Call her a maverick, call her a non-conformist, but there is no denying her prodigious artistry. Shobana treads her own path as she unabashedly dramatises every aspect of a Bharatanatyam performance.
At Bharat Kalachar This time she brought a full orchestra, cranked up the microphone volume, used sudden shifts in pace during her nritta segments in no particular order, performed the gap beats rather than the intended steps and acted brilliantly to keep the rasikas spellbound. Yes it is true that young students ought not to take a cue from her careless footwork, but must learn to appreciate the big picture of her versatility.
Remember, she is always in control, during nritta or abhinaya interludes, whether she is performing each movement or just waiting to underline the gap beats. Isn't she after all the most naturally talented of her generation?
The opening Gambhira Nattai Mallari had neither a procession of Nataraja that she alluded to, nor an array of different movements. The nritta was in fact repetitive, but her charisma and the use of pace in the song turned it into a vibrant invocation. There is no doubt that Shobana's personality electrifies the performance space.
In her hands, the uncommon Khamas padavarnam, ‘Entani Ne' (Rupakam, Subbarama Dikshitar) on Tyagaraja became a 30-minute love poem. The dancer, as the heroine, is awe-struck and falls in love with Siva at first sight. Her description of Siva's magnificent form was so in the moment and so personal, that it ceased to be a varnam, and took on the hues of a romantic tale. The heroine's burning desire to be with her love-interest and the resulting distress came through as powerfully in the charanam, ‘Tapamadhika Mayanura.'
A lullaby for baby Krishna in ‘ Achyutham Keshavam' led into the story of Rama from Sage Viswamitra's visit to Ayodhya and the Thadaka killing in Bala Kandam to Rama Pattabhishekam in Yuddha Kandam.
In 45 minutes, Shobana brought alive the bravado of Sita's suitors, the budding romance between Rama and Sita, Dasaratha's anger and helplessness, Soorpanakha's lust and so on. It was an engrossing frame by frame unfolding of the Ramayana, that could very well have remained a story-telling session but for the devotional fervour in the oft-repeated refrain, ‘Rama, Rama, Rama, Jaya Jaya Rama.'
Preethy Mahesh's music soared on the wings of Shobana's artistry, and the other musicians, Karaikal Venkatasubramaniam (violin) and S. Mahesh (flute) followed suit.
Shobana's percussive support artists need to be especially alert to her spontaneity and Ramakrishnan (mridangam), Revathy Kumar and Srividya Ramachandran (nattuvangam) did extremely well in this regard.