Sita Haran Dance Drama

Antara Bhardwaj, dancer and Productions & Touring Manager with the Chitresh Das Dance Company, interviews Pandit Chitresh Das about his original music composed for “Sita Haran.” (Cross posted from the CDDC web site.)

You have traditionally always worked with live musicians. What made you choose to work with recorded music for this particular production?

There were several reasons for this decision. The music I had in mind was very complex – with many different instruments, and a lot of special effects. It is not possible to have that many instruments on a live stage, or to create the full effect that I had in mind. Also, live music has a different feel – it has its own beauty and strengths, but for this piece,
I needed more control over the music – so that the instrumentation,
recitation, and special effects could create the exact effect that I was looking for.

How does the creative process work for you? Did you have a particular raga (melodic form in Hindustani music, where improvisation is within a particular framework) in mind for each scene?

The process goes back to my childhood and my upbringing. You must understand, I grew up in a dance institution watching Kathakali, Manipuri, Tagore Dance Dramas, Yatra (Bengali folk plays) – not to mention the local vendors performing their annual ‘Ram Leela.’ Throughout my years, I developed a feeling of what kind of music went with what. When we were creating the music, I would hum certain ragas, according to the feeling that went with each character. From there, I would add on a rhythmic structure, and choose a particular percussion instrument – tabla, pakhawaj, and even some South Indian instruments – to bring in the feel of Dakhin, as so much of this part of the Ramayana did take place in the deep south.

It’s not just an overnight process. I’ve also been influenced by so many actors. The Female Actress’ Guild of India would come and perform at my parents’ school. There, I saw women playing the roles of both men and women – something that I have had to learn to teach to all my female students, to try to bring balance to the Ardhanariswara within them.

What role does the music play in shedding new light on this ancient story?

Our classical traditions must be brought out in a dramatic and enjoyable way.  And this music brings ancient India to life. These ragas were developed throughout the centuries in India – each has a different mood, and evokes a different emotion. This music helps create the mood and environment of that time. Imagine – Ram, Lakshman, and Sita, in a jungle – without a cell phone!

Today’s young Indians must see that there are lessons in our traditional arts, literature and philosophy that are everlasting. There is pride, there is glory. There is jealousy, and hatred. There is love, there is rejection. There is greed and loss. There is lust, and there is abstinence. Even today, these ancient epics help shape our mind, body, culture and society.

I am interested in seeing more nuanced aspects of the Ramayana.  I want to see the human contradictions that we struggle with to this day—making these stories continually relevant.  I want the audience to FEEL the joy, pain, fear and loss of these characters and discover how it may apply to their own lives.  This took place in ancient India, yet the violence and pain of society continues to this day.  Why?  I want to explore this and share this exploration with the audience—through the music, the dance and the entire production.

What was your process working with your team of musicians in India?

Jayanta Banerjee is a very good Sitar soloist and accomplished musician and composer. His being the sound engineer added so much to the process because he has such deep understanding of the music.  He has been playing Sitar with me for 5-6 years now. He has developed an understanding with me through all this time, watching me perform, teach, practice, create music – and not only did he give his 200% to this music, he brought on musicians who also gave their 200% to the project.   I also want to mention Dr. George Ruckert who composed the original section of one of the pieces of the music, the Golden Deer.  He was assisted by Christopher Ris.  The music is also influenced by the great Ali Akbar Khansahib, watching and hearing his music over the years.  This was in addition to growing up in my parents’ institution, seeing all of the great Indian musicians, dancers, poets and great minds over the years.

Original Music for Sita Haran composed by Pandit Chitresh Das