I’m sure every performer could write a book about things that go wrong on stage. The most wonderful part about performing on stage is the fact that nothing is predictable. Even after practising for, say, a year, something is bound to go wrong.
I remember when we performed the Ramayana on stage. Deeply inspired by performances we saw at Kalakshetra, we wanted to put up something grand, something that audiences in Pune don’t see very often. My dance teacher choreographed a beautiful dance ballet in Kalakshetra-style – the Ramayana.
A problem we face very often is that we have very few committed dancers, which means that each dancer often has to play more than one role. Changing took rather longer than planned, and Ravana was not ready in time for his grand entrance at the Sita swayamvara. Unwilling to leave the stage empty, we went on to stage to play for time.
Then ensued the most hilarious episode ever, where we sat on stage, taking the audience for a royal ride, hunting for things to talk about – all through dance language, of course. Perpetually on the brink of uncontrollable mirth, we rummaged in our heads for things we could talk about. How do we make conversation? ‘Talk about the weather’ rose instantly to our minds. That was a bit inappropriate when we were supposed to be in a palace, so we spoke about how beautiful the palace was.
What next? We asked Vishwamitra about the bow and what the swayamvara was about.
Then what? Then we asked who we were waiting for. The words ‘ten-headed one, ten-headed one’ travelled all over the stage.
Ravana still wasn’t ready. We were reaching the end of our imaginations. So we talked about the valour of different kings, the fact that the bow was Shiva’s bow originally, that the beautiful Sita would be won by the bravest of the princes…
The sigh of relief when we saw Ravana in the wings is incomparable. I could feel my teacher breathing again; all of us started breathing again. Four years later, we remember the episode with laughter. Yet, when I think about it, what I find truly remarkable is that dance is such a beautiful language. We were able to keep our audience captivated and totally unaware of what was happening while we exchanged small nothings.