The curtain goes up on Friday evening on Natyarangam's Bharatham Kathai Kathaiyaam at the Narada Gana Sabha.
The annual festival of Narada Gana Sabha generates a buzz among art lovers for its diverse topics on composers, modern poems and so on. The spotlight of the 15th festival this year, from August 12 to 17 at the Narada Gana Sabha, will be on short stories of distinguished authors such as Pudumai Pithan and Thi. Janakiraman, to be presented by Bharatanatyam artists..
The stories were chosen after a lot of painstaking research and consultations by the Natyarangam committee made up of S. Kannan, Charukesi Viswanathan, K.S. Subramaniam, Sruti Janaki, Kalpagam and Balasubramaniam, Sujatha Vijayaraghavan and Art patron R. Krishnaswamy, secretary, Narada Gana Sabha.
The festival features 12 performances by gifted dancers who have to present the stories while eschewing the use of any sahitya per se: with the added rider that the medium of dance be classical Bharatanatyam.
So how have they tackled the challenge?
Shridhar and Anuradha, senior dancers from Bengaluru who begin the festival with a short piece from ‘Sangu Thevanin Dharmam' by Pudumai Pithan, reply, “While the traditional mode of performance takes off from the lyrics, in this case, the burden is on the main protagonist the thief, the old lady and other characters. The next section is ‘Thirumangai Alwar,' which is a wholly devotional tale, where we will elaborate the metaphors in his life.”
The talented couple Parvathi and Sheejith Nambiar will perform ‘Theermanam' by Thi. Janakiraman, followed by an episode detailing Sita following Rama into the forest.
Their starting point in composing the dancing was the beautiful music set by Rajkumar Bharati, with different ragas highlighting myriad emotions. If jatis come into force in the first segment, emotion is stressed in the Ramayana story. We have included select dialogue to underscore the story.”
Bragha Bessel, known for her strength in abhinaya, emphasised how the vision of ‘Dharaigal' and the case of Ahalya grew in her mind with constant contemplation. Discussions with resource persons Sudha Seshayyan, Praveen and Jaya Srinivasan, furthered her conceptualisation, a point reiterated by all the artists.
“I wanted to present a multi-dimensional view of Ahalya and the progression of time of the short story, so this is a most exciting exercise for me,” she says, adding that she chose the lines from Kamba Ramayana for “their immediacy of reach to the audience.”
If one is expecting only weighty or serious topics, then there is an agreeable surprise in the presentation of the skilled dancer and teacher, A. Lakshman. “My brief from the Natyarangam committee for the story ‘Sundar' by the ‘Jambavan' among authors Asokamitran, was to tap the humour element. My intent is to ensure that the dancing is both instinctive and refined and that I reach out to the audience. The melodious score of musician Murali Parthasarathy and the inputs from the expert panel have helped shape my narrative.”
Noted dancer Shijith Krishna zeroes in on the larger issues inherent in his performance of ‘Thanneer' by Sundara Ramaswamy and the story of Bhagiratha. “I have likened water to my mother to show how vital it is to life. I drew inspiration from the intrinsic beauty in the stories especially where the account of Bhagiratha could be likened to the struggle that everyone faces in their lives, and the hurdles they need to cross. This apart, on a technical note, I have positioned nritta with relevance to the situations,” he says.
How would one present a protagonist with communist leanings in a Bharatanatyam context? Senior dancers M.V. Narasimhachari and Vasantalakshmi will showcase their exceptional ingenuity in Sujatha's ‘Amma Mandapam' and the tale of Purandara dasa. “Music will play an influential role in the development of the story and we included a few textual portions to project the miserly spouse in the sketches. Our prime focus has been to communicate within the borders of Bharatnatyam.”
Chitra Chandrasekhar Dasarathy brings her versatile skills in asserting the widespread effects of violence through ‘Sooriyan' and the second section, Asoka and Kalinga war that she has titled ‘Raktamallika' or the ‘Red Jasmine.'
“My interest in literature and earlier work in theatre have helped in exploring the varied ways violence affects the mother and the child in Ambai's story and also emperor Asoka in the second section. The meeting with the author and my father's (Chandrasekha's) musical vision have strengthened the storyline.”
R. Chudamani's ‘Namavali' struck a chord with well-known U.S. -based artist Vidhya Subhramaniam, who has handled offbeat themes earlier. “This came at a time when there arose inner questions in my life and I found some answers through the telling. The emotion-laden content of the Krishna Sudhama dialogue highlights the quality of compassion. Music set by Asha Ramesh is a key factor in the composing.”
“The longing of a young child lies at the heart of my presentation. ‘Asalum Nagalum' offered me the challenging prospect of narrating Indira Parthasarathy's imagery. I have looked into the similarities as well as differences in both stories. Dr Sudha's lively oratory and unstinting help from the author himself made it easy for me to frame the visuals,” says the bright and young Navia Natarajan, based in Bangalore.
Nartaki Natraj acclaimed for her bhava-laden performances says this of her segment ‘Poo Udirum' by Jayakanthan that is followed by ‘Abhimanyu Vadham:' “I have empathised with the bereaved wife who has the strength of mind to declare that her son too will be a soldier one day. In the absence of suitable poetry, I composed a verse for the scene between Uttarai and Abhimanyu. Lyrics from Viilibharatam and music by Nandini Anand have added brilliance to the composing.”
‘Anilgal' and ‘Krouncha Vadham' will be presented by Sangeeta Isvaran, a dancer known for collating her dance-experiences in different countries. “This is really about the importance of nature and the selfishness of man. My dance and even the stage props reinforce this idea. I have used different sounds in the background along with the music of M.S. Suki and Kalaiarasan,” she explains.
“Two women with the same spirit but from different backgrounds form ‘Maattram' the story by Poomani and later ‘Manimekalai',” says Karuna Sagari from Coimbatore, about her presentation on the last day. “I had the luxury of falling back on my teacher Shijit for the Konnakkol sections and the music creation of Jyotsna Shijit. I have drawn on the original meter in Sattanar's work and ‘Manimegalai Venpa' by Bharatidasan. Assistant Professor Dr Manimegalai provided me with the requisite textual references.”
The Natyarangam festival promises unusual fare where the modern and epic rub shoulders, and where mime and dance will go hand in hand to catch the audience's imagination.