Father Saju George, a stickler for tradition, presented the nritta and natya aspects of Bharatanatyam at a recital in Thrissur.
In a society where male dancers are very rare, it may appear strange that a Jesuit priest has opted Bharatanatyam as a medium for bridging religion and culture. Father Saju George has to his credit more than 15 years of experience on the stage. What makes his performance commendable is his commitment to stick to the traditional style of the classical dance form.
Saju was in Thrissur to present a one-hour recital in connection with the 281th death anniversary of Arnos Pathiri, a German missionary, whose compositions in Malayalam, especially Puthan Paana modelled on Poonthanam’s Jnana Paana, is an epic on the life of Christ in Malayalam literature.
Even as the audience was expecting a recital based on a Christian theme, the dancer opened with pushpanjali followed by alarippu in the traditional style. The sloka for the former was ‘Jhantum jagatiya valithaka dhiginigi’, the ‘suskaakshara’ excerpted from Natyasastra. This was followed by the main sloka from Abhinayadarpana, ‘Vignesham murajaatipam’ The opening numbers demonstrated the dancer’s dexterity through a series of adavus noted for their variety and geometric perfection, the jathis stamped to rhythmic precision and thirmanans. His next number was culled from the ‘Koodaasa paana’ of Arnos Pathiri. Set to music by Paul Poovathingal in Hindolam, it depicted the Annunciation of Mary. Mary appeared as a paradigm of bhakthi. The presentation of the verses beginning with ‘Raathri paathi kazhinjorantharam’ brought to limelight the histrionic talent of the dancer to the hilt. The appearance of angel Gabriel and the unique mudra Saju has coined to portray the Holy Spirit were especially noteworthy in this short piece.
‘Kandoo njaan aa thiru meeni’ was Saju’s own composition. The inspiration for the lines is from Ignatius Loyola’s famous work Spiritual Exercises. It is a narrative of the thoughts of a bhaktha when he sees the crucified Christ. Although not choreographed on the lines of a varnam, Saju made it impressive by a bewitching abhinaya interspersed with alluring nritta sequences. The pose of the crucified Christ as shown by him seemed quite sculpturesque.
The music part was praiseworthy as it was in a ragamalika comprising Sahana, Bhouli, Hindolam, Kanada, Nalinakanti and Hansanandi. Both the kirtana pieces were highly communicative thanks to the exceptional terpsichorean talents of the dancer.
Still sticking to tradition, Saju wound up with a scintillating tillana set to Kiravani. Choreographed with the direction of his guru C. V. Chandrasekharan, the number once again showcased masculine grace in Bharatanatyam.
The show would have appeared more appealing, had the organisers taken care to provide a plain curtain on the unplastered wall in the backdrop.
A native of Piravam, Saju trained under the doyens C. V. Chandrasekharan and Kalanidhi Narayanan. His repertoire is rich and he has widely toured across the globe. He is presently the director of Kalahridaya in Kolkata that imparts training in performing arts to the under privileged.