200 artistes with disabilities to perform in dance-theatre production in Chennai

Artistes from six special schools in Chennai will be coming together to perform for RASA's 30th annual day.
200 artistes with disabilities to perform in dance-theatre production in Chennai
200 artistes with disabilities to perform in dance-theatre production in Chennai
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“Singing, dramatics, dance. What do you enjoy the most?” I ask 25-year-old Janani Sankaran who had her Bharatanatyam arangetram last year. Her reply is “Music”.  Her mother, Radha, says, "According to Janani, music means any song which she listens to. She cannot actually differentiate between classical or movie songs among others. She enjoys listening to all kinds of songs and dancing as well."

Janani, a classical dance artiste, has Down syndrome. Like her, about 200 artistes with different disabilities like hearing impairment, autism, and Down syndrome among others, from six special schools within Chennai are participating in Ramana Sunritya Aalaya’s (RASA) annual day.

The age bracket of participants range from the age of six to 60 years. Conceptualised and directed by the founder of RASA, Dr Ambika Kameshwar, the title for their thirtieth year is 'Arulin Mozhi: The Voice of Grace'. The Indian dance theatre production is taken from various mythological stories and highlights the philosophy--When we are in a conflicting situation, God's voice guides us to take the right path.

Dr Ambika explaining the steps to an artiste

Dr. Ambika, sharing her experience on how the programme has evolved, says, “We first started with live music where I used to speak the dialogues of all the characters, and if they forgot their actions, I used to improvise my dialogues then and there on stage. But after we started theatre productions with complete recorded music for the past 13 years, the students have evolved so much that they are in tune with the set dialogues and music.”

Through her structured methodology, Theatre for Holistic Development (THD), she has enhanced the lives of hundreds of individuals. What started as an individual initiative, has now blossomed into two full fledged centres in Chennai and Bengaluru.

Dr. Ambika recalls, “I used to go to various special schools all over Chennai and teach creative movement education, which later evolved to be theatre for holistic development, wherein we use forms of theatre for empowering them. We then started our own centre and now reach out to many special schools in Chennai.”

There is a sense of pride as the parents speak about their children. Kishore Bhat, father of Prashanth, a 28-year-old autistic man who has a sharp memory and recites the whole Bhagavad Gita effortlessly without any flaws, says, “Given the fact that autistic individuals have a socialising issue, Prasanth’s social skills have improved a lot after joining RASA in 2000. Dr Ambika and her whole team have taken so much effort to make my son and other artistes cooperate and get them on stage."

Dr Ambika at rehearsals

Radha, who feels that Janani has become a star, says, “Over the years she has become confident on the stage. Even if she realises she has forgotten a step, she continues and does not freeze while performing.”

Janani too seconds this, saying that Poorna akka (Dr. Ambika’s daughter) shows and explains various hand and shoulder positions and movements very nicely.

“My favourite was when I dressed as a bride and danced to the song 'Mana penne',” she beams.

When asked what is special about working with artistes with disabilities, Dr. Ambika affirms, “Their nature of total acceptance and total surrender. They are not self conscious and have no inhibitions. I strongly believe that there is no disparity between children with differing abilities and other children. With the increase in awareness and total acceptance, we are bound to have a united society.”

The programme is open to all and is held on February 28th at Naradagana Sabha from 5.30 pm onwards. Contact Renuka Krishna 9840139607 for further details.

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