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It was a refreshing experience to watch ‘Nayika: Exploring Womanhood’, an 80-minute music-and-dance performance at Gleneden’s Playhouse Theatre in west Auckland on 12 March.

Created by Auckland-based danseuse and actor Ambaree Deepak Rege, the innovative production blended the Indian classical Bharatanatyam dance form with different genres of Hindustani classical music to present different aspects of womanhood to coincide with International Women’s Day.

Inspiration for the concept came from the ancient Sanskrit treatise Natyashastra of Bharata, after whom Bharatanatyam takes its name. The production was structured in two parts: The first was Avastha, based on the eight different aspects of a woman’s (heroine) relationship with her man (hero), as envisaged in Bharata’s text.

The concept for this came from Bharata’s classification of heroines (Nayika Bheda) into eight types. Collectively known as Ashta-Nayika (literally, eight heroines) each aspect of the relationship was performed in a different dance number set to a corresponding musical score sung by Auckland’s well-known Hindustani classical vocalist Mayur Tendulkar. The dance depicting each aspect was perfectly paired with the lyric, raag and taal (rhythmic beat) to evoke the right mood depicting of the particular nayika’s circumstance and state of mind.

Ambaree, who directed and choreographed the entire show, performed all the dances of Ashta Nayika solo to the accompaniment of Mayur’s voice, Akhilesh Madhur’s tabla and Samir Bhalodkar’s samvadini. The accompanists performed with great finesse.

The second part was based on age: Mugdha (adolescence), Madhya (young woman) and Praudha (adulthood). These were set to popular, yesteryear songs from the Marathi stage (Natya Sangeet) and were sung by Prajakta Pande while Swarali Pande and Shweta Divekar joined Ambaree in performing the three dance numbers depicting the three ages, once again in the classical Bharatanatyam dance form.

Nayika is a beautiful blend of Bharatanatyam, a classical dance style from the southern region of India, with Hindusthani music from the northern region, and is more than just a treat for eyes and ears. It is about celebrating womanhood in its true essence,” Ambaree had told Indian Weekender ahead of the show. She kept her promise – it was indeed a treat for the eyes and ears with the colourfully traditional costumes and accoutrements, the soulful singing and music and some well-designed stage lighting.

Supported by CIPA (Centre for Indian Performing Arts), MNF (Mohan Nadkarni Foundation), the Auckland Marathi Association Inc (AMAI) and other sponsors, productions like Nayika and producers like Ambaree and her team must be encouraged to produce more ground up creative offerings for New Zealand’s ethnic performing arts scene.

First appeared in the Indian Weekender 24 March 2023