indian dance south africa

The Dhananjayan’s

There are times when it becomes unmistakably apparent why I love my job so much! I was sitting at  at a pizzeria with a friend whining about the amount of work I have to do, then she reminded me why I write once again yesterday.

Writing is certainly not for those who wish to make a quick buck or for those exuberant Type A personalities who need excitement at every turn. Writing is also meant to be a solitary art, even if those weird-looking guys at Seattle coffee typing away on their computers (all the while trying to seem clever) may argue to the contrary. But once in a while, something will cross my path that simply makes me joyous to the depth of my soul and I feel proud to be able to write about it and spread the word.

I spent the past Sunday watching a classical performance of the Dhananjayan’s in Johannesburg.  Whilst I scribbled in my notebook about the effect of their performance on the audience, I realized that this was one of those magical moments – I was receiving privileged advance access to a gem, a little-known secret that would now rest carefully in my hands, ready to be shouted – or written up, in this case – from the rooftops.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not a production for everyone. In an age of bigger than life, in your face, beyond plausible belief extravaganzas like 3D movies like‘Avatar’, the Dhananjayan’s show is an anomaly, a slice-of-life, quiet moment in the lives of 2 wonderfully interesting personalities, two spirits who share an art together animating legendary magical tales which brings joy and tears to their hypnotized audience.  If you expect something momentous to happen, it will, if you have a passion behind the purpose and intent. But if you go into the theatre expecting to feel, to experience and to think about the characters and their emotions for a long time to come, then you are ready to watch one of the best shows South Africa has had culminate on stage.

Part dance – set within an era of magical, mythical and legend – part Story – it is clearly a labor of love.

It’s a given that I am a proud South African Indian and that I spent many summers in India – where some of the stories played out takes place – while I was growing up tales of the Ramayana and the legend of  Ganesha was woven into my ‘Aatma’ by my grandmother. Her love of her religion, her essence found solace in my turbulent two religion home. For those who do not know, my Fathers family is Sunni Muslim whilst my Mother’s was Telugu. I found a place in my Mothers mothers lap as I began a true journey of awakening since I was old enough to understand. No doubt, I have belief and a love for Islam but to some degree I could not break into the close knit ties of orthodox Muslim tradition. I was one who questioned everything and this did not go down well with them.

Perhaps the great bond one feels with the slice-of-life, very personal story of ‘Saadhana’ has to do with the sparkling career of the couple.  Somehow, everything they do these days turns cinematic gold!  Like a barefooted Consul-General, Vikram Doraiswami – who removed his shoes respectfully before taking to the stage highlighted ‘one cannot help but be mesmerised by the Dhananjayan’s performance’ – this is true.  Mrs Doraiswami who also took to stage to present flowers to the Dhananjayan’s also made motion to seek their blessings by the traditional ‘touch of feet’ – I was humbled by her actions. I felt the urge to do the same.

The audience also immediately feels a bond, a connection with ‘Akka’ and ‘Unna’, as Jayesperi Moopen affectionately spoke of them. They are an unlikely classical duo, yet we can’t help but fall in love with their poise, grace, their gentle voices, their calm and charming movement on stage. In fact, the whole production put me in the mood for the past few days. Even so I would sit through a repeat of their performance once again without interval. If you missed this show, you certainly have missed out on a piece of living legends.

This first appeared in the Sunday Times Extra as Khan penned this review in his weekly column of The City Swank, 4 years ago. 


About Naufal Khan

Publisher & editor of Indian Spice.

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