Each year, during the December Season, dance schools work on new themes and present it as full length productions which run a few shows. In such a scenario, it is amazing that year after year, whenever the Kalakshetra Natya Natakam is staged, there is a never-depleting audience.

What is it about these productions that holds the viewers’ attention? At the cost of sounding repetitive, one cannot but mention the role played by the visionary Rukmini Devi Arundale. The success of the fest is often attributed to the choice of stories, indeed a valid point. But it is the way in which the natya natakam is presented that makes it such a success. Rukmini Devi packed into two-and-a-half-hours all the necessary ingredients such as music, costume, sets and of course, the dance itself, in a perfect blend that made it appealing. An overflowing auditorium and a receptive audience for recently staged ‘Rukmini Kalyanam’ and ‘Sabari Moksham’ at Kalakshetra was testimony to this fact.

The grand scene with the court dancers heralding King Bhishmaka’s entry and the drama that unfolded with Rukmi’s anger when he hears about the choice of Krishna as the bridegroom, was a vibrant start, and this momentum was kept alive throughout the show. The familiar story of Krishna “carrying away” Rukmini, and getting married to her was the crux of the story.

Vikas in the role of Sri Krishna was competent. Prof. Janardhan brought in his years of experience to breathe life into the role of the brahmin. His interaction with Krishna when he hands over Rukmini’s letter, was a poignant moment. Indu Mohan was a fine choice for the role of Rukmini and her pretty demeanour and dancing skills enhanced the appeal of the character.

The aesthetics of sets and costume lived up to the high standards, a hallmark of Kalakshetra. The beautiful altar to suggest a temple, was engaging but the most memorable creative spark was seen in the design of the costume of the court dancers, sakhis and gopis. Here, by using silk, cotton and a striped material with a flavour of the tribal attire, respectively for the three groups, the hierarchy of the characters was established beautifully.

The musical ensemble -- Hariprasad ‘s vocal support and Nirmala Nagaraj on nattuvangam for one show and Sai Shankar with K.P. Rakesh for the other, and K.P. Anil Kumar on the mridangam, T. Sashidar on the flute, Srinivasan on the violin, Ananthanarayanan on the veena, Venkata Subramaniam on the maddalam, Mithun with supporting vocals -- enhanced the grandeur of the musical compositions.

SABARI MOKSHAM

One never tires of listening to the grand epics told and retold. But the joy always doubles when the story unfolds with the grandeur of a visual imagery. Kalakshetra’s Ramyana series has been very popular.

If Ramayana continues to be relevant even today, it is only because it is all about ‘ideal politics’ and ideal relationships -- how to be a good ruler, how to be a good son, and so on. ‘Sabari Moksham’ is a segment which portrays human emotions and the relationship one has with the Divine in human form.

The story of Rama, Sita, Lakshmana meeting Jatayu, Soorpanakha being disfigured, Mareecha dazzling as the golden deer, Ravana abducting Sita, the fiery encounter between Ravana and Jatayu and finally, Rama and Lakshmana visiting the hut of the devout Sabari and granting her moksha, unfolded in full dramatic fervour with each dancer infusing life into their roles.

Nirmala Nagraj as Soorpanaka, Jayakrishnan as Jatayu and Vasundhara Thomas as Sabari made a special impact.

The subtle, painted backdrop with foliage provided a perfect setting for the story. The dance movements of Jatayu, and the encounter with Ravana were choreographed well, but the sequence of Soorpanakha and her entreaties with Rama and Lakshmana was a trifle too long. The costume was appropriately designed with Rama and Lakshmana looking austere, shorn of all ornamentation, yet the Sita’s costume and ornamentation stood out; it looked more suited to the character of a princess.

Sai Sankar, who has internalised the songs of the Ramayana series, having sung for many years now, enhanced the show with his soulful singing. It was also heartening to see the young singer Mithun being trained to carry on the legacy.

The players of Kalakshetra productions may have changed over the years, but the productions continue to enthral audience even today. .