Delhi's season of performances has touched high gear.
Post-Commonwealth Delhi erupted in a festival glut, resulting in only parts of clashing SNA, Seher and IIC events being seen. SNA's Awardees Festival at the Kamani began with Kathak/Contemporary Dancer Daksha Sheth's choreography celebrating the sari as an aesthetic statement. Nothing as imagined (it never is in Daksha's case), it was not sari as apparel draped on the body that was highlighted, for the movements with stunts on rope and cloth hangings from the ceiling, preferring a costume allowing free movement.
An ensemble of movements inspired by Kalari, Mallakhamb, Kathak and Chhau combined in serenading the sari as a weaver's creative imagination, with stage on either side flanked by looms and charkha. No other choreographer has used Kerala's Mallakhamb rope-balancing technique to such effect as Daksha has in her productions. Just descending from the ceiling were strips of cloth and rope with experts like Isha and male partners performing. And what an innovative idea to use the sari as a “toolie” (as it is called in Tamil Nadu), hung from the ceiling as a comfortable hammock (in which the baby sleeps in rocked comfort)!
Very creative, the musical base provided by Devissaro was most evocative, with delightful raga flourishes, lehra type refrains, and drum beats and rhythms of myriad tones with ‘konakkol'-like recitation of rhythmic syllables, ghatam, sticks beaten in rhythm and what have you. Saris descending smoothly from the ceiling saw performers moving around them, sometimes hurriedly wrapping it round their bodies while executing movement. T
hat uncanny feel for rhythm comes from Daksha's Kathak expertise, and one of the most delicate sequences was Daksha draped in a simple mustard cotton sari, performing chakkars and ‘gat' with a grace and dignity all her own. Also entertaining was a rhythmic sequence with Daksha's footwork competing with son Tao's tapping on the body creating complicated rhythmic patterns. And worked into the music, was a background refrain of the rhythm/sound of working looms. Daksha called this a ‘work in progress'.
One would have liked saris of a richer quality to really bring out the weaver's art. If handloom houses could sponsor such an event, it could travel the globe as aesthetic endorsement of the the weaver's art.
When a mighty government agency constructs a hideous shed-like permanent structure for sound and light shows blocking a part of the total view of the monument, who is held accountable? This obstruction marred the total view for the audience at Seher's annual Ananya event, its performance space denied a fully visible backdrop of the Purana Quila. Triumphing over all this was Sharmila Biswas' rich creative designing of ‘Abahan'.
With a strong Odissi base with training under late Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, Sharmila's painstaking research into other folk, tribal and music traditions of Orissa has given her imagination shadings, making for a total vision exuding the aroma of gut Oriyan identity. After consecrating stage space through a ritualistic ‘Abahan', Gativilas, inspired by the rural mridanga rhythms of Orissa, captured movement with the energy quality of gait, stance and expression of animals (including Sharmila's movements inspired by folk traditions adapted into Odissi grammar), the group production went on to the story of Surpanakha, its unique group narration inspired by narrative traditions using as textual base lines from Orissa's “Baidehi Bilasa” and Bichitra Ramayana of Biswanath Khuntia. With beautifully trained senior disciples like Saswati Ghedei, Ayona Bhaduri and Neloy Sengupta and others, the quality of dance and group formations never suffered.
Geeta Chandran's ‘Revision', based on the classical Bharatanatyam repertoire started with a rare mallari, with tricky arithmetic of 18 syllables with a concluding abhinaya homage to Shiva. After this rhythmic punch, the tisra Alarippu instead of creating visual group aesthetics with the immaculate geometry of lines in this item chose to accent the internalisation process, with the dancers largely confined to one side of the performance space. Attami neck and eyes not totally synchronised stunted the aesthetic totality.
Based on Kalidasa's “Ritu Samhar” verses, the description of the rain clouds arriving like an elephant herd, and the lover's tiff, had its moments, with the music well devised. Given the Carnatic classical expertise of both Geeta and Sudha Raghuraman, music with devices like ‘sruti bhedam' captured the idea of the echo for the imaginative item ‘Pratidhwani' where timing was of the essence. Group formations did not fully exploit the sculpturesque majesty of a genre like Tillana in Rageshwari.
Considering the challenge of an amalgam of dance forms like Bharatanatyam, Kathak and Chhau, Justin McCarthy's “Lokaalokam” was surprisingly communicative in its very basic simple dance language, with Elangovan's mix of tribal music and tunes like Mohanam and Punnagavarali, though the lone Kathak dancer and two Chhau dancers were repetitive in their movements. Justin took up an old world theme about the mythical mountain dividing visible and invisible worlds with the Universe created through sound — with the nether world, Earth, Skies occupied by creatures, Man, God and Demons. More aesthetic costuming was needed.