If Meenakshi Srinivasan's ability to communicate through abhinaya was remarkable, Kathak dancers Kaveri Sageder and Sheetal Kolwalkar wowed audiences with their charming stage presence.
The Kapaleeswarar temple has a unique aura that makes for an immediacy of the reach of the arts. And it was here that the Saraswati Educational Cultural and Charitable Trust had organised the Vasanta Utsav festival.
On the inaugural day, the motley crowd could hardly miss the burning zeal and the high degree of sophistication of Meenakshi Srinivasan's Bharatanatyam. A disciple of Guru Venkatachalapathi and subsequently Alarmel Valli, Meenakshi has established a reputation for sincerity and expertise with her performances around the world.
The programme planning and performance seemed to target the temple audience and factored in the absence of trappings such as the stage and curtain. Her recital that day revolved largely round Lord Siva and His consort. Abhinaya and nritta were given a balanced treatment. What stood out in Meenakshi's performance was the ability to create, communicate and sustain a particular mood without a single wrinkle.
Thus the opening number ‘Ananda Natana Prakasham' in Kedaram could draw in the bliss as well as the contemplative nature of the Lord. The next number, a varnam, spotlighted the sringara aspect without losing sight of the divine nature of the beloved. Dhandayudhapani Pillai's ragamalika ‘Samiyai Azhaithodi Vaa' was interpreted as a dialogue where the sakhi's lack of comprehension of Siva's magnificence paved the way for the nayika to enlighten her. The choreography showed attention to detail: for instance, the Ardhanareeswara was depicted by contrasting the fiery locks of Siva with the long braid of the goddess.
It was obvious that showmanship was a leading criterion here: following what seems to be today' s trend, the adavus for the theermanams were structured so that the artist was always hurtling around the performing space. One hardly got to witness a whole adavu; instead the long, complex patterns with different nadais were offered as incessant combos of different kinetic adavus. While one was full of admiration for the superb stamina and dedication of the artist (given that this is summer), one also wished some moments of calm had been built in.
The abhinaya was a different story and there were numerous moments where one got to relish the artistic imagination. In ‘Jaya Jaya Durge', the goddess was revered not just as the vanquisher of demons but also of the evils within us. The contrasting images of raudram and vatsalyam were delivered with panache. Similarly, Meenakshi's involvement in abhinaya gave a lift to the Tamil piece ‘Dikku thereiyada kaatil.'
It was in the thillana that the artist revealed her true mettle as the araimandi remained undiluted, the body lines stayed unfrayed as sollu alternated with the lines of the thillana as shudda nritta. The superb orchestral team of vocalist Hariprasad, Jaisri Ramanathan's nattuvangam, Kalaiarasan's violin and Vedakrishnan's mridangam galvanised Meenakshi's dancing to greater heights.
The Kapaleeswarar temple resounded with dha dhindhinda… syllables not often heard in the Chennai air. As devotees turned the corner to the mandapam in the temple, the reason became clear. Kaveri Sageder and Sheetal Kolwalkar, disciples of Shama Bhate from Pune, were presenting a Kathak performance for the Vasant Utsav.
For their performance, they used recorded music of high quality. The music ranged from the classical to semi-classical, and, in their words, 'world music'. Rather than stick to lengthy delineations of taal and its nuances, the duo chose short pieces with more of abhinaya content. Perhaps this was to ensure that the Chennai citizen got to comprehend Kathak better.
It was the dynamic rhythm presentation of teen tal that stole the show. The pieces revealed the dancers' competency in footwork and their control. The introductory number ‘Om Nama Shivaya' followed with the elaboration of teen taal was gripping and impressed the audience with some crystal clear footwork. The five inch wide ghunghroos, the slapping sound of the feet on the granite floor and the whirling skirts of Kaveri and Sheetal projected some weighty fare.
Here, the two dancers presented the ginti, taatakar and taat which helped display their skill and experience. If one came looking forward to some challenging sawal jawab sessions, one left disappointed. For the rest of the programme turned out to be a collection of songs which although pleasing to the eyes, fell short on substance. While they offered some lively dancing, the really weighty points of the Kathak style were left unexplored.
The abhinaya pieces came in quick succession and set a spirited tone. Maestro Bhimsen Joshi's bhajan ‘Krupa sarovar' extolled the compassion of Krishna and the Ganesha stuti rendered by Shankar Mahadevan reflected the creative bent of Lord Siva. But the Mahadev Sutaha became a piece more memorable for the noisy musical effects than the energetic dancing by the duo. The classicism of such features such as the wrist movements and the stylised walk were overshadowed by the light content of the music; sweet to see but powdery as snow. Even if the dancing per se remained undiluted, the end product varied depending on whether the music was classical or not.
The tandav stood out for restrained delivery of Siva's synergy. This piece helped the recital stay on an even keel; the destructive and the creative aspects were powerfully projected through mime and pure rhythm. The finale ‘Vande Mataram' was well performed.