Accompanied by a superb group of musicians, Leela Samson gave a transcendent Bharatanatyam recital that left the audience in raptures.
Performing better than she ever has, Leela Samson’s recital for the Music Academy Festival illustrated that no amount of youth and acrobatic virtuosity can measure up to what years of an immersed lifetime journeying in the art, can bestow. Accompanied by a superb group of musicians, seated at an angle on the pedestal facing the audience and visible to them, the trim dancer, in greater form than ever, gave a transcendent Bharatanatyam recital leaving the audience in raptures. The meditative quality of her Adi Sankara Ardhanari invocation, rendered in an ecstatic quietude, expressing the Purusha/Prakrti, Being and Becoming complementary contrasts comprising one divine entity, was followed by Leela’s rendition of the Navaragamalika varnam composed by Dandayudapani Pillai’s ‘Saamiyai azhaittodi vaa,’ the rendition amazing in contained artistry of nritta and abhinaya. Impeccable movements laced with interpretative depth made this centrepiece a visual and emotive experience for the viewers.
If Sheejith Krishna’s nattuvangam and G. Vijayaraghavan’s mridangam with Leela’s perfectly aligned movement profile and rhythm in the teermanams provided special zest, G. Srikanth’s vocal support set the tone and mood spurring an inspired portrayal of the nayika urging the sakhi to fetch her beloved to her. Through the Thodi, Mohanam, Vasanta, Devamanohari, Sankarabharam, Saranga, Kanada, Arabhi and Bhairavi musical statements, where intense emotions never resorted to over statement, the varnam reached a climax in the Sankarabharam line offering total homage to the Lord. The dancer had become the dance.
Also on a different plane from the usual, was ‘Madhave Makuru Manini,’ Ashtapadi verse, the music in raga Hemant composed by Pt. Jasraj projecting vocalist Srikanth at his involved best, with Leela’s abhinaya reaching great heights in portraying the sakhi’s persuasion of Radha (whose image as the angry khandita is visualised through the sakhi’s description) to shed her wounded pride and unforgiving obduracy by going to meet Krishna eager to unite with her. Musical interventions on the violin by Kandadevi Vijayaraghavan and flute by Muthukumar Balakrishnan added greatly to the total impact. In a contrasting mood was ‘Mayaladi,’ Javali in Thodi ‘Mayaladi’ showing the nayika confiding in her friend, venting her anger and anguish about the other woman, who out of utter jealousy, lured her lover away through her wiles and machinations. Again the economy with conviction in the abhinaya showing the other woman secretly prying into the nayika’s moments of ecstasy with the lover seemed to bring out a newly enhanced interpretative dimension in the artist’s expression. Ending on a meditative note was the Kalabhairava Ashtakam of Adi Sankara set to Hamsadhwani and tisra triputa, choreographed by Sheejith Krishna whose rare creativity provided scope for a feel of grandeur amidst quietude and silence amidst movement, the jatis having an electric quality in the arrangement of movement with arithmetic of mnemonic syllables. From Leela’s non-invasive neat announcements from backstage, to every moment of the recital, never did the individual override the art. In the face of the saying that comparisons are odious, this was one of the highest moments of the festival projections in the Academy, this year.