While veteran Geeta Chandran held her own at the Braj Mahotsav, the mother-daughter duo of Rashmi and Shloka Vaidyalingam danced with panache at the Habitat.
Braj Mahotsava mounted at Matighar and the lawns of Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, while capturing the myriad flavours of Braj culture, featured, among other things, the Bhagat Sangit Narrative Theatre, Bhagavat Katha, Dhrupad, Haveli Sangeet, and Raas Mandalis. A highly informative exhibition at Matighar and stalls of Vraj handicrafts constituted the integrated picture of Vraj culture.
Geeta Chandran's Bharatanatyam recital along with her disciples of Natya Vriksha, conceived on the basis of poetry on Krishna adoration mainly from the Vraj region, became a journey in devotional expression. The invocation with the “Adharam Madhuram” shloka, and the mallari mangala nritya where the troupe moved in perfectly rehearsed co-ordination, was followed by the varnam-like structure in which a total Krishna expression was conceived, fashioned round the texual framework of verses from Vallabhacharya's “Sundara Gopalam” with other poetic choices spun round the exploits of the God.
While the purely interpretative segments like the description of Krishna's beauty was rendered by Geeta, the episodic segments, like the gopis being robbed of their clothes while bathing in the Yamuna, were enacted with panache by the disciples. And the demanding jatis, in geometry of group execution, left little to be desired.
The team of accomplished musicians led by S. Shankar's nattuvangam and Sudha Raghuraman's vocal lead with Tanjavur Keshavan (mridangam), G. Raghuraman (flute) and Shivakumar and Vishwajit providing other forms of percussive support, provided inspiring music.
At the Habitat, Rashmi Vaidyalingam and daughter Shloka, disciples of Raja Reddy, Radha and Kaushalya did their gurus proud. Shloka's rhythmic grasp was in full flow in Jatrikattu in Maand with the khanda jati combinations crisply highlighted. But it was in the Siva Panchakshara Stotram where one saw the combined abhinaya/nritta promise, in the descriptive passages on Shiva, both choreographic conceptualisation through variations woven round each image of the hymn, and the ragamalika singing by Sudha with Kaushalya's nattuvangam providing fillip. Even in the tarangam, the dancer's rhythm had clarity with the syllabic arithmetic clearly brought in the footwork.
As for Rashmi, her interpretation of the ashtapadi “Nijagadha” set in a ragamalika format illustrated a mature dancer, the erotic message conveyed with rare involvement and contained expression. Jayadeva's ashtapadi describing Swadheenapatika Radha getting back her individuality inviting Krishna to repair her dishabille, is not an easy picture to portray in dance, and Rashmi's rendition held the audience. Even the Meera bhajan “Chalo man Ganga Jamuna teer” with the gopi's jalakreeda and cheerharan woven in, with Rashmi as gopi and Shloka as Krishna (in the time honoured picture of Radha as being older to Krishna), had a freshness. Led by Kaushalya Reddy's nattuvangam, Sudha Raghuraman (vocal), Bhaskar Rao (mridangam), Annadorai (violin), with the flautist (excellent in Yamuna Kalyani but less so in the Carnatic Mohanam), provided excellent wing support.
It is heartening that this year's cultural presentation during the annual Trade fair decided to sponsor some of the country's less known folk arts — this year Orissa's Prahlad Natak got a look in.
Based on the myth of Hiranyakashipu's frustration at not being able to make son Prahlad accept him as the Supreme Being in place of Vishnu and his final destruction by Vishnu, appearing as half man and half lion, the main attraction of the play lies in a staircase of as many as ten steps or more on the stage treated as the performance site.
This version based on B.B. Khadanga's write-up, disappointed with the five minimal steps hardly used. Whether the physical danger of using what was called “just plywood steps” or due to a basic inadequacy in the agility of the performers, was not clear. But action on floor space right through, robbed the drama of all excitement. Barring Santosh Kumar Satpathy's clear enunciation of the words of the song as she hiccupped through the crying scenes, the rest of the dialogue was smudged and the too-old Prahlad in teens seemed always frightened, unlike the unflinching character in the myth.