A Talk on and through Hastas

(Compiled by Nkmweb team)

“Aasyenaath Aalambayeth geetham, Hastena Artham Pradarshayeth”.

Hasta plays a vital role in communicating the meaning of any dance. There are specific hand gestures to represent a wide array of concepts ranging from simple inanimate objects to complex emotions. Hastas play the same role in dance as dialogues play in movies. Let us look briefly into use of Hastas in pure dance (Nritta) and thematic dance (Abhinaya).

In Nritta, usage of hastas are primarily for embellishments meant for aesthetic beauty. One must use their hastas in a manner that makes the presentation of a sequence pleasant and appealing. Following are the factors on which such presentation is determined:-

*) How fast or slow do we have to move our hands? How must they be timed? Speed and timing of hastas in nritta make significant difference to the appeal of the adavus. While speed is determined by the kaala or the speed of the sequence or the pace of the song (example, in a trikaala jathi), timing is determined by the style of adavu. For instance, Egaru tattu adavu looks bright when the hastas are used in a brisk manner, whether in first speed or third. Rangakramana adavu on the other hand, is spread over a number of counts and is timed more at leisure.

Speed and energy-(https://youtu.be/vHzS50JBsmg)

*)This brings us to another important aspect, Hastakshetra (positioning of hands). It has been prescribed by our ancestors that the start, the finish, the movement, the speed, overall look of the hasta has to be taken care of. For instance, a Rangaakramana adavu which has 16 counts and an elaborate circular hand movement, looks complete when the placement of hands through the path is equally divided into 16 positions. Watch this -Hastakshetra and speed- (https://youtu.be/Pqj3OTuYdb4)

*) While all the technical aspects of the use of hastas set the tone, that which gives life to dance is energy. It must flow from shoulder to elbows to hands up until the finger tips. Energy can range from graceful to vigorous movements and we must use the energy according to what the adavu needs and whose dance we are portraying. For instance- Movements in Pure dance composition like “Alaripu” will be justified when presented with utmost precision and equal division of energy throughout the movement (vigorous), while on the other hand, Movements like “Mai Adavu” will be at its best when presented with grace and composure. Nevertheless, both need the flow of energy which brings them to life. Hence, a dancer must be aware of the required energy to be given in accordance with the movement.

*) The essence of the execution of Nritta is described perfectly in a nutshell, in the shloka we all know- “Yato hasta tato drishti, yato drishti tato manaha...” Looking at the hasta while dancing brings about harmony and connectedness between the dance and the dancer. To simplify it, I always ask my students to converse with their limbs while dancing. But “drishti” is not merely “looking.” It is “focus.” Focus is when the dancer looks at the farthest point of her hand specifically, like the tip of the finger. When there is such focus, the energy flows in that direction, and that extends beyond the dancer’s physical vicinity and reaches the onlooker effectively. The shloka mentioned above, as we all know, continues to say “... Yato mana tato bhava, yato bhava tato rasaha.” These lines are relevant in understanding the role of hastas in abhinaya. All the above factors are used to determine the use of hastas in Abhinaya too. Use of hastas is an important aspect of “Aangika abhinaya” (emoting through the body). As mentioned earlier, in dance, the purpose of hastas is communication. It enables to bridge the dancer with the onlookers and helps reach the dancer’s message to them. (Abhi- towards, Naya-eyes, Towards the eyes of the viewer) Here too, the dancer has to pay attention to the subtle aspects of using the hastas in order to enhance his or her own experience of the emotions, as well as to effectively reach the spectators- the rasikas.

*) Speed is one such aspect. How quickly we move our hands depends on the emotion we are portraying. Quick movements when showing sadness, and slow movements when showing celebration will neither communicate the emotion appropriately, nor allow the dancer to experience the emotion fully. Speed and timing are related. The hasta should be timed with the words- the sahithya. They must follow the rhythm of the song. What is critical in timing is pausing. Right pauses are instrumental in the clarity of communication. Usinghastaswithoutrightpauseswillfeellikethis.

*) What role does hastakshetra play in Abhinaya? Hastakshetra is determined based on context, emotion, proximity of other characters- present or imaginary.. And more. Taking proximity for instance, calling a child who is far away and a child who is close by will require the hand to be either stretched out, or folded respectively. Generally the hastas should be kept at chest level and at least three inches away from the body. Hastakshetra and energy-(https://youtu.be/u9eM4PLuKps)

*) Energy is important. It must, as said before, flow from shoulder to elbows to hands up until the finger tips. For abhinaya the energy again depends on the feel of the item and for nritta it depends on the adavus itself.

*) Focus- In theater, actors are trained with many exercises to practice focus while acting. Focus in Abhinaya plays a vital role in capturing the attention of the audience and also helps the

dancer to involve in the character better. For instance- If one has to call a person through dance, He/She stretches his/her hand and waves Pataaka Hasta pointing in the direction of the person to be called towards oneself. Here, this movement loses its meaning if the dancer looks away from the person to be called even while using the same hand movement. Another use of focus can be explained through the example portraying the character of “Shakuni.” It is very often seen that the dancer focuses at one point in the audience to make the expression of “scheming” more effective. Hence, usage of hastas with the right focus makes the presentation effective. Focus in a character:(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L5flkIT13G0&feature=youtu.be) Thus, Hastas are powerful instruments of communication and can be used very effectively to bring out vivid pictures and images that can make a lasting impression. So while it is important to practice hastas to “perfection,” it mustn’t stop there. It must go beyond perfection, and incorporate subtle undercurrents of the underlying feeling, context, intention of the sahithya, characters being portrayed and their emotions and situations, and anything that can make the portrayal as visually clear, communicative and effective as possible.

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