These days, a studio in the heart of the city is resonating with the verses from the Upanishads and the sound of trinkets. Cultural impressario Neelam Man Singh directs dancer Hema Sundari Vellaluru along with actors Rocky and Raman as they explore the text of Nachiketa from the Upanishads. The story of a child, who learns life’s intricacies from the God of Death, is being rehearsed in the form of a contemporary chamber opera piece of the same name. Commissioned by London’s Opera Circus, the project is being directed by Singh and features artistes and musicians from both India and Britain. Nachiketa will open in London this November. “It’s a journey with death and I am discovering the texts through movements, objects and moments. An opera is a new ground for me, and I am peeling the layers with various dramatic dimensions and expressions,’’ says Singh, who will soon be off to London for the final rehearsals of the opera, which travels to India in March 2014.
The libretto in the opera is by Chilean-American novelist-playwright Ariel Dorfman, who is inspired by real-life events and his own experiences in exile and the story of Nachiketa in the Upanishads, while the music is by British composer Nigel Osborne.
Creating a new visual vocabulary for the text with intricate moves and expressions, Bangalore-based Vellaluru, here for rehearsals, will play the lead dancer in the opera. For the 29-year-old dancer, who is trained in Bharatnatyam, Kuchipudi, African and contemporary dance, apart from yoga and pilates, describes her role in Nachiketa as a spiritual journey, where one encounters people, situations, objects and interacts with them and then follows one’s own path. “I do it through dance, and so this role has both meaning and value for me,’’ says Vellaluru, who agrees that to get the classical and contemporary on a common ground is challenging. “But it gives me such an open space to learn, keep what works and is convincing, and also develop my own intrinsic style and feel, which I am doing for the opera,’’ says Vellaluru, who began freelancing in 2008 and is doing projects and collaborative work with dancers and directors abroad.
Movement generated with conviction and a soulful connect with the text of a piece, adds the dancer, “gives her a direction and centre apart from creating her own self-expressions.” She says, “There is a theme to convey, an imagery to create