Accomplished danseuses showcased different aspects and aesthetics of Indian dance forms during the annual Soorya Festival in Thiruvananthapuram.

Impressive dance performances marked the annual Soorya Festival for which Vyloppilly Samskriti Bhavan in Thiruvananthapuram was the main venue. The six days dedicated to dance featured Bharatanatyam recitals by Shobhana, Shridhar-Anuradha, Alarmel Valli, Priyadarshini Govind and Padma Subramaniam, and Odissi by Monalisa Ghosh and group.

Shobhana’s performance saw innovations and improvisations through which, as a dancer, choreographer and teacher, she made a conscious effort to make it a visual treat for the audience. This was amply demonstrated in the Dashavatharam Ashtapadi that she presented along with her students who not only proved their mettle, but also reflected the work done on them by their guru.

The varnam, a solo by Shobhana, was a popular one – ‘Vanajakshi’ in Sankarabharanam – where the basic rasa normally portrayed is sringaram in a mood of bhakti. Nevertheless, Shobhana chose to present sringara in its purest form. Another innovative piece, again a group number, was the Swati Tirunal thillana in Anandabhairavi choreographed as a fusion of Bharathanatyam and Mohiniyattom.

Steeped in the Kalakshetra tradition, but displaying amazing verve in exploring the nritya and natya facets were Shridhar and Anuradha with their production of the Mahabharatha. No doubt, the epic provides a wide canvas to depict the whole gamut of human emotions and the couple did full justice to it. Between just the two of them acting as raconteurs and the characters, the one-and-a-half-hour-long non-stop performance took the audience on an enthralling journey through all the major events in the epic. Anuradha and Shridhar were brilliant; their lines and poses were perfect and abhinaya dignified.

Group presentations with adherence to tradition stood out during the Odissi performance led by Monalisa Ghosh. Beginning with the mangalacharan, the dancers presented Battu Nritya, a pure dance number set to rhythmic patterns and embellished with poses reminiscent of the temple sculptures of Orissa. The Ashtapadi ‘Lalitha lavanga latha’ depicted Holi at Brindavan and the artistes did justice to the choreography, which conveyed the mood of gaiety.

Then, Monalisa presented a composition based on the Ardhanarishwara stotram of Adi Sankaracharya, extolling the feminine and the masculine aspects of the universe and its balance that is reflected symbolically in Lord Shiva. The programme concluded with Moksha suggesting the ‘reintegration into the Absolute’.

To watch Alarmel Valli’s performance is to enjoy a triple-treat of dance, music and poetry. And along with the dancer, each of them interchanged roles and created a beautiful harmony. Her invocatory piece was called ‘Scent of the Earth’ – a compilation of verses from Kalidasa, Bharatiar and the Atharva Veda – to portray the dynamic and creative interdependence of nature and all her moods. The varnam ‘Saamikku samaanam evaredi?’ in Sankarabharanam had the nayika not just pining for, but also celebrating her love for Lord Rajagopala. As in many compositions in the Indian tradition, here too the sensuous was interwoven with the sacred, depicting the yearning of the soul for union with the Supreme.

Sancharis described the flute music of the Lord and how all of nature responds to it. In fact, throughout the recital nature appeared as a leitmotif, as that was how Valli meant it to be.

Perfect lines and movements and an innovative yet balanced repertoire are the hallmarks of Priyadarshini Govind’s recitals and this one was no exception. Beginning with an invocation to Garuda, Priyadarshini presented the main item – the varnam, ‘Ninnu kori nanura’, addressed to Lord Brihadeeswara, a composition of Ponniah of the Tanjore Quartet. The adavus were beautifully executed, choreographed to jathis composed by senior mridangam player Vijayaraghavan.

A ninda sthuthi to Lord Nataraja, written by Papavinasa Mudaliar, was the first of the three outstanding abhinaya pieces on show. The other two portrayed the ‘Swaadhinapatika nayikas’ – a javali composed by Dharmapuri Subbarayar and the famous Ashtapadi ‘Kuru yadu nandana’, showing Radha in a rare mood, when she knows fully that Krishna’s love is for her, though there are other women and which has been the reason for their quarrels. The recital ended with a thillana in Poorvi followed by a Bhajan, ‘Pipare Rama rasam’.

As with every year, the festival featured Dr. Padma Subramaniam, whose solo performance marked the concluding day. ‘Meenakshi me mudam dehi’ by Dikshitar was a creation that inspired Tagore to compose ‘Basanti’.

Signifying the unity in thought, Dr. Padma blended the two to present the main piece of the day that was full of descriptions of both the goddess Meenakshi and the beauty of Spring. Dr. Padma’s performances appeal both to the connoisseur and the common man, not least to students of natyam for whom it would be a point of reference-for her path-breaking work, her use of eyes and lokadharmi mudras that is vital for effective communication with the audience.

Keywords: Soorya Festival