Dancers bring their creativity to bear on old themes and new.
It is not often in these days of structured recitals, rehearsed to fit into time slots, that one gets to experience a Bharatanatyam evening with both dancer and accompanying vocalist having space for manodharma with inspired on-the-spot expansion of both musical statement and its dance interpretation, as one witnessed at the Seher/India International Centre sponsored performance of Chennai’s A. Lakshman, with Sudha Raghuraman’s singing. Starting with pushpanjali in Malayamarutam and homage to Ganapati followed by alarippu in Tisram, Lakshman began the savoured, leisurely treatment of Swati Tirunal’s Karnataka Kapi varnam “Sumasayaka” in Roopaka talam. The sakhi here, as ‘dootika’, conveys to Lord Padmanabha the plight of her friend the nayika, wilting in unrequited love for him. Lakshman’s exceptional abhinaya prowess, in free flowing variations woven round each musical line, in unerring clarity, underlined the three characters involved in the theme — the languishing nayika, the image of the object of her love Lord Padmanabha evoked through the art of suggestion, and the sakhi herself as messenger pleading that the Lord answer the call of love. In between the sahitya passages, the teermanams were executed with total command over tala, movement line and dance profile with an etched araimandi, the central stylistic concern of Bharatanatyam technique.
Yet another very evocative part of the recital came in the ashtapadi “Priye Charusheele” with Krishna’s passionate declaration of love for Radha, his total surrender begging forgiveness going to the extent of offering his bent head for Radha to place her lotus feet on. The singing in Rageshri in Khanda chapu tala by Sudha with Lakshman’s dance interpretation, not to speak of G. Raghuraman’s flute interventions, provided a treat, though some literary scholars may not agree with a dancer’s artistic freedom in taking liberties with the verse sequence of Jayadeva’s poetry to suit the requirements of the dance.
The tillana finale in Mandari set to Adi tala, a composition of the Tanjore Quartet, concluded what was a supremely involved presentation. Tanjavur Kesavan provided able mridangam support with Priya Venkataraman doing the nattuvangam.
Drishtikon Foundation’s “Within”, a work conceived and choreographed by Aditi Mangaldas who uses her Kathak expertise in a movement blend flowing from the traditional along with a contemporary expression derived from Kathak technique, projected two scenes — the first half, ‘Knotted’, followed by ‘Unwrapped’ the second half — the two in complete contrast to each other. One expressed the hopelessness of life, programmed to the grim end of extinction, while the other mercifully made up by lifting the spirits with a brighter side emerging, gradually lifting the veils of darkness, to experience the hidden equanimity within. The audience response echoed the lows and highs. Is life really so dark, one wondered viewing the Kafkaesque picture of doom — the war sounds in Ish Shehrawat’s music with diffused beats seeing dancers in a minimalistic language of chakkars, crossing from one side to the other, parallel moving pictures projecting fear, belligerence, general helplessness as one falls to rise slowly to be pushed down again. Suddenly the chaotic, unconnected movements become coordinated as the dancers move in unison — but to be pushed down again. The pirouettes at top speed, the chopping movements, the collage of supine bodies arranged in a heap, the abstract language conveying hapless imagery, with amazing mood light and stage design fashioned by Fabiana Piccioli and Manish Kansara respectively, while rendered to rehearsed perfection, became too much of the same thing — the scene needing drastic editing. Changing stage positions apart, the bleak vocabulary lacked movement substance for such a prolonged scene.
‘Unwrapped’ the second half, though again needing tightening, was superb in dance design and execution, with classical nritta interspersed with interpretative dance to poetry and music of Mahesh Vinayakram with original composition of Pandit Kumar Gandharva “Aajra din dooba” in Pooryadhanashri, Kabir’s poetry “Is ghat antar” in Kafi, “Yar ko hamne” by Hazrat Shah Niazin set to Vachaspati and Ranjit Hoskote’s translation of recited verses of the Kashmiri poet Lal Ded “Wrapped up in yourself”. The mirror as a metaphor for delving inwards looking at one’s real self, after the interpretative part mimed by Aditi, was expressed through dancers with hands held mirror-like at various angles from the face, performing to 14-matra nritta — a truly imaginatively composed section, extending the image to group arrangements exquisitely rendered. There was other imagery of hooded faces, reminiscent of Mahabharata’s Gandhari, again suggesting locking oneself away from the world unable to look deeply into oneself. The Teen tala bit was also impeccably rendered.
Faraz Ahmed’s singing, moving on stage at one point, with the percussionists seated with back to the audience, was melodious combined with felt emotion. The other accompanists, Mohit Gangani on tabla, Ashish Gangani on pakhawaj and Amir Khan on sarangi comprised a strong team. A highly professional presentation by dancers Aditi, Dheerendra Tiwari, Amit Khinchi, Piyush Chauhan, Preeti Sharma, Karan Gangani, Shubhi Johari and Minhaz Khan notwithstanding, the work needs editing. The brilliant lighting creating craggy surfaces and other effects on the backdrop was of rare class.
Shovana Narayan’s Asavari school of dance, for this year’s Lalitarpan Festival, mounted at Stein Auditorium, honoured as awardees Amal Allana the theatre director, Ajeet Cour for vernacular literature, Ramesh Broota for art, Guru Singhajit Singh for dance contribution and two former Director Generals of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, Pavan K.Varma and Suresh Goel, for art management. Among the dancers gracing the stage for the two-day event in solo performances - apart from students of Asavari performing on both days in a group — were Deepak Maharaj (whose Kathak performance was written about in this column just a week ago) and Vyjayanthi Kashi the Kuchipudi exponent.
Having trained under several old gurus, Vyjayanthi with her statuesque presence combines a flair for the dramatic which is very much a part of this original Yakshagana Nritya Nataka tradition. Her presentation drew from the Mahabharata the theme of Sharmishte with her unpredictable life of ups and downs, where two other characters Yayati and Devayani played dominant roles. A one-woman dance drama conceived and visualised with guidance from her then guru Korada Narasimha Rao, with script in Kannada, the dancer enacting it, commanded audience attention — her theatrical prowess switching from mood to mood with ease. From the proud gait of a young and beautiful princess, daughter of Vrishaparvan, to enjoying hours of companionship with Devayani playing dice, Pandi and other games like blind man’s buff, Sharmishte seems thrice blessed till fate strikes a cruel blow with a terrible misunderstanding with Devayani, who marries King Yayati and has her revenge on Sharmishte by making her the serving maid. Saved in the nick of time by Yayati from committing suicide, Sharmishte too marries Yayati and has three sons through him — Druvya, Anu and Puru. It is her youngest son Puru who agrees to exchange his youth and handsome looks for the wizened decrepitude of old Yayati, for which act, after years, he is restored his looks and youth and crowned successor to Yayati’s throne.
In music set to innumerable ragas, and dancer’s presentation, the tangled web of events emerged clearly, with parts like Puru and Yayati exchanging youth for old age and vice versa very well communicated in the abhinaya. Sharmishte’s decision to leave this life having had enough of its twists and turns was suggestively shown. Altogether an arresting performance by Vyjayanthi!