Keeping a departed guru’s vision alive for the third year in succession, the 28th Konark Natya Mandap Music/ Dance Festival got underway on the premises of the institution on the magical performance space designed by the late Gangadhar Pradhan — a mini gopuram with tiers flanked on both sides by sculpted images of dancing surasundaris. As per convention established for this event, beginning the day were students of Konark Natya Mandap, with the mardala, ghanta and cymbal players dancing on the stage and performing — leaving after a muted presence during the lamp lighting ceremony, picking up thereafter to demonstrate some well-synchronised rhythm before leaving the stage for the Panchadevastuti. After a rather shaky start on the opening day lacking in synchronisation,Panchadevastuti picked up to earn handsome applause, the spectacle of dancers with lamps arrayed on five tiers paying homage to Ganesha, Narayana, Rudra, Ambika and Bhaskara thrilling the audience.

Among the dance groups it was Malti Shyam’s Kathak group that gave a polished performance, the recital visualising a complete classical musical journey in the excellently recorded music comprising a dhrupad in raga Shankara, a khayal in Malkauns, thumri in Khamaj, dadra in raga Gara and, finally, tarana in Malkauns. In the dhrupad, Malti’s choreography preserved the meditative silence, with the heavy pakhawaj sounds to conclude on a slightly faster note. The dancers — in the smooth chakkars, fine group spacing and simple arrangements — gave a performance with finesse. The dadra “Tumhare kaaran jaagi eri aanbaan jiyame lagi” and the group presentation in “Kaisoniko laaga” was delicately mimed, with Malti’s solo “Aaj mori kalai murkijai” done with the backdrop made less intrusive through lighting.

Ananda Shankar Jayant’s group of talented dancers began with a fitting, well-rendered Surya Namaskara for Konark. The Indian spring of joyous images in Vasanta was followed by a solo piece where Ananda’s Meera bhajan, while done with great feeling, tended to get lost on the vast stage with the prominent sculpted forms, the lighting not helping to make the backdrop less intrusive. The crowning piece imaginatively choreographed and presented by two dancers, male and female, was Shivoham portraying the male and female energies. The famous Kalakshetra Natabhairavi tillana was done with good sychronisation. The live music — Renukaprasad on nattuvangam, S. Venumadhav on vocals, T.P. Balasubramanyam on mridangam, and K. Saikumar on violin — was excellent.

Guru Gangadhar Pradhan’s senior students presented the starting sequence of “Shakuntala”, scripted by professor Nabakishore Mishra, with music composed by Sukant Kundu, and Dhaneswar Swain providing the nritta component with Guru Lingraj Swain’s choreography. The dancers displayed correct technique, and the production, while not outstanding, could be commended for being well-rehearsed. The costumes were satisfactory, though the feather on Dushyanta’s headdress was inappropriate. The bee scene was cut out. The sambhoga sringar sequence was skilfully shown, though dancers need to develop more feel for abhinaya. The Gotipua group of this institution was, as usual, excellent.

Samudra Group from Thiruvanantapuram, in presenting the cosmic dance of Shiva, showed themselves to be excellent movers, the bodies very well trained, blending movements derived from Kalaripayattu, yoga and Bharatanatyam. (They prefer to call their innovative dance vocabulary creative rather than contemporary, for it draws from traditional forms.) Some parts, particularly the duet portions with the male and female dancer, reminded one of Chandralekha’s choreography. The last two scenes seemed devoid of new ideas and dragged and one felt the dancers had nothing new to say. The last part, visualised as Shiva dancing with the bhuta ganas, needed a more informed introduction by the compere. The itsy-bitsy costumes designed for the male dancers, one felt at times, were aimed at titillating — not needed with such powerful dancing.

Sri Rama Nataka Niketan of Hyderabad has developed what is titled Deepatharangini, a halfway house between dance and acrobatics, with dancers poised on inverted earthen pots turning and twirling with lighted candles in hand, with dancers on floor level performing with feet planted on the rim of a brass plate like in tarangam in Kuchipudi. One has to commend the excellent group discipline as well as the exemplary balance of the dancers poised on the pots. But ultimately what was practised by E. Krishna Iyer in the 1920s (revived by Guru V.S. Ramamurthy and Guru Manjula Ramaswamy, his daughter) in this day and age would be considered gimmicky in Bharatanatyam. The Shanmukhapriya Madurai Muralidharan composition to Subramanya performed as a solo and the Kadanakutoohalam Balamurali tillana were well rendered in clean movements. Whether this 90-year-old guru’s efforts (which can be matched by several in Bharatanatyam today) deserved the Sanjukta Panigrahi award (awarded last year to Alarmel Valli) is a question that comes to mind.

The Mohiniattam recital, while correct and graceful, in the abhinaya by a solo dancer fell short of portraying the virahotkanthita rasa demanded by the lyric. But full marks to the organisers for selecting Kathakali from the Kathakali School Trissor. Shivdas and Arvind gave a most moving rendition of the scene of Kunti and Karna meeting. The music, unfortunately on tape, was however sung with deep feeling. The Hindolam, Kamboji and Surati in the end, along with the pacha and minukku characters providing abhinaya, brought tears to the eyes of the absolutely silent audience, which despite insufficient knowledge of Kathakali was deeply involved with what happened on stage. But the introduction by the compere for this item was totally inadequate.

Music performances

It is the music that deserved kudos, with the biggest names in the classical field featured. The Karnaranjani start with the Nishagandhi song by Rajesh Vaidya the Saraswati veena player and group was a delight of melody with Vaarija Shree on vocals, Sri Ganesh and Mohana Raman on mridagnam and Chandrajit on tabla, with Subramaniam on special effects. If the Durga in five-and-a-half beats and Kalyani set to Adi tala saw some delightful alap overtures on the veena, with Vaarija providing melodious interventions, the Suddha Dhanyasi with the last tani avartanam, with each instrument given solo space, had racy vigour. One was thrilled at the meditative strains of Shahid Pervez Khan’s sitar, the strong strumming sounds never intruding into the melody of fingers moving with such dexterity on the frets, the clean sound of Charukesi radiating a quality of silence, never resorting to virtuosity for its own sake.

Not even an all-Orissa bandh could keep away the large audience for the great flautist Chaurasia, selected this year for the Guru Gangadhar Pradhan lifetime award. His Maru Behag had people in raptures. Right through with Keerawani and the final Pahadi, the crowning joy was Vijay Ghate’s tabla rhythms, which literally sang along with the flute.

Providing a perfect finale was the ghatam recital, the artiste none other than the world famous Vikku Vinayakram. Mahesh Vinayakaram provided vocal support, and S. Swaminathan, the maestro’s grandson, was on the kanjira, with Ramakrishnan on mridangam. Whether Thotakaashtara of Sankara in the Adi tala eight-beat cycle, or an unusual seven-and-a-half beat or a split seven and five-beat cycle, or an unusual nine-and-a-half beat tala, it was the melody of four ghatams that produced both arithmetic and geometry of musical sounds, really regaling for the crowd. The Gadyam chant in Ganapati tala had words recited in a konakkol-type catchy rhythm loved by the audience.

Instead of the patchy work by a slew of male and female comperes, settling permanently on one like Mrityunjay, with his modest bearing, eloquence and pithy introductions, would be advisable instead of the television worthies whose gush on microphones, baring inflated egos and ignorance of dance and music, only served to irritate the audience. The female comperes, barring one, were all sub-standard, spewing needless adjectives. This aspect needs more introspection.

Correction

The review of the 27th Konark Natya Mandap Music/ Dance Festival published here last week was reproduced due to a technical fault. The error is regretted.