Leela Samson’s superb performance defied her age
She is superb with all her 60s around her! Years fade into oblivion as the diva dances her way with delicacy oozing out of every nerve. Yes, Leela Samson is elegance and elan personified! Her footwork to crisp jati patterns are undertaken with utmost care and calculation which is visibly evident on stage.
The Kumadakriya raga opened brilliantly to the ‘Arthanareeswara Ashtakam’ followed by Dikshitar’s kriti of the same raga. The varied postures and gestures depicting lord Shiva spoke volumes on her grip over the medium. The kriti being what it is, the dance was rather slow tempo to medium and looked more of a warm-up. It was with the popular Varnam, a Dandayuthapani Pillai composition in Navaragamaalika in Tamil that we could glean the strength of Leela Samson, the dancer. ‘Sakhiye endhan swami yai alzhaithodi vaa…’ While the Thodi, Vasantha, Devamanohari, Mohana, unfurled each verse with either a jati pattern or swara pattern, the veteran dancer executed her footwork with finesse. The teermanam for the third verse was the most impressive piece of artistry. So was the nritta to the swaram at ‘tedi, tedi…’ The linear line of nritta she undertook preceding the fourth verse was specially beautiful. The weaving of a garland of flowers after picking them up precariously was a thoughtful and aesthetic piece of detailed abhinaya. The depiction of Parvathi as ‘Deva Manohari’ (connoting both the raga mudra and sweetheart of the lord), perched on the left lap of the lord Shiva, was unique. The taniavarthanam by mridangist Vijayaraghavan, prior to the verse in Sankarabharanam gave an additional dimension to the varnam, especially the muktayi (scaling down swara). Vocalist Srikanth stole the show at a particular juncture with his swara rendition replete with vital Bhairavi phraseology. The sanchari at ‘Gangai shigai mudithu…’ was something to write home about.
Such excellence displayed with the varnam naturally raises hope of even better things to follow. But the Javali, ‘Cheli ne netlu sahimpane…’ (virohothkantitha naayika) and the ashtapadi, ‘Harirabhisarati bahati…’ representing a kalahantarita nayika-Radha- being persuaded by her sakhi (friend) to let go her egoistic pride, were slightly disappointing especially from the finer abhinaya aspects. For instance, for the line, ‘javvadu raadaayane…’ the enacting just a handsome, praiseworthy hero does not suffice, it also needs the disappointment in the eyes of the heroine that her beloved has not come to her! Similarly, depicting a lovelorn, yet hurt and proud Radha for the line, ‘janayasi manasi kimithi guru kedham?’ (why burden your mind with despair?) could have been fortified with a mixed emotion of guilt, love, pride and remorse which is what Radha, the Kalahantrita nayika is all about after being chided by her sakhi! The Kalabhairavasthakam and the tillana reinforced the view that Leela Samson was strong in nritta above all other aspects of dance.
There was a slight discrepancy in prioritising the dance pieces. The ‘Arthananeerswaram’ in Kumudakriya, a Dikshitar kriti made for an opening while the ‘Kaala Bhairvasthakam’ was inserted somewhere in the second half; two pieces depicting a virohatkantitha naayika followed in immediate succession-one in a varnam and the other in a jaavali. Since the deity Kaalabhairava precedes lord Shiva at any temple as per mythology, it would have been appropriate to open with the ‘KalaBhairavasthakam’ especially when there was no invocatory in the form of ‘Nattai’ or ‘Hamsadhwani’ raga or a dance to Vigneshwara (remover of obstacles). Shreejith Krishna on the nattuvangam was superb. The dance put up by Kalasindhu was in memory of dance guru Narmada.