The studio theatre at Esplanade is fully packed with audiences dressed in sarees ready to watch Ula. From my seat, I can hear the ghungroos (an anklet of bells tied to the feet of classical Indian dancers) as the dancers take their positions on an unassuming black stage. Ula is a Bharatnatyam performance choreographed by Anjana Anand and performed by the beautiful and powerful dancers of Bharatha Arts.
Anand creates a procession on stage where women thank and praise the lord through seven different stages of womanhood, its poetic and mesmerising. Each step of this journey is represented with a dancer performing solo work, often followed by a tight ensemble piece. That each woman is of an entirely different age (seven to forty years old) only adds to the reality of the situation. No one is pretending to be someone other than themselves, so the dancers act the part to perfection.
From the start, a procession for Shiva and Uma arrives from stage-left. Tight footwork in all the dancers and an elegant variation from cannon to unison crosses over to the opposite side. The costumes are lavish and, in tones of orange, salmon and pink adorned with jewellery worthy of a monarch and make-up to put any youtube beauty guru to shame. Each dancer has a beautiful long black plait descending from their heads down to the lower back. In one striking but straightforward scene, the ensemble of dancers steps up-stage on a platform to turn around in slow-motion and carefully descend to the ground bending their knees. The similarities in this intergenerational female cast are impressive. The unison is as tight as a sailors knot and the smiles are overwhelming when they turn to face the audience with eyes wide open connecting to the spiritual, the lord and consequentially the audience.
I am not an expert on classical Indian dance by any stretch. I am a curious mind that wanders to these events and marvels at the level of skill each dancer displays. I stare at the simple looking choreography, that surprises me every time the speed increases. I am a nerd for perfection and Bharatanatyam is one of those art-forms where you can’t hide any mistakes. Everything is on display, underscored by beautiful and vivid colours, accompanied by music that makes you think of the beautiful and ancestral culture of India.
Ula is one of those performances that allows you to travel far away from your seat, deep inside your imagination and smacks you in the face with perfect unison work from beginning to end. What a wonderful evening of dance.