Before attempting to create an awareness of the classical art of Bharatanatya to the younger generation, Rukmini Devi decided to learn the art herself, which she eventually mastered with the help of teachers of great stature. After establishing Kalashetra, Chennai and building it up with the willing assistance of outstanding dancers and musicians, she began to concentrate on producing dance dramas, wjhich allowed the flowering of her talents in group choreography, dramatic presentation of well known stories from the epics and puranas of India in Bharatanatya and Kahakali styles.
Her sense of beauty and aesthetics were also revealed in the designing of costumes, jewellery, stage decor and the selection of experts in each field to make every one of her twenty-five dance dramas from Kutrala Huravanji to Ramayanam to more recent stories of Meera of Mewar and Tagore's Shyama an expert production in the genre. This book portrays pictorially several scenes from these dance dramas along with an outline of the stories, besides scholarly analysis of the plays by experts. The book could be a worthy guides to aspiring choreographers.
In the early 1930s, when Rukmini Devi began her historical spiritual work in dance, she was blessed with help from all sides from dedicated people to help achieve her mission, like Alex and Mary Elmore. Conrad Woldring and others appeared on the scene to help her artistic endeavour, especially theatre, photographic and printing arts which were less known in India in those days.
Sixty years ago stage lighting was done with reflectors and flood lights which had salt dimmers. It is interesting to note that ideas developed by the early British stage craft in those days were brought to Mdras to help Rukmini Devi with her early plays were brought to Madras to help Rukmini Devi with her early plays through Mr. Alex Elmore and Mary Elmore, who had come to the Theosophical Society from England. Alex had the experience of working with school theatre in England and was an amateur producer of school plays; it was a tradition in that country that every school gave training in acting and theatre. Alex had good experience in stage craft and lighting. His experience and interest in theatre resulted in a confluence of skills and talents when he associated with Rukimi Devi in her plays; what started as amateur productions ended up as productions of two hours duration with a professional approach with school children, teachers and young theosophists.
In the 1940s after the premature death of Mr. C. Woldring and Mr. Elmore's returning back to England, Nachiappan began to help Rukmini Devi with her plays for the first time. "Kumara Sambhavam" was his first experience under Rukmini Devi. With his knowledge of photography and intricacies of lighting, it was easy for Nachiappan to translate his experience to the stage and help Rukmini Devi to achieve the stage effects she needed to complete the dance dramas.
Rukmini Devi thus found that Nachiappan had the creative ability to do the stage lights with the understanding of the plays and moods and the subtleties of her productions; with this in mind she decided to send him for training in stage craft and lighting to Ways State University Theatre for three months under the expert guidance of Leon, who was already a leading theatre expert in Detroit at that time, who developed the technique of "painting with lights" on stage productions. Thus hid training in Detroit helped him to understand the ideas of lighting for the dance dramas.
After Nachiappan retuned from his tour of England, Europe and the USA in 1963, he began with the idea of "painting with light" for Rukmini Devi's productions. At that time theatre people were working with the idea of 'painting the production with light'. Nachiappan, who already had an exposure to stage craft with Elmore, furthered his knowledge by working with Strand Electric Demonstration Theatre in UK. Due to his interest and skill in photography, he was quick to learn from Mermaid Theatre and Aldwych Theatre as a stage hand. When he returned in 1963 he began to introduce the techniques he had learnt to the Kalakshetra dance dramas. Importance had to be given to facial expressions while deigning lighting for them, besides colour. Nachiappan's technique was a synthesis of ballet lighting and stage lighting as practised in England. He became an expert in light design. In proper light design, the intensity of lighting would change according to the time of day, more moods and highlight the even or character.
At that time the Strand Electric Company of London brought out their stage lighting equipment to Madras for Annamalai Mandram to demonstrate their equipment. Nachiappan became interested in the spots, which were the only way to light plays and dance dramas, though the Strand Electric Company did not make a big success in selling their equipment due to import restrictions.
Kalakshetra acquired the demonstration equipment at a reasonable price and Nachiappan began introducing the concept of light design for dance dramas. Then the European Theatres introduced the same concept with ballet production, which Nachiappan saw in Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow during a visit with Rukmini Devi and other dancers. These productions in central Europe gave him working ideas of lighting design with colours for the sets and bright spot lamps for the expression on the face. The lighting was based on moods of the dance dramas: for instance, in the forest, Rama, Sita and Lakshmana sleeping on the backs of river and waking up in the early morning lights. Similarly fire in the Lanka Dahanam and Agni Pavedam in Ramayana were based on such "painting with light" concept Thus Rukmini Devi progressed with the stage production of dance dramas and set a standard. Nachiappan's contriution "Kumarasambhavam" continued till the last procuby Rukmini Devi.
It is more than three decades since Rukmini Devi produced 'Kumara Sambhavam' dance with the music composed by no less a person than Tiger varadachariar.
When Nachiappan suggested to Rukmini Devi in those days that he wished to photograph the dance drama, she was hesitant because she felt she was too old for the part of Parvathi. She finally agreed after Nachiappan's persuasion and wanted him to photograph while the show was on, but it was impossible to do so as he was also doing the lighting and stage managing. It was decided to arrange the play specially for photographing. When photographs were shown to her she would not approve any pictures of herself as Parvathi, but did not mind other pictures. Now we find that they are historical pictures and therefore we take the liberty to reproduce them this volume.
The rest of her dance dramas were photographed in full costumes and lights, over a period of 35 years. They were exposed in black and white with the same lighting technique used by Nachiappan's teacher, Conrad Woldring, with rich tonal quality as he would have liked. Though colour was available to him in those years, he preferred to work with black and white, like Conrad.
The pictures are grouped chronologically, but for the Ramayana Productions, which have been grouped together for convenience.
Thus we have unique photographs from 1938 to 1986, all in black & white, which speak eloquently of the yester years.
It is unfortunate that Conrad and Rukmini Devi are not with us today to see these books in print.
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