The joy of nrittya seva or worship through dance, was the underlying bhava that bound Sonal Mansingh’s Odissi performance. Taking different episodes from mythology, she wove them into various ways of praising the almighty and chanting His name.
The opening Mangalacharan was based on an aarti composed by poet Jayadeva in part 2 of his Geeta Govindam. It sang the praises of Kesava, who rests on the bosom of Kamala, wears the vanamala, vanquished Ravana and who is Lord of the three worlds. While the verses were preceded by some rhythmic sequences, the main thrust of the item and, indeed, the entire performance, was abhinaya. And it was in the abhinaya -- now compassionate, now angry, but always with bhakti -- that Sonal drew her audience. The same bhakti and ‘anand’ or joy, formed the basis of her explanatory narratives as well.
Sabari’s unconditional surrender and dedication in preparing for the one moment when Rama would come to visit her was explored in the Anjali. With a Gujarati song learnt from Dangi girls providing the background, Sonal depicted the story of Sabari’s single minded devotion to Rama, her joy when He arrived, her sorrow when He left. The maturity in Sonal’s abhinaya came through in the time taken to just sit and gaze into the face of Rama and in the tearful farewell, watching till the moment He disappears from her range of vision.
The depiction of the Navarasas through episodes from the Siva Purana was a mini solo dance drama in itself and took us through to the end of the performance. With simple Sanskrit lines penned by Sonal, this item used interspersed percussion segments, recitation, excerpts from pallavi lines and musical interludes (haunting sarod accompaniment by Abrar Husain) to elaborate the emotions. Several instances stood out for their portrayal. The transition from the fiery look (that defeated Kala) to Karunya in the Markandeya episode was one. Depicting the stirrings of love in Siva as a result of cupid’s arrows before the anger (roudram) as His meditation is interrupted was another.
The idle anointment of Parvathi with herbal paste on herself before the idea of creating a child strikes her, was yet another. Sonal had used interesting choreography by bringing in pauses in the dance competition between Mohini and Bhasmasuran and by using a brief nadai variation in the recitation that depicted Veeram. She had also included sound effects to create the atmosphere for the bhibatsam in the form of Siva adorned with skulls and ash. The gradual building up of the pace of swaras to show Ganesha’s coming to life was also a deft touch. Siva’s fear (bhayam) at being faced with Parvathi’s wrath and the emotion of disgust for bhibatsam were bhavas that were glossed over.
Some of the dance movements themselves were also a little exaggerated in the attempt to bring in a comic touch as in Bhasmasuran’s clumsy attempts to dance or in the way Siva ran behind Vishnu in His Mohini avatar.
There was some disappointment in the musical support -- nuances in expression were missing both in vocalist Bankim Sethi’s rendering and in the pakhawaj of Shama Nidhi Pradhan, even drowning the melody of the flute (Vinay Prasanna) and the sarod at times.
However, the performance was marked by Sonal’s well known ability to hold the audience with her abhinaya and, for all that, footwork sequences were somewhat laboured, possibly due to energy constraints, it threw up glimpses of the beautiful tribhangi postures that used to be a hallmark of Sonal’s performances.