Dance enthusiasts expecting the best from a Kalakshetra/Kalamandalam combine in the three-day Kathakali dialogue-cum-presentation were not disappointed. The lec-dems, performances by some of the greatest living exponents of the form, interactive sessions and screening of documentaries organised by Kalakshetra Foundation with co-sponsors Sangeet Natak Akademi, provided a treat for connoisseurs and laymen alike - showing that the late Rukmini Devi’s Kathakali initiatives were back on rails in Kalakshetra, with training provided by Guru Sadanam P.V. Balakrishnan.

Inaugurated by Sri Paulos, vice-chancellor of Kerala Kalamandalam, with a scholarly address spun around ‘Bhava Bhavanam’, the Arangukeli drums, Chorittakai and Todayam provided the curtain raiser. P.V. Balakrishnan’s lec-dem on the inner tranquillity or satvika base needed for all abhinaya saw Sadanam Krishna Kumar providing the demonstration.

Raga in Kathakali

Kathakali’s sambhoga sringar preference was presented through excerpts from Uttara Swayamvaram and Nalacharitam. The plight of Sairandri in Keechaka Vadham with the libretto encompassing every psychological state mentioned in Natya Sastra for this situation, showed the shared lakshya/lakshana approach in classical forms.

Another lively, informative lecture on Vachikabhinaya by Sadanam Harikumar dwelt on how raga in Kathakali is totally dictated by Natya Sangeet aims of creating the mood for the actor in a situation, and Carnatic concerns of avoiding a Yadukula Khambodi shortly after a Khambodi or Bhairavi followed soon after by Anandabhairavi or Husseni, or Madhyamavati and Sri coming close together is of little concern. Demonstrations were by vocalists Madambi Subrahmanian Namboodiri and Nedumpalli Rammohan with Kalamandalam Unnikrishnan and Sadanam Kuttan on chenda and maddalam respectively. How Carnatic tanam metres find an echo in Kathakali’s fast sahitya sans music recitations, was an interesting point. The session evoked several queries from the audience.

Another brilliant demonstration was Cholliyattam from Ravanodbhavam by Naripatta Narayanan Namboodiri, each aspect of his dance emerging with a clarity and exactitude creating optimum impact. Kuroor Vasudevan Namboodiri and Sadanam Gopalakrishnan on the chenda emphasised how improvisational passages called for total percussive/dancer empathy. Mei Sadakam exercises, angika abhinaya and glimpses of Kallatikkotan Sampradaya from which Sadanam Balakrishnan were other unique sessions.

Moving portrayal

The performances began with the hosts Kalakshetra presenting ‘Lavanasura Vadham’ by Amrita Shastrikal. Asan Sadanam Balakrishnan made a sublime Hanuman to Leela Samson’s inspired and moving portrayal as Sita, her persona subsumed in the involved enactment and aharya with even close friends unable to recognise her. Allowing himself to be captured by the twin boys, Hanuman entering the ashram prostrates at Sita’s feet. ‘Sukhamo Devi’ (Nattakurinji) saw many wet eyes in the audience. Haripadman as Kusa turned in a vibrant performance while Sibi Sudarsan as Lava keeping pace with his partner in nritta needs more of the expressional component.

Evocative singing by Sadanam Arul Peram Jyoti and Kalamandalam Rajesh Menon had fitting chenda and maddalam support provided by Sadanam Ramakrishnan and Sadanam Kuttan respectively.

Koyi Thamburan’s ‘Ravana Vijayam - Rambha Pravesam’ treated the audience to the still vibrant performance of the senior veteran, octogenarian Madavoor Vasudevan Nair Asan in the role of Ravana. Sadanam Manikantan made his presence strongly felt in the Dootan’s role. Sadanam Sreenathan as Rambha disappointed, as in an excess of coquettish gestures, he diluted the stylisation aspect, the strongest feature of Kathakali. The over-flirtatious, supposedly seductive entrance made the later rejection of Ravana’s advances less convincing, detracting from the dignity of a heavenly entertainer such as Rambha.

Sadanam Harikumar and Sadanam Sivadasan provided emotively strong music, with Vasudevan Namboodiri (chenda) and Sadanam Sridharan (maddalam).

‘Subhadra Haranam’, Mantredattu Nambootiripad’s play, with a grand tableau curtain-raiser of Arjuna being garlanded by Subhadra, had the play’s strongest performer in Kalamandalam Balasubramanian, who as Balabhadran, totally disapproving of sister Subhadra’s elopement with Arjuna, gave a powerful performance. Kalamandalam Sucheendran made a convincing Subhadra, his still presence while the other actor is performing, remarkable. Kottakkal Chandrasekhara Varier as Arjunan had his moments, though his passing the Kalasam nritta punctuations without footwork, allowing chenda and maddalam to play out the rhythmic syllables, made the performance mono-toned, sans vigour. Sadanam Bhasi as Krishna has a wonderfully correct technique, but the frightened subservience when confronted with the wrath of his brother seemed overdone, diminishing Krishna, though the gradual ascension to a position of authority was effective. Kalanilayam Kunjunni and Sadanam Ramakrishnan on chenda, and Kalanilayam Prakasan and Sadanam Kuttan on maddalam provided fine percussion, with vocalists Kalamandalam Madambi Subramaian Namboodiri and Nedumballi Rammohan singing with a honeyed flow the ‘Kanchadala Lochana’ sringara padam in Khambodi.

Masterful enactment

Unforgettable in his masterful enactment of Bahukan in the Reunion from ‘Nala Charitam’ by Unnai Varier, was Kalamandalam Krishnakumar, his ability to bring out the sorrow, anger and final ecstasy of Nala as Bahukan, showing Kathakali at its best. With Kalamandalam Unnikrishnan on the chenda literally making the instrument speak through tonal nuances and Kottakkal Ravi keeping pace on the maddalam, with vocalists Kottakkal Madhu and Nedumpalli Rammohan raising Bhairavi, Todi, Husseni, Mohanam and Pantuvarali to high levels of bhava-soaked rendition, this was a high point of the festival. Kalamandalam Shamukhan as Damayanthi and Kalamandalam Sucheendran as Kesini were of a piece with the rest, in a truly riveting totality.

Rather late in the night to take in more than half of the final play ‘Bali Vadham’, one enjoyed Naripatta Narayanan Namboodiri’s Ravana impersonation. One left with telling mental images of the cholliattam expressing how Ravana won many beautiful women from many parts of the world, his concentration now being on winning Sita for himself. Efforts like Bhava Bhavanam with established institutions pooling their resources are truly worth it.