An apsara’s quest

Ambika Shaligram
Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Mandeera Manish, Bharatanatyam dancer, shares her thoughts on playing Urvashi, in a theatrical ballet.

An Indian theatrical ballet, Urvashi — Celebration of Love and Womanhood talks about a mythological love story of a celestial maiden. The ballet, which will be staged in the city next week, also unfolds the extraordinary qualities of Urvashi, who is valiant to revolt against the heavenly laws for her rights and sovereignty as a woman.

We chat with Mandeera Manish, who plays Urvashi in this ballet.

Q: You are an exponent of Thanjavur Bharatanatyam style. How was it being choreographed by Vaibhav Arekar and Sushant Jadhav? How did you arrive at a common ground?

As a dancer, I learnt that we need to adapt as per the requirement of production. Sometimes it may be easy, sometimes not so. However, it has been a great learning experience for me. Vaibhavdada and Sushant have been very patient with me, while choreographing Urvashi. There is a lot that I have learnt not only with regard to this production, but for dance on the whole. They too choreographed the dance items to suit my style. 

Q: Why did you choose Urvashi, the apsara? When did you first learn or read about her?

As a student of Sanskrit, we have read and studied works like Vikramorvashiyam where Urvashi is mentioned. We realised that she was different as she was created by a human being and then initiated into the ‘Apsara Tatwa’. She did not blindly accept her duties as instructed. She questioned and reasoned the norms of society. Also, I feel, Urvashi is a lesser explored mythological character and so we went ahead with her.

Q: Is it possible to contemporarise the apsara? What are the traits that she shares with a modern woman?

Apsaras, as we know them, were beautiful, immortal women, basically created to entertain the gods. Women like that exist even today. However, we perceive them differently. The traits that Urvashi shares with today’s modern woman are her abilities to think, reason and question the responsibilities that were given to her. 
Today’s woman is not very different from Urvashi. Even in the 21st century, women are still being treated as objects to satiate the demands of men. Not much seems to have changed from Urvashi’s time — when she fought for her rights as a woman.

Q: The press note says that the performance is a blend of various styles. Which styles are you incorporating?

I am performing in the Thanjavur style of Bharatanatyam, while my co-artistes are presenting their individual styles — classical, contemporary and folk dance. We have tried to incorporate Kathakali/Kalaripayattu, Bharatanatyam in the Pandanallur or Kalakshetra style and some folk styles — like Naga.

Q: Your thoughts on appealing to classes and masses? How will you achieve that? Does it mean that you will ‘dilute the purity of dance form’ as the purists might say?

The story has been built around a young college-going couple. It talks about the experiences of their journey into the mythological story — finding similarities between then and now, with contemporary language that appeals to the masses. The music and the classical dance styles will appeal to the classes.
We have also tried to show that appreciation of classical dance, need not be restricted to the classes. Shows such as Urvashi will help to preserve and promote our cultural heritage. It is not only the legacy of the rich and upper classes.

ST Reader Service 
Urvashi — Celebration of love and womanhood, a ballet, will be presented at Annabhau Sathe Natyagruha Smarak, Bibwewadi on February 13. The show starts from 3.30 pm. Tickets available at

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