The genius of Rukmini Devi came alive once again in the revived production ‘Gita Govindam.’
It must have been with a feeling of déjà vu that three people in the audience (Shanta Dhananjayan, Sarada Hoffman and Balagopal) watched the replay of their roles in the grand revival of the 1959 dance-drama, Gita Govindam, staged at Kalakshetra once again.
A. Janardhan ‘rewound’ himself into a Time Machine to bring forth all that he had seen, observed and absorbed in order to reproduce the genius of Rukmini Devi, this time by literally stepping into her shoes and thinking as she would have! That he has worked tirelessly to recreate it with finesse was evident throughout each segment of the show.
This lyrical, immortal 12th century poem of Jayadeva continues to inspire generations of artists, musicians, and dancers.
Set against a soft-hued painted backdrop inspired by the miniature paintings, the drama unfolded with beautiful visuals of the sakhis holding a thirasheelai (symbolising the world as Maya perhaps) and later a stunning cloth canopy to herald Krishna’s entry (symbolically emphasising the exalted status of the Paramatma). The play then moves on to depict the varied emotions of sringara rasa as the sthayi bhava in the story of Radha and Krishna through the eyes of the poet.
Familiar as we are with elaborate explorations of just one Ashtapadi in dance recitals, taking in the entire work in one sitting is definitely a mammoth effort. It was her understanding of this fact that made Rukmini Devi a little hesitant to take this up. She said, “I have felt doubtful to its ultimate success as there is hardly any story in terms of human action. The story is the story of the human soul. Yet, I know this marvellous poem was composed for dance.”
In the fast-paced world that we live in today, this poem will seem monotonous and slow paced, watching the myriad emotions of Radha and Krishna. Anticipating this, the genius in her, with great foresight brought in a group of sakhis (not just as decorative props on stage) to make them part of the larger composition, with every little detail in place.
It was almost as if a great master had brought his canvas alive... for in a painting, every portion on the canvas has to be attended to, including the blank empty spaces. That she had been successful in doing so speaks of Rukmini’s mastery of understanding stagecraft.
The imagery of love, an intrinsic part of ‘Gita Govindam,’ had to be portrayed keeping in mind the ideals of her philosophy and this she succeeded with refined and dignified choreography and abhinaya. In the scene where sambogha sringara (love in union) had to be depicted, she places Radha and Krishna in a little bower at the far interiors of the stage, inside a rock cut alcove. In the forefront, six gopis were stationed in a sitting position forming a little circle, adding depth and single-point perspective of miniature paintings, thus bringing in the added perspective of Time and Space.
The group formations and gestures were orchestrated with such detail and precision, leaving no scope for individual expression. Both in the Rasakreeda sequence and varied entries and exits, one could see the valued aesthetics of this regimentation.
Meera Nangiar as Radha, G. Narendra as Krishna and Shaly Vijayan as Sakhi played the roles with well rehearsed perfection. The musical ensemble with veteran Sai Shankar on the vocals embellished the visuals with soulful music. An additional singer to alternate especially with a female voice interspersed with the male would have made it more interesting. The lovely colour schemes of the costume fell short with the use of a material with a lot of sheen, not quite in tune with Kalakshetra style.
Combining archival photographs and photos of its reincarnation, Kalakshetra has released a stunningly designed commemorative brochure. As brochures go, in terms of content, creativity and design, it is indeed a collector’s copy.