Simple thinking, high living... that was the premise of Jayanthi Subramaniam’s ‘Jyotir Gamaya.’
Discipline, devotion and dedication, in that order, enveloped in guru bhakti to continue the guru sishya parampara with a burning desire to soar towards the skies and aiming for perfection, is the sum and substance of ‘Jyotir Gamaya’, an insightful dance production by dancer-teacher Jayanthi Subramaniam. Her dance school, Kala Darsana, in its 25 years, has mirrored the image of the fine art of Bharatanatyam with passion and effort.
Jayanthi’s need to translate Richard Bach to Bharatanatyam arose with the metaphoric flight of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, the focus being on the dual terms ‘Jyotir Gamaya’ from the Shanti Mantra of the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad. Simple living, high thinking was the analogy that captured the essence of this philosophical dance drama.
Against a dark blue backdrop, an umbrella of silver grey gulls (a handiwork of her students) followed the master torchbearer whose aim was higher than the rest - a neat illustrative representation that summarised the content. The fulcrum of this concept was a richly researched contribution by Dr. Rajkumar Bharti. His memorable musical score using gana ragas Thodi, Kalyani and Hamsadhwani, and pleasing vocals with veteran Nandini Anand, transcended imaginative boundaries.
To the strains of tolling bells, the violin and the flute, symbolising the crack of dawn, Dr. Rajkumar Bharti showered swarams interlacing alapana that denoted the joy of flight and freedom.
A crisply contained storyline of Jonathan, the seagull, unfolded with the dancers in and out of group sequences as variables while Sumitra Subramaniam (Jayanthi’s daughter) playing the central character with aplomb, was constant. The intended panoramic view depicting the waves accompanied by lashing waters bordered a structurally distant and elevated landscape of dancers. This opening scene bore powerful oceanic sound but demanded arresting sights as the concept blurred intermittently.
In quick succession, the performers moved spatially across the stage to the rhythms of ‘Yeley lo ailasa’ weaving formations as fishing boatmen. Here the concomitant customary fisher-folk dance was well expounded in the background to complete the picture. The squeals, squawks, croon and cry of the seagulls’ sound of music provided a perfect fit to the curious dance of the flocking birds’ fight for food. In stark contrast, the spotlight on the introduction of Jonathan drove the point of difference in desire solely through the movements of flight.
Bhavani Prasad’s gliding scales on the veena created an ethereal feel to Jonathan’s entry. Sumitra, in this role, did justice capturing the bird’s sentiment which conveyed her full understanding of layam, angikam and abhinayam. Through explorations of the gamut of muzhu mandi adavus, the choreography could have tackled suggestive flight moves in a range of korvai patterns steadily uplifting to the akasha chari. However, Sumitra’s aesthetic appeal flowed seamlessly to the haunting rendition of raga Kalyani by Nandini Anand. The brief silence followed by accelerated surges of swaras pursuing octaves symbolised the flight in brahmaris executed with alternating gatis which was a delightful display.
Again the use of the pitch in tanam generated the emotion of vexation as the ‘flock’ of dancers forcefully encircled Jonathan to spurn him away from the gull society. But the need for bhava laden emotion was evident with the entry of the two radiant gull dancers.
The fluid tones of Kishore’s sitar and the vibrant bols of Ganapathy’s tabla powerfully spoke the bird’s language in Keeravani. Tabla and mridangam (Kishore and Vedakrishnan) shared sound space as the dance between Jonathan and his seniors emerged as a conversation. The final arrival of the senior acharya Jayanthi in the garb of the master torchbearer (in a pearl white and orange costume) to ‘lead kindly light’ on Jonathan’s metaphysical quest resonated in sharp and chosen sollukettus of ‘dhit dhi num-dhit dhi tom’ akin to the bird’s call. Reminiscent of a Gurukulam, the fears and doubts of the student were answered through the elaborative expositions of the navarasas. The message of ‘Jyotir Gamaya’ to dwell on the virtues of valuable living, to love, forgive and to break free from physical limitations was conveyed in expressional dance which remains Jayanthi’s hallmark.
Oscar awardee Sai Sravan deserves credit for his skilful sound engineering bringing soul to every scene. Likewise, Govind’s narration was of superior quality. Embar Kannan’s fluency on the violin and Vishnu Vijay’s euphonious flute ably supported the orchestral ensemble.
The dance drama showcased the ‘happily–ever-after’ moral in the Tillana juxtaposing the performers in a steady flow of arrivals and departures to varying korvais in thatti mettus conveying the legacy of the ‘Guru Shishya Parampara’. Is it just sheer coincidence that Jayanthi, Jonathan and Jyotir share the same initial? Of course they connote a deeper thought, a quest for self-realisation, an inner awakening.
On the occasion, a DVD titled ‘Sanchari Bhavas –The Stated and The Suggested’ was released by N. Murali, president, The Music Academy.