With cannibalistic fury, a magnificent Ravana threatens to slaughter abducted Sita when she refuses to accede to his demands. This key moment -- and the persuasions leading to it -- were so convincingly enacted by Ganga Thampi and Sheejith Krishna in Kalakshetra's ‘Choodamani Pradanam' that it acquired a universal and contemporary oppressor-victim relevance of its own.

‘Choodamani Pradanam' probably best exemplifies Rukmini Devi's choreographic vision — in its extreme contrasts of location (primeval forest, mountain peak, Ravana's realm), characters (human, animals, demons) and panoramic action -- Hanuman ‘flying' with Rama and Lakshmana on his back, crossing the ocean, the burning of Lanka...

The alternations between aggression and pathos make tremendous demands from the dancers and musicians. Their unflagging zest and superb sense of timing made everything come together seamlessly, and had the audience riveted from start to finish.

Vaali (Nidheesh) and Sugriva (Jayakrishnan) stole the show with their gymnastic fireworks in combat. The movements from quietude to rage were effective too. Rama (P.T. Narendran) swung from grief over Sita's discarded jewellery to the righteous anger of a noble warrior. Vaali's arrogance melted into calm resignation at death. Sugriva moved from fratricidal rage to guilt-torn grief.

Poignant moments

This is also a production of amazing patra pravesams. Even before he storms in, backstage cries and high-pitched Mohanam announce Vaali's imperious might. Vaali's wife Tara (Shaly Vijayan) has the most poignant — and cameo — entry in the production, with the key notes “ga ni dha ri” in Kalyani enough to prefigure her tragedy. Ravana's entry in Asokavana is so spectacular that it makes Sita's defiance even more astonishing. In such situations, jatis and swaras are indispensable in invoking mood and situation. Every dancer performed them with the feeling they demanded, stamina in tact.

Haripadman had the tough task of following veteran Balagopal who has, for decades, been Hanuman personified. And the young artist managed to reach excellence by first grasping the blend of bhakti and humility, and the Herculean strength emanating from so diminutive a form.

He was greatly helped by K. Hariprasad's modulated singing, especially in evoking the softer emotions, as in Hanuman's meeting with the captive Sita in Asokavana.

The preceding part ‘Sabari Moksham' was neither taut nor even in overall quality. While the comedy in the key Surpanakha (Nirmala Nagaraj) scene — two men making fun of a woman — makes for discomfort in the present day ethos, we also see how wily Surpanakha twists the tale to gain revenge, when she convinces Ravana that she lost her nose in trying to capture Sita for his enjoyment.

This is one of the many vignettes in Rukmini Devi's choreography which allow the artist's manodharma freedom.

Sheejith Krishna used it to establish Ravana's self-obsessed vanity. Seated on a high throne, Ravana flexes muscles in ‘twenty arms', as kneeling asura women look up in awe.

The viewers move from close up to long shot – increasing the impact of Ravana's towering strength, with vocalist K. Sai Sankar emphasising the magnitude.

The golden deer (Savita) spelt eerie enticement in movements, and shifts of facial expressions. Haripadman's Ravana sanyasi was effective enough, though lacking in deceitfulness.

In ‘Sabari Moksham', poetry was lost in drama. What was missing was the sense of pathos, the overriding emotion in the Ramayana, and particularly in the segment where Sita is stolen by Ravana. P.T. Narendran as Rama showed dignity, but, without any scene of lamentation for his lost wife, his character remained flat.

The singing by Sai Shankar and Hariprasad in ‘Maha Pattabhishekam', spectacular and anguish-driven by turns, brought out the pageantry of the finale in the music by S. Rajaram and Bhagavatulu Seetharama Sarma. Shyama's voice could not do justice to the demands of their music.

As in the earlier parts, the younger artists were highly convincing in the action mode, and the lovely group nritta interludes, but not effective in handling more sensitive emotions. The seniors managed their multiple roles like professionals, but different artists playing the same character on different days, while widening the range for participants — not without some anticipation for viewers — made for attrition in emotional intensity, and gave the Ramayana series a montage feel rather than a holistic quality.

In the Kalakshetra dance dramas, particularly in the Ramayana, the role of the accompanists is crucial. They do not create additional effects, but with inputs ranging through the navarasas, shape the shifting situations and characters. Therefore, the team of K.P. Anilkumar (mridangam), V. Srinivasan (violin), Sashidhar (flute) and Rijesh (maddalam) proved indispensable to the series. The nattuvangam by Jyotsana Menon and Nirmala Nagaraj reflected their strength as dancers.