Madurai Muralidaran's mega production ‘Silappadigaram' was vibrant and well-synchronised.Rupa Srikanth

The 5th century epic, ‘Silappadigaram' or the story of the Jewelled Anklets, was staged as a mega dance production by dancer-musician Madurai R. Muralidaran and his dancer-wife Chitra Muralidaran this past week.

With a cast of about 30 artists, many of them well-known, this was a coming together of many dance schools in Chennai.

The production marked the 30th anniversary of the duo's Nrithyakshetra Dance Academy.

The epic by Ilango Adigal is an important source of information on the music and dance (referred to as koothu) of that time.

It has an engrossing storyline involving universal values such as chastity, love, romance, repentance and revenge.

Any enactment, therefore, is bound to be a success.

So it was with the latest version, of course, with some qualifications the first being the unreasonable length of the show.

The most impressive were the group dances; from the opening ‘Mangala Vazhthu Paadal' to the folk dances, the seven Koothu dances (Kuda Koothu, Kuravai Koothu, Parvai Koothu, Parathayyar Koothu, Tedi Koothu, et al) in the Indira Vizha scene, to the Aichiyar Kuravai (dance of the cowherd women) as ordered by Madari, they were vibrant, detailed and well-synchronised.

The music scores

The other highpoint was the music (Muralidaran). Though it was not all brilliant, some of it was -- the introductory piece in which the musical layering with a chorus, energetic drums, double base, varied pure musical instruments and an operatic style of presentation was inspirational; the korathi tune with a combination of a base flute and a key flute was another beautiful segment.

But the best was Madhavi's arangetram song, 'Kola Gana..,' that used a variety of ragas with different take-off points like a sruti bedam. The lows were in the semi-classical songs that perhaps took the story forward but disappointed in the musicality.

The acting per se of all characters was involved, so the narrative flowed smoothly. The main roles played by Muralidaran (Kovalan), Parvathi Ravi Ghantasala (Kannagi) and Uma Muralikrishna (Madhavi) had enough clarity and sincerity, but their introductory solos and duets were lacklustre.

Muralidaran's gestures or stances need to be less contrived and more natural to be effective. Speaking on stage is a definite no-no unless the script calls for it.

The guest artists added lustre to the production -- Revathi Ramachandran, Kavitha Ramu, Binesh Mahadevan, Padmalakshmi Suresh, Chitra and Shiva Kumar. The latter dancer played his many roles with élan, especially so as the cunning goldsmith.

There was a lot of detailing in the presentations -- the absence of the shrill nattuvangam (cymbals) was a departure from the usual.

The lyric, partly from the original and the rest written by Muralidaran, was an attempt to pay tribute to the old language; the Indira Vizha dances were recreated from references in the text, as were the nadais and ragas in many instances. This was clearly a painstaking effort and one that can go far with a little bit of re-planning.