi dance, the moods/ragas theory has been an entry point into conceptualizing an overall mise-en-scene for a piece or production. In 2013, when I performed my feature-length solo show "Corpus Matris" at the Toronto International Fringe Festival, I performed the repertoire choreographed by Guru Durgacharan Ranbir.  I wanted a dynamic relationship between the dance and the lighting design, and this was where the ragas and relationship to mood came in.  My show began with "Vajrakanti Pallavi", one of Guruji's beautiful and distinctive compositions (pallavi is an abstract dance within the Odissi repertoire). One of my former mentors, Sushree Mishra Kar, from Calgary, who is both a classical Odissi dancer and Odissi singer, sent me more information on the Raag Vajrakanti's classification on the mood theory,  and that it considered to be a "melancholy" raaga, associated with late night/early morning times. This information I provided to my lighting designer, Parker Nowlan, to help structure an overall mood for this section of the performance.   

Photo above: from "Corpus Matris" (2013), Theatre Passe-Muraille Mainspace, Toronto. 
Lighting Design: Parker Nowlan

In 2016, when I visited Turkey under a grant from the Canada Council for the Arts, in order to study several different dance forms of Turkey, I had the privilege of undertaking a lesson in Turkish Makam Theory under Okan “™akmak of Istanbul.  To me, it felt like the learning of dance tradition would remain incomplete without knowledge of the music, and its philosophical and aesthetic bases.  “™akmak had been Mike's clarinet instructor for Turkish style clarinet, and with this being the common ground, Mike and I took this lesson together. It was fascinating to learn about the music theories of Al Farabi and Ibn Sina, and also that most of these makams were associated with zodiacs as well as psychological and physical states.  

Another choreographic study I did earlier in the year was "A Study in Dastgah Shur", based upon the Persian modal system of music (dastgahs). I presented sections of the piece in April 2016. Once again I found myself intrigued by the theory of specific moods being evoked by the different dastgahs.  

Mike and I currently involved in a number of music-dance projects and collaborations. Among these was "An Encounter in Hicaz," which we presented a few times in Toronto. We also continue to collaborate on a longterm project, titled "Vignettes of Sringaar", in which I aim to bring in some of my study of rasas and moods.

Our most active project is  Ensemble Topaz, a music-dance ensemble featuring a trio of dancers, and several musicians. Among my favourite performances this year with the Ensemble has been the CNE International Stage in August.  Tomorrow (September 29, 2016), we have our presentation for Culture Days at the Annette Street library, from 1:00-2:00 pm, featuring some of our musicians, and a few of our dancers, playing select pieces of our repertoire. We have been told that there will be school classes visiting our presentation and we greatly look forward to sharing our work with the next generation! For more information on Ensemble Topaz at Culture Days:

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