Dance lovers were treated to some great performances by veterans and youngsters alike at IDA's 25th anniversary celebrations.

The 25th anniversary celebrations of The International Dance Alliance were marked by enthusiastic involvement of the dancing community - not just from Chennai but from the other metros as well. The event drew packed houses (and overflowing parking lots!) at the Narada Gana Sabha.

No small wonder that the three-day programme titled ‘Natya Sangamam' collated memorable solo sessions by the likes of Vyjayanthimala Bali, Prof. C. V. Chandrasekhar, Srinidhi Chidambaram and Priyadarshini Govind and group creations such as Sudharani Raghupathy's ‘Krishnam Vande Jagatgurum' and Sheejith Krishna's ‘Bhajana Narthanamritham.'

The meticulous efforts of chairperson Leela Sekhar, an aficionado of the arts, and dancers/teachers Radhika Shurajit and Revathi Ramachandran made it possible that each 15-minute module stayed largely on course and more than lived up to expectations. The inaugural programme also emphasised Leela Sekhar's hard work in bringing together skilled dancers on one platform over the years. The transition from one orchestral group to another was done made unobtrusively and where ever the recorded music threw up glitches, they were speedily covered up.

Srinidhi's ‘Pushpanjali to Chennai' showcased glossy flashes of the city and presented it in rosy light. The ragamalika piece with lyrics by Vairamuthu also contained a thillana-like snippet and gave the evening a sophisticated lift.

Hyderabad-based dancer Ananda Shankar Jayant's choreography of Annamacharya‘s matchless poetry was as compelling as her subtleties in sringara. Her strong and nimble footwork echoed through the auditorium in the kriti that imaginatively tied the six seasons with Lord Venkateswara's love for Goddess Alamelumanga. The only quibble here was the out-of-sync lighting which could not catch the dancer's singular abhinaya.

Picture of grace

Excerpts from ‘Krishna Karnamrutham' formed the fabric of doyenne Vyjayanthimala's abhinaya presentation. True to form, the artist was a picture of grace and liveliness in her glittering red sari and elegant jewellery. A seemingly humorous dialogue between Krishna and a gopika was an effortless depiction that would have thrived on the strength of the dancer's histrionics alone even without the lengthy explanation.

‘Krishnam Vande Jagadgurum' was a sparkling group dance that was smartly slotted next. Though staged many times and with different dancers, in its present avatar, it brought together Priya Murle, Srilatha Vinod, A. Laxman, Suryanarayana Moorthy, Lakshmi Parthasarathy Athreya, Smitha Madhav, Sridharini Sridharan and Krithika Shurajit. The brainchild of Sudharani Raghupathy, this piece etched some of Krishna's leelai melodiously. Swaras and movements melded together in Priyadarshini Govind's Bharatanatyam that was impeccable as ever. ‘Sant Sakku' was a bhakti-oriented presentation conceived and choreographed by Dr. Jayashree Rajagopalan, Rajasree Vasudevan, Aishwarya Harish and the students of Nrityodaya.

Revathy Sankaran's compeering extended beyond detailing the first day's programme and in her typical saucy style, she also provided rasikas with titbits.

Day Two

Kausalya Sivakumar's soft oratory on the second day strung the evening's dance and information with her insight as a rasika of the fine arts.

Can Bharatanatyam be presented as a medley? Srekala Bharath's design of Bharatanatyam Medley, a group presentation that also included Kavita Ramu, Lavanya Sankar and the students of Sarasalaya drew mixed responses – some positive for the smooth and rapid editing that blended vintage pieces such as the varnam, padam and javali seamlessly, and some downbeat ones for the loss of context and flashiness - redeemed by the quality of dancing that stayed correct and classical all through.

Veteran Lakshmi Viswanathan's trump card was her superb depiction of a haughty lady who dismisses her beau for his failed promises in the Poorvikalyani javali, ‘Nee Matale'. This came after the Annamacharya kriti which put forth Alamelumanga's languor with indulgence and delicacy.

Divya Kasturi's solo ‘Ninaivugal' was billed as an open ended creation that drew upon the Kathak syntax in the form of speedy moves, firm taatkars, chakkars and all. It was brilliant in execution but suffered from fogginess of thought. Where Vineeth amazed with his persona in ‘Fusion for Tradition', Meenakshi Chittaranjan's ‘Neelakantam – a comparison of blue necked' alternated strident movements with graceful ones.

Vineeth's solo ‘Kaliya Nartanam' and his earlier Peacock Dance (with Aishwarya Narayanaswamy) charmed rasikas while leaving them bedazzled by his shimmering gold jacket!

A highlight

Thunderous applause to return to the stage once more was reserved for Prof C. V. Chandrasekhar, who was portraying Siva's pristine dancing in the classic ‘Natanam Adinar' in Vasanta. An uncompromising araimandi, a perfect thaihath-thaihi and serene bhava which at once drew spontaneous claps, were the highlights of this 70-plus guru's crystal clear natyam.

The ferocity of Ravana and a glimpse of the war in The Ramayana were skilfully encapsulated in the concluding number by Sheejith Krishna titled ‘Bhajana Narthanamritham'. It featured O.S. Arun's vocals.

Day Three

Alliance (Madras Council) and Narada Gana Sabha boasted some seniors' performances. Particularly electrifying was ‘Prahlada Pattabhisheka Sabdam,' a Kuchipudi presentation by Narasimhachari and Vasanthalakshmi. The dramatic detailing of Prahlada's story from the Vishnu Purana - from Brahma's boon to Hiranyakashipu until Prahlada's coronation was a racy, well-timed effort. Excellent role play and dance by the couple aside, the spirited nattuvangam (Lavanya Aditya) and the excellent music (Radha Badri, Guru Bharadwaj, N. Srinivasan, V.A. Narayanan) gave a fillip.

Veteran dancer Chitra Visweswaran's delineation was on the other hand replete with the silence of quiet devotion. No less effective, just different. Relying on the inherent devotion within Sambandar's Tevaram on Thiruvannamalai and on the beautiful music provided by B.Umashankar (vocal) and Srilakshmi (violin), Chitra kept the tone soft and the mood meditative. Through the delicate comparisons of the male and female attributes in the Ardhanareeshwara concept and through the sthala purana of the Vishnu-Brahma conflict, the sthayi of bhakthi dominated the piece.

The distinguished Dhananjayans did not fare as well. With the very average vocal support by Jyothismathi and Rajesh as well as the oft-repeated theme of ‘Radha-Madhavam' with the ‘Yahi Madhava' and the ‘Priye Charusheele' Ashtapadis, there were no inspiring moments in their presentation. Guru Dhananjayan as the mischievous Krishna and Guru Shantha as Radha who is hurt with Krishna's flirtations were effective as stand-alone performances.

In her bid to integrate Haveli Sangeet, the temple music of Rajasthan, into the Bharatanatyam repertoire as part of a government scholarship programme, dancer Geeta Chandran performed the Raas in ‘Haveli Nritta.' The poetry, ‘Khelat raas rasika braj mandap' tuned by Dr. Vasanthi Krishnan and sung by Sudha Raghuraman, created beautiful imagery of Krishna and the Gopis. But its treatment did not bring out this beauty. The lines were interspersed with theermanams and the thread was lost... There were some good ideas about how Krishna persuades the gopis to join him and how the calves are captivated by his music, but they were not put across creatively.

Manju Bhargavi, another senior dancer and actor, was perhaps the biggest disappointment that evening. Her Narayana Teertha Tarangam in praise of Durga, with the plate dance, may have been an unusual choice, but her Kuchipudi was anything but unusual. Her involvement was minimal and her movements were awkward; even Sudheer Rao's (vocal and nattuvangam) sincere efforts could not save the below-par presentation.

There were group dances as well that evening. Manjulika Sen's ‘Nrittyero Taale Taale' combined Rabindra nritya and Bharatanatyam, within the tapestry of Rabindranath Tagore's poems on Basant Ritu (Spring Season) and Aashad Ritu (Monsoon) with the dance culminating in the Shiva Tandava. While the Rabindra Nritya performed by the group dancers dressed in typical white and tomato red saris was interestingly new to the rasikas, the Bharatanatyam solo woven in between was disappointingly unprofessional.

Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam's dancers from Nrithyodaya led by Dr.Gayatri Kannan provided a delightful finale to the festival in ‘Divinity's Delight'. Arunagirinathar's Tirupugazh ‘Eru Mayyil Eri' (Shanmughapriya, Khanda chapu) was a simple yet crisp choreography that spoke of the greatness of Muruga's feats represented by each of his six faces; it also showcased the group's discipline and coordination. The Kannada thillana (Adi, composed by Dr. Padma with lyrics from Abhinavagupta's commentary on Natyasastra) presented the dancers in different geometrical shapes from straight lines, to squares and to circles, etc in a demanding show of rhythm and coordination. A befitting end to the exciting dance carnival!