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The Prince And The Apsara

Wednesday, February 21, 2018
By Deepa Gahlot

It is difficult to get young, urban audiences interested in classical dance, and perhaps even more so to interest them in mythology.

The dance drama,'Urvashi - Celebration of love and womanhood' attempts to do both, but by using part classical-part contemporary dance styles, and a riot of kitsch that belongs to mythological serials on TV, which in turn owe their look to comics for kids. The production, directed and choreographed dancer Vaibhav Arekar and Sushant Jadhav, with music by Alap Desai, works with projected sets and hybrid costumes that could have done with some more subtlety and grace.

Like the two teenagers caught canoodling in a forbidden forest, many in the audience probably did not know the story of the apsara or celestial nymph Urvashi.  As it happened in so many mythological tales, the gods are worried that the severe meditation of the rishis might destabilise their heavenly abode (with dancing apsaras), so Lord Indra (Akshay Hadale) send the apsaras Rambha and Menaka to disturb them.  (This use of women to weaken the spiritual resolve of men is recurring theme in Indian mythology and has coloured the perception of females down the ages as temptresses and destroyers of men, but men having no control over their desire are not berated!)

In a rage, the rishi curses Lord Indra and also creates from his thigh, an apsara called Urvashi (Mandeera Manish), so beautiful that the others retreat in shame.

Urvashi wants to visit Earth, and when she does, she meets King Pururava (Vrushank Raghatate) and they fall in love. When Pururava rescues her from a demon, she decides to marry him and live on Earth, but also lays down some conditions. When Lord Indra misses her and wants her back, he arranges to have the conditions broken, so she has to return.

There are several versions of the story (plus equally interesting prequel and sequels) and it has inspired artists -- Raja Ravi Varma among them — to paint the love story of Urvashi and Pururava.

The play tries to place some modern ideas into the ancient tale, but the production is meant as a work of entertainment, and that it does to a large extent. Using varied forms from Bharatanatyam, Kathak, Kathakali and even ballet, the choreographers present some beautiful group dances, which would appeal to a mass audience, and perhaps, get them to discover and read the Indian epics.

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