While Vyjayantimala Bali gave a virtuoso performance, the International Ancient Arts fest had its moments but lacked coherence.

Like the marinated pickle, years of journeying in and with dance can bestow on the very senior artiste's expression a tone, unmatched by the young dancer's physical agility. However in the case of Vyjayantimala Bali, age becomes only a matter of statistics, for in stamina, physical trimness and dexterity, grace, cleanliness of dance lines, she is more than a match for her younger colleagues.

Her Bharatanatyam recital for this year's ITC Sangeet Sammelan earned a standing ovation, a handsome-sized Kamani audience waiting past 11 p.m. to watch this artiste. The dancer/actress' parallel top ranking career in the films at no stage diluted the anchored strength in the classical virtues of Vyjayanti's Bharatanatyam, her training under late Kittappa Pillai also spurring research into the ancient temple tradition repertoire like Sooladi, Prabandham, Navasandhi etc.

Todayamangalam from the Bhajana Sampradaya as an invocation made an impact right from the dancer's spirited entrance to the “Jaya Janaki” line. Whether in the Pantuvarali, Arabhi or Mayamalavagowla sections, the combined, benevolent grace-giving and evil-destroying qualities of Vishnu manifestations were lucidly conveyed in the dance interpretation, taut and incisive with crisp jati links set in a talamalika. A feature of the performance which also stood out alongside the dancer's proficiency was the able, accompanying wing support manned by teenaged musicians, the bell like clarity of voice and diction with not a false note in the singing of Anahita Ravindran, and violin by young Mysore Sangeetha with Chaitanyakumar on flute and senior artiste Muruganandam on the mridangam.

The Swati Tirunal varnam in Kapi “Sumasayaka” saw an intricate weaving of images visualising the pining nayika yearning for a glimpse of her beloved, none other than the Lord of the Universe, Padmanabha. The interpretative passages, all in the conventional thematic mould, avoided any deja vu feel. The nayika's preparations for the intended union, whose suitability Nature heralds in all her bloom, the description of the Lord, desire conveyed to the sakhi urged to fetch the absent Lord, and the charanam sequence where the tone shifts to one of the sakhi setting off on her mission to fetch the Lord. The clean ‘arudi' terminations before catching the refrain line, the aesthetically short, punchy teermanams with hand and leg stretches never less than complete even in the solfa passages (taking on a ragamalika format in the concluding phase), made the varnam a true index of the dancer's worth.

Humorous punning on verses from Sanskrit Krishnakarnamritam, portraying a Krishna/Gopi interaction with the dancer switching sides playing the two different roles, had an evocative score set in several modes like Begade, Vasantha, Hamsanandi, Hammerkalyani, Suratti etc. The Mangalam paid homage to Madurai Meenakshi.

Lacking coherence

A title like “International Ancient Arts” can be confusing and the event, painstakingly mounted at Azad Bhavan auditorium, by conceiver Reela Hota introduced festival intentions as “transformation through the arts” and “shed negativity in the arts”, not fully clarifying the purported aim of this two-day long event. Koodiyattam with Sudha Gopalakrishnan's introduction, and a brilliant exposition by Margi Madhu with evocative Mizhavu percussion support, enacting Ravana looking back on his great victories and effort in lifting Mount Kailash, fitted the “Ancient Arts” slot as the only surviving remnant of the old Sanskrit dramatic tradition. Equally fitting was Thomas O Sullivan's Irish/Celtic Music session with a variety of instruments from Bodhran keyboards, guitar, whistles, flute, uilleann pipes and bone spoons – his current research linking bodhran with folk and mythological aspects.

Very absorbing was Bhai Jaswant Singh's talk on how music was a way of interaction for Guru Nanak (communication was through Ramkali raga and Sruti), and the Granth Sahib's great acceptance of diversity ( from washerman and weaver to Brahmin have contributed in this compilation). Alka Tyagi's “Evolution through nine devotional routes” (sevanam, keertanam, smaranam, padasevanam, archanam, vandanam, Dasyam, Sakhyam and Atmanivedhanam) where the “caller and call become you” had quotes from Andal and Akka Mahadevi, with the evolution aspect not emerging clearly.

Tripura Kashyap's lucid lec/dem, on dance even in non-dancers helping bridge mind/body separation, hand/eye coordination, body awareness, trust building, partnership coordination etc., wove an excellent dance as therapy concept.

Under Ancient Arts, Fernando Aguilera's troupe presenting the second act of Swan Lake to Tchaikovsky's music was neither here nor there – for on that small stage the corps-de-ballet had little space with the festival logo pinned on the rear screen spoiling group formations. So also the Dashavatar verses from the Gitagovindam presented by Guru Gangadhar Pradhan Foundation, while well done, highlighted present neo-classical Odissi.

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