Arushi Mudgal, making her Chennai season debut, displayed the spectrum of her training and technique.
Arushi Mudgal of Delhi made her Chennai season debut with an Odissi performance at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan as part of Karthik Fine Arts' Sri Krishnolsavam festival.
Arushi was a picture of poise and contained energy as she entered the stage for the invocatory Ardhanariswara stotra of Sankaracharya. Vividly choreographed by late Kelucharan Mohapatra with music by Raghunath Panigrahi, the verse that extols the contrasting aspects of Siva and Parvati (Siva and Sivaa) was a good choice to begin the programme, combining both the technical and expressional aspects of the dance.
A disciple and niece of Madhavi Mudgal, Arushi has already made her mark as a fleet-footed young dancer in total control of her art. Here her nritta had an even better flow than seen earlier, and the clear footwork a healthy “thaap” that provided a foil to the sinuous grace of the upper body.
A felicitous choice of pieces, with largely Sanskrit lyrics and a blend of old and new, helped the dancer make a fine impression on the audience. After the substantial invocation, she went on to the Hamsadhwani pallavi composed by Bhuvaneshwar Mishra and choreographed by Kelucharan Mohapatra — just one of the artistic gems that emerged from this famous partnership. The dancer did justice to the lilting refrain and filigreed percussion pattern it is overlaid with. People often say nritta is that aspect of dance that doesn't contain bhava (expression), but nritta is where the body speaks and tells you something about the personality of the dancer.
Arushi danced with stamina and involvement, exemplifying the difference between repetitive movement and motif. It is also true though, that her chowk position, noticeably deep in earlier years, was less so here. Whether this was by design or not is hard to say, since the level was uniformly maintained.
She followed this up with ‘Priye Charusheele.' This piece, too, is a Kelucharan-Mishra product. It ends dramatically on a crescendo instead of tapering off in the traditional manner, at the point where Krishna requests Radha to place her feet on his head to cool the fire within him. To do justice to such an ending, the bhava should build up to a crescendo, but this expressional fervour was not present. This was all the more noticeable as this Ashtapadi verse is so well known to dance audiences that its novelty only lies in seeing how each composer and dancer has interpreted it.
There was more freedom of abhinaya in the Oriya song ‘Keli Chhand,' in which the poet expresses wonder at Krishna's childhood feats — vanquishing Kaliya, destroying demons such as Dhenukasura, lifting Mount Goverdhan, and so on. Little flashes such as Krishna throwing the ball into the river (ostensibly by accident but actually to get a chance to confront Kaliya), and the playful movements of the children came out with an endearing naturalness.
Arushi ended with the Vasant (spring) episode from Kalidasa's ‘Ritusamhara,' set to music by her father, Hindustani vocalist Madhup Mudgal, and choreographed by Madhavi Mudgal. This made use of abstract movements signifying a world newly blossoming after a cold winter. With its dance and music treatment different from the Odissi choreography popularised by the Kelucharan school, this too was a good choice in displaying the spectrum of Arushi's training.
A certain nervousness — which expressed itself only in a heightened carefulness and not in any faltering — was subtly palpable in the invocatory piece and wore off as the dancer warmed to the stage and the audience warmed to her. Precise freezes on the sam and intricate footwork handled with ease were highlights of her technique. When her abhinaya catches up with her nritta, she will be hard to beat. A truly refreshing dancer to watch.