The 75th birthday of Pandit Birju Maharaj saw a fitting tribute in the form of a three-day presentation organised by his institute Kalashram
“Taal Martanda Kathak Samrat” is how the late Ravi Shankar referred to Pandit Birju Maharaj. What better gift could one wish for the maestro’s 75th birthday than the profusion of dance and music offered by pan-Indian artists in Vasantotsava 2013, mounted by his institution Kalashram at the Kamani? In fact, standing out as benediction during the three-day extravaganza and testimony to what this guru has bequeathed to the dance world through years of service, were touches of brilliance by disciples, in short, telling presentations on the special morning of the third day.
Turned out in simple pink sari and white blouse, Malti Shyam’s rendition of “Kaisoni Tola” in beautifully sung Malkauns on tape in the typical Kumar Gandharva style was utterly captivating in the joyous, involved, impeccable Kathak interpretation — one of the best this critic has seen of this dancer. To watch Natalia, an American, enchant as she danced to “Teri mehfil me kis andaazse baitha hai diwana” and to witness her padhant and presentation of Chau tala, not to forget the flawless Hindi introductions to “Badal, Bijli and Basant”, was to have a measure of this master’s efficacy in transcending territorial and cultural boundaries. Similarly, years of living in the heartland of Germany have not dulled the magic of Durga Arya’s Kathak; just a glimpse of the prancing deer conveying the entire feel of the Ramayana, making Krishna’s “amrit katha” a real devotee’s offering at the feet of the master.
Kiran Bhargava, after 22 years in another vocation, dancing to an over-21-year-old fine recording of Birju Maharaj singing “Nirat Sakhi”, showed through her supreme grace how the dance still speaks in her body. Many were the rich glimpses — Shikha Khare’s concise presentation starting with a delightful guru vandana; Jayashree Acharya’s more assertive Kathak; Guru Munna Shukla’s disciples in a neat group “Samanvaya” comprising “confluence, co-ordination and synthesis”; Vaswati’s disciples Daniel Freddie and Sanjukta presenting Pancha Bhoota and a tarana; and students of Kalashram performing. A trim Ram Mohan impressed in old compositions, the “Udan”’ composition standing out — his rendition gaining extra fillip through the very robust padhant of brother Krishna Mohan. Prabha Marathe got carried away, her non-stop microphone commentary on Guruji and her experiences an intrusive distraction even as her disciple performed.
The Vasantotsav music duet choices were phenomenal. Dance had a less-than-impressive start in the Zakir Hussein-Ayan Mukherjee, Bharatanatyam-Gaudiya Nritta combine. Zakir needs to sharpen the dance outline, articulate basic stances more, bring impeccable laya in ‘arudi’ summations and put more substance and body into his performances instead of elongated miming sequences that cannot command audience attention. The Gaudiya Nritta was thwarted by off-key singing and Ayan’s own movements with glimpses of Odissi, Bharatanatyam and what-have-you lacking distinct identity. And the Krishnaashtakam duet lacked any meeting points between the two forms.
Krishna Mohan is such a fine dancer that all the drama of wending his way between female lovelies in gossamer veils is unnecessary. His newfound love for the ghazal, for this critic, hides his true forte in unadulterated Kathak.
Making amends for a dull start was the clear toned shehnai of Rajendra Prasanna in Maru Behag with Santosh Nahar’s well-coordinated violin.
Kuala Lumpur-based Temple of Fine Arts offered a group presentation of mangalacharan with a homage to Ganesh in the Hamsadhwani mode, composed by Raghunath Panigrahi. Despite some heavily built, though aesthetically-costumed, dancers, group coordination and the Debaprasad style of dancing with neat bhramaris stood out. The institution also presented a lively choreography of Bharatanatyam-based “Ganga Taranga”, the music on tape by O.S. Arun.
The best of the dance jugalbandi efforts was in the Rama Vaidyanathan-Sujata Mohapatra duet, where the two forms of Bharatanatyam and Odissi saw a most integrated face, visualised through really proficient dancing. The strong lines of Bharatanatyam and the curves of Odissi contrasted and complemented each other in mangalacharan paying homage to “Meena, Ambuja, Shyamala, Komala Anga” of Rama, the individual interpretations coming together in the end, with Rama as bowman adorned by Sujata as the graceful consort Sita. One would have thought of Shankaracharya’s “Karpoora Gauranga” as the ideal tandav-lasya textual base for a duet. Instead, it was an excellently rendered solo Odissi exposition by Sujata followed by a vibrantly strong “Rudra Roopini” Devi with Beeja Mantras providing added resonance, visualised in the Bharatanatyam idiom by Rama. The interpretative part in the seated position (bhav batana) based on the lone statement “Gopika Nandana Krishna Bhagavan swayam” assumed a partially episodic character with glimpses of Pootana’s killing, the subduing of Kaliya, the butter-stealing Krishna revealing the universe in his open mouth, etc. mimed in alternate individual sequences. Throughout, the communication between two interpreters extolling the virtues of this hero who was God himself, remained in focus. A large part of the success of the duet sprang from the two fine sets of musicians, with K. Venkateshwaran and Roopak Kumar Panda switching from Carnatic to the Odissi style of singing in silken smoothness, both vocalists with noteworthy ‘sur’ and verbal clarity.
Deepika Reddy, with all her stage presence and an excellently organised musical team with DSV Sastri providing vocal support and nattuvangam, could impart to her rather subdued Kuchipudi movement more of the expanse and exhilaration of nritta that this dance form revels in. The tarangam “Kanaka manimaya noopura”on the brass plate was correctly executed. Tyagaraja’s Nauka Charitra kirtanam “Sringarinchukoni” in Suratti, which Deepika’s guru Mosalikanti has set to dance showing the gopis setting out in all their finery to meet Krishna, could have been more subtly played out in the exuberant miming. As for the duet with Deepak Maharaj, whose own solo comprised a lucid Teen tala and less immaculate 17-matra tala, there was hardly any meeting point — each doing his or her own dance in the finale. And both dancers should have curtailed the solo part.
Similarly, too different to match ideally was the Mamata Maharaj-Vijayalakshmi duet of Kathak and Mohiniattam. Mamata’s solo had a very well-honed Basanta tala in nine matras, its main substance structured by her brother Guru Jaikishen Maharaj, with finely textured parmelu and tihai sequences. After Vijayalakshmi’s solo nritta, the duet with images of nature in all her spring beauty had the bees and flowers and birds well brought out, different but sharing simultaneity.
The audience were thrilled by master Karaikudi Mani’s mridangam, with excellent kanjira. All the other percussion delights, thanks to the very late hours of the night, were missed.
Bringing down the curtain on this platinum jubilee celebration was a fourth evening’s programme slated at the FICCI auditorium.