‘Essence of Life’ beautifully encapsulated the philosophy of thought and the beauty of dance.
It is no mean task to conceptualise the abstract philosophy of Jiddu Krishnamurthy, much less simplify and concretise it into something as visual as the medium of dance and song. Kudos to Dega Arts Devkumar Reddy for pulling it off with aplomb. And then, there are a host of others backstage who have contributed to the technical, musical and aesthetic aspects of this dance presentation, ‘Essence of Life’ that encapsulates, the fundamental thought and teaching of the great spiritual leader of the 20th century (1895-1986), in five different dance genre, viz. Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi, Odissi, Mohiniattam and Kathak. The value-addition came in the form of young, up and coming dancers with ample good looks like Smitha Madhav, Prateeksha Kashi, Rashmi Menon, Shritha Baskar and Masako Ono (Japanese-Odissi).
The pre-recorded, thematic presentation being what it is, there wasn’t much scope for dance in toto (nritta, nritya and natya); there was more mime than footwork per se, though a brief spell of jatis were articulated at some point of time as well as in the final tillana piece, more to reiterate the dance format as classical than anything else. A short documentary on Jiddu Krishnamurthy at the very beginning served to enlighten the audience.
Categorised into three phases — the art of meditation, essence of life and the grand finale, the philosophy in a nutshell was interpreted by each dancer in her own idiom with English voice-over and Sanskrit slokas/songs in the background. Smitha Madhav negates all that, that is popularly construed as meditation. Her miming of the seven chakras within the human body with the thousand-petalled lotus at the crown (sahasrara) was very impressive; so was her telling pristine white and mustard costume. Chiselled stances contributed to the beauty of her depiction; close on her heels, came Masako Ono, also in white contemporary costume, somersaulting and striking yogic stances to music to picturise the various methods of meditation - well that was not Odissi even in its foggiest form; the streaming thought process, the real culprit of the human mind and the way to awareness, was outlaid by Prateeksha Kashi who convincingly embodied the mind with the image of rippling waters of a still lake; wish she knew that veena is never placed or played at an obtuse angle! All through, it was Rashmi Menon who kept her Mohiniyattam classical to the core and imbibed the philosophy she had to portray within the parameters of her art form. There was vigour in her mime as she expressed the extraordinary energy that emanates out of true meditation (loka kumavalam…anweshaam). Shritha Baskar zoomed in to show the calm point in mind from where meditation flows. The abstraction was taken up by ‘chakkars’ in three speed cycles for the line, dwesha utpannari yudham but her mime was not as convincing.
The crux of the matter –how to still the mind, free it from fear and problems and lead a harmonious life –is once again brought out individually by the five dancers. There was a lot of gesticulation and mild movements (sancharis) to Sanskrit song and instrumental accompaniment –at times percussion to footwork or string instrument to alone, sans song to dance and so on. Here the dancers had a little room to expand their art, but not all could really keep up to the rhythm with a neat execution of footwork, barring Mosako Ono who gave us a peek into her translation of jatis with the chowka but the tribhangi was missing for most part. Rashmi came out the best in terms of dance and abhinaya, though Mohiniyattam as such has not gained popularity in this region. The Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi were cursory to say the least and both made do with sancharis rather while Kathak went on with chakkars.
Another audio-visual show on the genesis of this concept with all the backstage experts making in an appearance along with snippets of the dancers showcasing their art and speaking about their choreography served to enlighten the audience all right but then this could have been shifted to the 15-minute break time, when the artistes obviously went for change of costume. Vishwanatha Reddy’s remark in the making of this presentation that traditional dance themes from Ramayana and Mahabharatha ‘have lost connect’ with the present day audience, isn’t very welcome — it is good to experiment on currently relevant themes but then one should understand the eternal appeal of a classic which places it on the ‘classic’ pedestal. Or else, why would English literature still survive on study of 16th century Shakespeare’s ‘outdated’ plays?
The tillana following the video session, had all the artistes dance in tandem, creating aesthetic patterns as they moved along with their styles in tow. This was a good watch with perfect sync and harmonious blend of styles-two at a time, four at a time and all at a time! In fact, aesthetics was the fulcrum on which ‘Essence of life’ actually stood.
A word about the costumes. Barring the first phase where all the dancers dressed in tune with the theme, the artistes should have given a thought to the colour combinations as in such abstract presentations, the costume speaks silently while the dance depicts. Bright hues and multi-coloured dress may not always gel with a profound theme like this.
Ravindra Bharathi played host to the performance put up under the aegis of Dega Arts.