While the Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra Award festival didn’t disappoint, there were other dance tributes to recently-deceased masters

It was a heady cocktail of art expressions for the Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra Award festival, very professionally organised and mounted for the 18th year in succession by Srjan, at Bhubaneswar’s Rabindra Mandap. Chiming in perfectly with a guru who could, even as an octogenarian, put youngsters half his age to shame with the power of his performance, was Bharatanatyam danseuse Vyjayantimala Bali. Her Swati Tirunal varnam in Kapi, “Sumasayaka”, after a homage to goddess Shivagami in Jaganmohini raga, kept the audience spellbound and enthralled at how age has left no mark on her grace, beguiling presence and stamina — the years only enhancing the deep involvement and communicative strength. How many sancharis or elaborations were woven round each musical statement, like the line “ramani mani shayane” bringing out in full bloom the stricken nayika lovingly decorating her chamber for the Lord’s arrival, confiding in the sakhi her pining for Lord Padmanabha! And what clean lines with a deep araimandi in the teermanams! Narayana Tirtha’s composition left behind savoured images in the description of Krishna. The concluding Muttuswamy Dikshitar lyric as mangalam in Vasanta raga was greeted by an ecstatic standing ovation. Anahita Ravindran’s fine vocal support with the young group of accompanists in Gayatri Sashidharan (nattuvangam), Sriguru Bharadwaj (mridangam) and Chaitanya Kumar gave a fitting tribute to Guru Kelucharan.

Braving the debilitating effects of viral fever, Madhavi Mudgal, who started the programme, danced her way through Jagannath Ashtakam and a pallavi in Jhinjhoti in the six-matra Khemta tala. The virahini nayika’s loneliness, based on Kavisamrat Upendra Bhanja’s “Ghana Kalare” set to music by Sunanda Patnaik and the suite of ashtapadis, comprised the interpretative part. “Madhave ma kuru manini manamaye”, with the sakhi urging Radha to shed her pride and join Krishna who awaits her presence eagerly; “Kshana madhuna Narayana manugatam”, where Krishna offers himself to Radha; and “Kuruyadunandana”, where Radha exults as the swadheenapatika, with the scores by Pandit Jasraj, Madhup Mudgal and Bhubaneswar Misra respectively had melodious singing by Manikuntala Bhaumik and Purnachandra Maji.

Singularly unfit and fighting a stubborn cough and fever, Manju Barggavee found it difficult to cope with the verve of Kuchipudi nritta, almost giving up on more than one occasion. More known for the male roles in Guru Vempati Chinnasatyam’s ballets, Manju’s big built has not been often seen rendering Satyabhama’s role in solo Kuchipudi. The ashtapadi “Sanchara Dadhara”, also in Vempati’s choreography, is a fast clip with no reposeful moments, and the tarangam proved a bit much for the dancer. The musical team was competent.

Chitresh Das from California, in his individualistic style, provided the audience an insight into his Kathak rhythmic flair — the steam engine train running at different speeds, and when overtaken by an electric train, captured through rhythm — not as a gimmick but with foot contact. Various parts of the feet provided the tonal variations of sound along with the jaati combinations for the rhythmic narrative. The Shakuntala/ Dushyanta in gat bhav, too, was very cleverly visualised. With his own style of thaat and play with numbers and jaatis in ginti tihais, his versatility in playing the tabla, singing and dancing simultaneously is always a crowd stealer.

The percussion jugalbandi in eight matras by Guru Karaikkudi R. Mani, the mridangam wizard, and Pandit Anindo Chatterjee, the tablist, and kanjira artiste Bangalore Amrit was brilliant, the various 3,4,5,7 combinations, the myriad tones, the halts and the elaborations woven around a phrase of rhythmic syllables and the ‘sawaal-jawaab’ very entertaining. The only point this critic was uneasy with was the decibel level. So much sound amplification takes away from the melody, in this case the tabla being the sweetest.

Banaras flautists Pankaj Nath and Paras Nath and their accompanists on the keyboard, tabla and drums were certainly skilful, and all the jugalbandi of drums, tabla, and parhant with claps with fractional time intervals used variously, were all very clever. But what one found missing was that quality which moves the heart — which one found at last in the Bhairavi finish in the popular “Mile sur mera tumhara” tune.

The finishing moments by Srjan dancers were most fitting, and rendered by a group of finished disciples excellently rehearsed. There was “Bho Shambho”, Dayanand Saraswati’s composition set to Revati, and the ode to Devi in Shankaracharya’s Aanandalahiri sung by Debashish Sirkar. The finale “Biswas” was a group production with verses from the Guru Granth Sahib, the Quran and the Bible, with Kabir’s “Moh ko kahaan dhoondere” as the final statement — about the ultimate living being neither in temples nor houses of worship nor in meditation but within each individual to be realised through faith — forming the programme. Ratikant’s choreography, the disciplined performance, neat group images and clean dancing were a tribute to Guru Kelucharan’s legacy, now with the next generation of Ratikant and Sujata and their disciples.

For the recently departed

The Debaprasad Nrutya Parampara under Guru Gajendra Panda paid homage to Gurus Debaprasad Das, Harekrishna Behera and Gangadhar Pradhan. To make an impact, Gajendra Panda’s Ardhanariswar, set to Malkauns by Guru Laxmikant Palit, required a more finished partner than Atasi Mishra, whose Odissi has some way to go. Kavita Dwibedi gave a delightful abhinaya performance in the Champu, showing Radha shedding her anger against Krishna.

This was followed by the swadheenapatika in “Leela nidhi he”, where she lovingly pleads that Krishna give her back her clothes — for what will society say? The suggestive shringar showed a mature dancer. Reela Hota’s “Guru Mahatmya” was movement-wise neat, though more intensity was required. The dance ballet “Krishnaya Tubhyam Namah”, imaginatively visualised by Gajendra Panda, had its moments — the students were very involved, though they all have to work on perfecting their technique.