The simple songs and intelligent planning added to the overall impact of Anita Ratnam’s tribute to Tagore.
Dancer-choreographer Anita Ratnam’s self-styled Neo-Bharatam is a combination of the spoken word, music and dance, in that order. It speaks of a mature artist who banks on her strengths - theatrics and script delivery -- while creating new works. An earlier production, ‘A Million Sitas,’ was a thought-provoking re-look at women from the Ramayana; the latest ‘Avani- A Handful of Dust,’ is a non-narrative mosaic of thoughts triggered by the works of Rabindranath Tagore.
How do you encapsulate Tagore’s creative career that lasted more than 60 years in a one-hour tribute to mark his 150th birth anniversary? The answer is you don’t. ‘Avani..’ wisely drew on the poet’s dramatic English translations and soulful Bengali songs, using them as unconnected dots to present stylishly mounted tableaux that came together quite simply and seamlessly.
One saw it in an intimate setting at the Alliance Francaise, which is perhaps the best way to watch it, but the design of the production reflected the same intent, which was to create an informal conversation between the collaborators (Anita, actor-scholar Akhila Ramnarayan and actor-singer Averee Chaurey) about Tagore.
As the conversation meandered from the people who were inspired by Tagore (including Kalki Krishnamurthy) to his openness to folk, classical and global music, and from there on to anecdotes about his childhood, homeschooling and penchant for Nature, Tagore, the literary genius, came alive in an up-close and personal way.
Akhila’s energy and timing must be mentioned here, as she kept the flow taut, while Averee’s deep involvement in the subject gave her the aura of a visiting professor.
The setting (Rex) was also intimate -- a backyard with clotheslines, a tree in shadow and suggestive words projected on a blank screen, with the actors in the forefront. Together with the sophisticated amber spotlighting, the feel was commonplace and classy at the same time.
The colour scheme was true to the ‘Bengali’ traditions of white, black and red, from the costume (Paromita Bannerjee) to the clothes hanging on the clothesline.
But it was finally the beauty and melody of the simple songs that swung the pendulum.
Young musician Vedant Bharadwaj who had joined the cast for the Chennai performances, presented a beautiful Baul-inspired Tagore composition, ‘Bhenge Mor Ghorer Chabi’ at the beginning of the show. The plaintive, ‘Megher Pore Megh Jamechhe’ (Miyan ki Malhar), the popular, ‘Amare Tumi’ and the song of spring, ‘Basanti He Bhubhanamohini’ that was based on Dikshitar’s immortal ‘Meenakshi Memudam Dehi’ (Gamakakriya), were treats wrapped with minimal accompaniments. Vedant’s rendition of ‘Ud Jayega Hans Akela’ (Kabir) was quietly reflective.
The musicians (Vedant, Navin Iyer, Krishna Kishore, Pubali Debnath and Bindu Malini) maintained the sanctity of the compositions by not crowding the sound tracks and letting flow gentle strumming or evocative melodies on the flute.
Anita’s dance movements per se were unremarkable, but they were not designed to be more than fillers between sequences or counterpoints to the music and the dramatic words. Coincidentally, her movements resembled Rabindra Nritya.
It was in the last segment, the Ode to Earth, in which the Earth was seen as both the nurturer and the destroyer, that the movements made an impact. Anita, standing as an epitome of evil with hair in disarray, went beyond a ‘pretty’ finish to convey the strife of today’s world.
It was intelligent planning (Hari Krishnan) that finally made ‘Avani-A Handful of Dust’ a success.