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  • Kate Gaul

Nayika A Dancing Girl நாயிகா – ஒரு நாட்டியப் பெண்

Updated: 6 days ago

Nayika A Dancing Girl

நாயிகா – ஒரு நாட்டியப் பெண்


Written and directed by Nithya Nagarajan and Liv Satchell, Nayika a Dancing Girl tells a story of recovery and triumph, through an confluence of western story telling conventions and the Indian classical Bharatanatyam dance – Bha (Bhavam: expression)-Ra (Ragam: song)-Tha(Thalam: rhythm)-natyam(dance) –  which is used to express major plot points and emotional highs/lows of the story. Vaishnavi Suryaprakash is at the centre of this performance – accompanied by stunning live music from Marco Cher-Gibard and Bhairavi Raman. She narrates her coming-of-age story through her present identity as an adult in Australia and her early teenage experiences of violence in her first relationship in Chennai. Hidden memories are triggered by an unexpected visit from a friend in Sydney.

As a teenager there is a boy with whom she shares stolen glances. There are her dance classes where the guru teaches her about the different types of heroines in Indian mythology. Nayika translates as heroine, specifically one of the eight types of romantic heroine described in an ancient Indian treatise on the performing arts. The play weaves connections between Suryaprakashm, the play’s protagonist (a dancing girl), and these mythic heroines. Towards the end of the work, our protagonist asks: where is the “overwhelmed” heroine – the heroine who shows us how to deal with a dangerous lover? The dance guru tells her that to face her overwhelming feelings she must embrace her power, and real power comes with control over one’s body and one’s emotions.


The story moves from scenes of teenage girls, relationships, and romance to a reclaiming her voice (of sorts) and her power after having become a victim to partner abuse. “A Dancing Girl” identifies this power as the missing ninth heroine of Bharatanatyam: a heroine who can reclaim control of time, space, and body.  With violence against women all too recently declared a national crisis by our Prime Minister, it is important to share and understand stories of gendered and domestic abuse, in addition to the nuance of experiences amongst the South Asian diaspora.

The production is stylish.  Set design is shared between this and “Lose to Win” and is designed by Keerthi Subramanyam.  The string backdrop reveals a musician’s platform. Consummate designer Morgan Moroney lights the stage with immense allure and provides incredible shifts between moments in the story and supports the use of space in the performance of both text and dance.  Music, dance, and text are woven together with the design elements with sophistication.

The performance is intimate, magnetic, and focussed. This is not an easy story to warm to.  Empathy is possible but there’s something over-polite in the writing that distances.  It may be a cultural respect that is employed or a fear of damaging the febrile memories on which the work is based. Playing at Belvoir in the downstairs space is another South Asian work, Aurat Raj. Supporting these rich stories is a refreshing programming direction for the theatre.  Long may it continue.

Kate Gaul

(Image Brett Boardman)







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