While Rama Vaidyanathan shone in her Bharatanatyam recital, Shubhada Varadkar’s Odissi was a dampener

The annual Malhaar festival with music and dance programmes centered round the Monsoon theme — one of the fine initiatives of the ICCR like the Thumri Festival — has come to stay as one of the landmark events in the cultural calendar of the Capital. The venue of the festival, Kamani Auditorium, was a packed. But one wished the same good sense had governed the stage décor which with all the arches, trellis work frames and what have you and hanging baskets and flower arrangements atop ornate pillars in every conceivable colour, resembled a rococo Bollywood garden scene for the hero and heroine to chase each other. Pity, to perform against such an overdone backdrop could be distracting for the musician. It killed the beauty of lines of a dancer like Rama Vaidyanathan.

In a programme specially designed to suit the festival theme, Bharatanatyam dancer Rama entered the stage with a verve-filled Pushpanjali prelude, a composition of Sudha Raghuraman in Amritavarshini, the raga in the Carnatic tradition meant to usher in the rains, after which in one flow came Muttuswamy Dikshitar’s Keertanam in the same raga — composed at Ettayapuram and addressed to the Compassionate Mother seeking her blessings for rain. Having ushered in the Monsoon mood, the dancer’s main offer was a varnam-like composition, again designed by Sudha Raghuraman, where the Hindi sahitya on the monsoons became a metaphor for the feelings of Meera for Krishna. If the slow moving black clouds seemed to her like the elephant on which Krishna rode, the parched Earth waiting for the onset of rains was like Meera’s intense desire to meet Krishna. The first drops falling on thirsty Earth, seemed like the first exquisite touch of Krishna for Meera and when the rains poured, it was like the ecstasy of the final union with her Lord.

Set in a varnam like Ragamalika format where the ragas like Madhyamawati and Varnapriya were similar to the tones of Maljar, the interpretative passages were punctuated by tight teermanams composed by Karaikudi Sivakumar. Starting with the fine alap to the charanam refrain “Nanhi Nanhi Boondaki Megha Barse” singer Sudha was in top form and matching musical versatility with imaginative choreography was Rama’s visualisation — the mimetic and the rhythmic coming together in an involved rendition. Arun Kumar’s mridangam and Raghuraman’s flute were of a piece with the rest of the performance.

Uninspiring Odissi

The second day of the festival was a disappointment with nondescript Odissi by Shubhada Varadkar from Mumbai and how this dancer could have found a slot in a festival of this type was surprising. It was obvious right from the apology of a start set, to verses of Kalidasa’s Ritusamhara on the rains, with the main dancer and two others coming together in aimless choreography, that the dancer’s training under late Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra could not have been for any reasonable length of time. Sabhinaya Pallavi in Janasamohini along with the Hindi sahitya “Barase Badariya Savanki”, where the dancer’s movement visualisation did not match the words, only compounded earlier impressions of lack of proficiency. The Ashtapadi “Keshi Mathanam Udaram” was superficial, lacking the intensity of love of Radha confiding in her sakhi about the first intimate moments with Krishna. The singer had a fine voice but in the second half of the Sabhinaya Pallavi, found sur control slipping in the solfa syllabic passages. The Sitar was too loud and music balancing should have been attended to.