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Dance Review: Yānum

Yānum is a prose and dance reinterpretation of the Aimperumkāppiyaṅkaḷ, a set of stories from the Tamil region of India. Known as the great epics, they were written over a thousand years ago, and feature a set of strong and often feisty female protagonists.  

In this production, a contemporary woman called Dharshi (Dharshna Ponnampalam) is obsessed with the stories and falls into a dream where five of the epic women tell their stories through dance.

The narratives of the epics all involve love and loss and a good deal of revenge. It’s the type of storytelling that people love – wronged lovers, trysts, corruption, and hopefully redemption. The kind of tale you’ll find in every culture and especially in opera! 

The five heroines are Kannagi (Swetha Gopi), Madhavi (Ambaree Deepak Rege), Manimegalai (Athulya Mohan), Kundalakeshi (Niken Waloejo), and Valayapathi (Bhuvana Kannan).

In Yānum, we see them portrayed as both characters from the ancient stories, and also as contemporary women. The message is very clear, these mythical stories can be brought into a modern context to remind us that human behaviour is consistent across time and cultures. 

People have always fallen in love and created families and been happy. But of course there is always a darker side to love – it can come with heartache, grief, and betrayal.

Despite two of the cast repeatedly saying they mustn’t get political, this is a very political story. As Dharshi the narrator says at one point, (and I’m paraphrasing) ’yes the epics tell the tale of strong women, but the stories were written by men’. 

In another moment Dharshi brings up the overturning of Roe v Wade in the United States to illustrate that women’s choices are still being undermined. Again she repeats the idea that the show should not be political and her on stage musical companion and friend (Seyorn Arunagirinathan) agrees. The point is not lost. Even a modern woman has to second guess herself when giving an opinion on a subject that intimately affects her. 

In terms of the look of the show the sets were minimal but looked lush and the costuming was impeccable. The soundscape was equally good, and as well as having recorded music and voice, it was wonderful to see and hear Arunagirinathan providing live accompaniment on his rather unique looking violin. 


As someone who didn’t know these stories going in, I would have liked a little more information about each character and their backstory. In a similar vein, at one point script appeared on the back screen in what I assume was the Tamil language. I feel sad I couldn’t read the words.

In summary, Yānum is an elegant and charming reinterpretation of those great epic stories, and by using a feminist approach in that reinterpretation, we get a very strong sense of what has changed over the centuries, and also, what still needs to change. 

YĀNUM

15-16 March 2024

Tickets and information 

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