Two features of the season were visible this week — young dancers who get their chance to be in the limelight, and Bharatiya Kala Kendra’s annual festival of ballets.
Seeing Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra’s production “Meera” after a gap of a few years, one is struck afresh by the vibrancy of the dance drama, which catches the context of the theme and the atmosphere of Rajasthan with such authenticity. From the “Dheere Jhulari” scene to a Ghoomar or Kachhi Ghodi glimpse, to the temple and court where amidst stifling aristocratic living norms of a strongly patriarchal society, comes the free spirit of Meera bound only by her total involvement with Krishna, one is moving with the vibes of Rajasthan that echo right through. A strong contributor is the music composed by Shubha Mudgal, sung by delightful voices, the typical Rajasthani string instruments completing the aura of the period. Simple and effective sets by late Keshav Kothari, himself an aesthete and hailing from Rajasthan, apart from the ambiance, provide the right performance space for a variety of venues — whether in royal interiors or out on the streets amongst common people. Sashidharan Nair’s suitable but unostentatious choreography, Milind Shrivastava’s sensitive light design along with the striking costumes of Shobha Deepk Singh, do the rest. The suggestive manner in which miracles in Meera’s life are treated as allegories (helped by a wealth of material provided by the inimitable late musicologist and scholar Komal Kothari) contributes a subtle touch. And the entire crew of dancers, with two Meeras in Molina Singh and Akanksha, give a most involved performance. Fast moving, and with not a dull moment, it is not surprising that the ballet, after so many performances, continues to attract enthusiastic viewers.
With its Chhau body language, “Shri Durga” is cast in a very different tone. Both productions in different ways carry the underlined message of woman’s place in society — one showing fighting for her rights in a society of dominating males, and the other portraying fully empowered female aspect, not just as consort of the male God but as Divinity per se. Again by retaining the powerful dhumsa and percussion instruments of Chhau in the music, and singing voices of Shanti Sharma and the Dhrupad maestros, namely the Gundecha brothers, the dual feel of power on the one hand in the many battle scenes and serenity on the other come through, the contrast heightening the effect of each mood. Quite brilliant in his body movement was Swapan Mojumdar as Mahishasura combining Hatha Yoga with Chhau. And in the final moments when empowered Devi destroys the asura, to see Goddess and demon match steps through cart wheeling jumps was exiting. Shiburam Mohanta as Durga was in the true tradition of Chhau where female roles too are donned by males. As Kali Molina and Madhavi, and Ram Hari as Raktabeeja fitted the bill. Both asura and Raktabeeja are of course visualised in the anthropomorphic form, the non-human nature of each character suggested by donning masks designed by Dadi Pudumjee Kapil. Scenes where the five elements are roped in with repetitive movements, in a heightening blend of pace and energies, giving rise to the Devi and finally to her army (the chants ending with “Aigiri Nandini” ) are all conveyed in simple but strong movements. Ketaki Sood’s set designs are creative and simple. Again, the brevity of the production with no needless padding makes the message terse but strong.
Now that the summer curtain has come down on blockbuster events, one gets the chance to see young dancers in action. At the India International Centre auditorium, twin recitals, on a Sunday morning and evening, projected young talent. Jyotsna Shourie’s disciple Nandita Kalaan, after an ode to Saraswati, the Goddess of art and learning (“Veena vadini Varade”), presented the well known Bhairvai varnam of the quartet — “Mohamana en meedu” in tala Roopakam. This is woven round the theme of the lovelorn nayika mesmerised with her longing for Tyagarajaswami of Tiruvarur, imploring the Lord to end her desolation in the pangs of unrequited love. Intensely layered in the sahitya with the passion of spirit and body offered to the Lord in unabashed surrender, particularly in a musical statement “like “Bhoga Tyagesa anubhogam seyya vaa”, young Nandita still managed to catch some of the right emotion (though her abhinaya has still to acquire nuances), through her basic quality of involvement. Her sense of rhythm too is sound. Her movements though tend to have a sharply angular look because of her extreme thinness. With excellent musical support in vocalist Sudha Raghuraman (Chandrasekhar on mridangam, Raghuraman on flute and the guru Jyotsna providing nattuvangam completing the team), the Marathi abhang “Rituvasantila Kokila” in Misra Pahadi calling out to Panduranga with the message of how the whole of nature with the peacock, the deer and even the monkey eagerly preparing to welcome his presence, while quite uncomplicated and direct in movement translation, in mood and melody had an infectiously joyous ring. The scene from the Gita, comprising Arjuna’s dilemma in not being able to conquer feelings about the futility of a war involving killing of elders and persons who have shaped and shared his life and been his companions, with Krishna’s words of wisdom about what the Kshatriya dharma entailed, topped by a vision of his viswaroopa, for this critic was the high point of the recital with Sudha’s ragamalika music and the dancer’s intensely involved rendition. In the concluding item, the statuesque majesty of tillana movements was missing in the visualisation of Balamurali’s tillana in Kadanakutoohalam.
What quality music does for a recital of dance had an illustration in Tanya Saxena’s performance, the point established right from the opening salutation to Ganapati, Saraswati, Shiva and Kartikeya. By the time of the last sequence in raga Athana, inspired musical support with clean dancing had alerted audience attention. Venkatesh’s singing combined classical weight with melody with VSK Chakrapani providing fine violin accompaniment. And even in a fleeting alap prelude during the post varnam session for the Swati Tirunal lyric “Kunjanabana...” the quality of Rajat Prasanna’s flute stood out. With Tanjavur Kesavan for percussion support and Guru Saroja Vaidyanathan’s nattuvangam, the programme, packaged with care, had its centrepiece in the varnam in Shankarabharanam, “Sakhiya inda jaalam enadi, swamiyai varachholladi”. Tanya’s technique reveals clean lines, excepting the movement of the hands going backwards in a straight line, where in following the movement she shows some awkwardness. And she has the habit of executing the kudittumettu toe-heel movement without a jump, keeping her back heels anchored all the time — perhaps a stylistic feature of this Bharatanatyam school. There is a dignified understatement in Tanya’s abhinaya, though in the latter part of the varnam the assertive nayika boldly announcing the futility of secrecy about her love, (“idil enna rahasiyam”) which after all is a necessity (“migamiga avashiyam”), the stridently liberated air was not quite met in its entirety in the interpretation. The charanam part becomes episodic, visualising the greatness of her beloved “Tirumalai vaasan” Krishna through his rescue deeds — of Gajendra from the jaws of the crocodile, the saving of Draupadi’s honour and the rescue of Sita after killing Ravana. The dancer gave a lively presentation of the Hamsanandi Swati Tirunal composition “Shankara Sri Giri” describing the splendour of Nataraja’s dance, and in what became an overkill of interpretative items, the Meera bhajan and Papanasam Sivan’s “Parashakti Janani”. The Behag tillana made for a good conclusion.