A five-day dance programme in Kochi saw leading exponents of Indian classical dances come up with performances that melded the classical and the contemporary.

Classical dancers from the Capital descended on Kochi last week and gave discerning audiences a fill of many dance forms. Swapnasundari, Bharathi Shivaji, Saswati Sen, Madhavi Mudgal and Rama Vaidyanathan performed at JT Performing Arts Centre at the Choice School compound, Tripunithura, in connection with a fete called ‘Parampara, Indian Classical Dance Festival'.

The curtain went up on the five-day festival with the magical smoothness of Odissi. Madhavi Mudgal and her niece-disciple Arushi Mudgal took the audience on a journey of pure art.

Madhavi handled the abhinaya parts leaving the nrita and nrithya to the promising Arushi.

A mangalacharan from a 13th century musical treatise ‘Sangitaratnakara', set to music by the late Pandit Jitendra Abhisheki, that invoked Lord Shiva, set the tone for the evening.

‘Aahlad', a nritta piece in raag Sahana, was choreographed and performed by Arushi. It had music by Hindustani vocalist Madhup Mudgal, Arushi's father. The lithe dancer moved with grace and joy, and this was easily the high point of the recital.

Madhavi enacted excerpts from three Ashtapadis from Jayadeva's ‘Gita Govinda'. For one moment Madhavi was Radha, in the next she was the ‘sakhi' or Radha's confidante, and then she transformed into Krishna.

Two typically Odissi pieces, ‘Kede Chhanda' and ‘Oriya Champu', followed. The former, an Oriya song, depicted the childhood mischief of Krishna. Arushi's beautiful bends and sways in the sancharis, the abhinaya, postures and footwork, did justice to this piece choreographed by Kelucharan Mohapatra.

The Oriya Champu was a ‘kha champu' where all the lines of the song began with the letter ‘kha'. With emphasis on abhinaya, Madhavi created blossom-laden trees, scented breeze, singing bees and the lovelorn characters.

The recital concluded with a duet ‘Dvidha,' a play of rhythms and visual patterns. The performance ended with chants from the Vedas.

The second evening saw Saswati Sen's Kathak in both the conventional and unconventional modes. The foremost disciple of Kathak maestro Birju Maharaj, Saswati is totally devoted to the Lucknow gharana and her guru, so much so that at every turn, you are reminded of her guru in the way she performs.

While a few pure Kathak numbers were performed with the customary baby Krishna, sakhis and Yashodha as characters, the classical met the mundane in innovative numbers where the ghungroo took over and taal became the dance.

Saswati even played imaginary hockey with mudras, footwork and the ghungroo as mainstay, something that Birju Maharaj does. In Saswati's performance, the demonstrative elements outweighed the pure dance part so that the concert format was missing.

On the theme of Sita

Bharathi Shivaji, on the third day, stuck to the traditional Mohiniyattom genre. Innovation, there was in great abundance, as far as the music and lyrics were concerned. Sita was the theme of her recital. The recital had Sita as a child, adolescent and as a young lady in love and wedded to Rama in several numbers, in chronological order. She danced to poems set to music in the Sopanasangeetham style, rendered in the robust voice of Sadanam Radhakrishnan.

‘Balaganapathy' was the opening piece, which had a lot of novelty. Vallathol's ‘Kochusita' was followed by the adolescent Sita's beauty and demeanour and then ‘Sitaparinayam', all choreographed by Bharathi. The colourful swayamvaram was staged like a dance drama in a solo show, which Bharathi performed with much stamina and grace.

Swapnasundari's singular contribution has been the revival, reconstruction and crusade for Vilasini Natyam, a dance form indigenous to Andhra Pradesh but which was on the verge of extinction. The classicism and extensive repertoire of the dance form were evident in Swapnasundari's mesmerising performance on the fourth day of the fete.

Vilasini Natyam has three basic segments or aspects. The temple tradition, which includes rituals; the court tradition, which includes ‘nritta' and ‘nritya' presentations; and the theatrical presentation, like the ‘Parijatams' based on the story of Lord Krishna and his favourite consort Satyabhama that used to be performed for nine consecutive nights in the temples in Andhra.

Swapnasundari packed all these elements in her two-hour recital.

The padam was the soul of the performance. In Vilasini Natyam, unlike in most other Indian classical dance forms, the padam is performed with the dancer seated. Swapnasundari performed a hitherto unpublished padam that exists only in the oral tradition. This part calls for intense abhinaya, where the emotions and ideas are carried through to the audience with the help of the eyes, face, gestures and manodharma (spontaneous improvisation).

Enthralling Parijatam

The Parijatam was riveting. The presentation was filled with ‘nritta', ‘abhinaya' and elements of ‘natya'. There was an exchange of dialogue between the dancer and vocalist as in a dance-drama. The dancer also sang snatches of the songs before giving it a visual expression. The unique feature of this presentation is that the dancer comes adorned in the traditional wooden hand-crafted jewellery called ‘Ganiyam' which was worn by the dancers of yore for the ‘Bhagavatham' (dance opera) presentations.

Parampara concluded with a Bharatanatyam recital by Rama Vaidyanathan. The youngest of the dancers who performed in the festival, Rama's was an energetic, well-rehearsed and crisp performance.

Rama started with a choreographed piece titled the ‘Divine Cowherd'. A ragamalika based on a composition by Narayana Theerthar, it was a well-designed entry and a perfect way to connect with the audience. It had a variety of movements, pirouettes, bursts of strength and beauty.

Having captured the attention of the audience Rama quietly slipped into the varnam. She chose a composition of the famed Tanjore Quartet set in Bhairavi raga. This item brought to the fore Rama's strengths – her skill in executing the adavu jatis. The jatis for this piece were composed by Karaikudi Sivakumar who was also the ‘nattuvanar'.

A ‘javali,' again a composition of the Tanjore Quartet, in Surutti, a musical piece specially picked for ‘abhinaya' was where Rama seemed to falter a bit. In the next piece, another abhinaya-oriented one based on Papanasam Sivan's ‘Ena thavam seithane…' (Kapi) also Rama did not seem to be in her element.

But then Rama made up for all this with her precise, firm movements, beautiful ‘aaharya' and an excellent back-up team.

The dancer completed her recital with a Thillana in Varamu raga and a Adi Sankaracharya ‘Ashtakam in Megh raag.