If Parwati Dutta explored the concept of tala, Sangita Sharma ventured into mysticism with her take on “Nagamandala”, while Aranyani stayed right on the conventional Bharatanatyam margam
In the present climate when dance progression has taken on a vertical growth, forsaking depth for deemed originality and newness, a dancer like Parwati Dutta, reaffirming the cyclical evolution envisaged in our dance forms, with her deep research into the mysteries of tala and traditional vocabulary of mnemonics in Odissi and Kathak, comes as a ray of sunshine. Working quietly away from the gaze of publicity as Director, Mahagami Gurukul in Aurangabad, since 1999, engrossed in dissemination of our dances, Parwati has built up a rare institution teaching Kathak and Odissi. To say that her presentation at Gandharva Mahavidyalaya, New Delhi, rounding off an extremely well received three-day workshop on tala, dazzled the gathering of students and professionals in the performing arts field, would not be an exaggeration.
Right from the Shivashtakam start with the ‘Dha Dha Dhin Ta’ mnemonics bringing out the heavy tones suiting the grandeur of Shiva, set to the time cycle of five-and-a-half matras, which suited the verses in the original Vasant Tilaka metre, to the edited version of the Vadya Pallavi (references in Geeta Prakash and Abhinaya Chandrika), conceived in Jati tala of 14 matras with varying gatis woven into it, were all gems resulting from the dancer’s own research with consultation under mardal experts like Banmali Maharana. The delightful aesthetics of the assertive khanda combination also lay in leaving the first syllable silent.
And what Parwati had created was working with different banis for the ukkutas, from the strong Ghantamardala to the softer Thinita bani used in percussions like the khol. Her demonstration with lucid explanations underlined how mnemonics were far from “nonsense syllables” as they have been called, for the bol by its very sound and tone conveys the type of movement — robust, gentle or even a jump or leap or pirouette. Each sequence in a gati had units of movement carried to a finish.
With Yogesh Dahale on the mardal and Manoj Desai’s vocal support, the Odissi part was enlightening. But more was to come with the Kathak sequences where Parwati’s work with known pakhawaj experts like Nanapanseji and Vasant Rao Gopatji and others has yielded rich insight into the secret world of mnemonics. After a brief Chautal upaj, the nine-and-a-half matra with brilliant upaj, tihais, paran and even parmelu was an eye-opener for many.
Quoting Birju Maharaj, her guru who had explained the bol ‘Dhaan’ as resonance of ‘Dhyaan’, Parwati showed how the formless becomes a form of meditation. Gamely journeying without any government support, one can only hope that such exceptional efforts get the requisite recognition and encouragement from art sponsoring authorities.
It was a faithful margam format, including even the now rarely rendered shabdam, presented by bright young Bharatanatyam dancer Aranyani performing at the Stein Auditorium under the HCL Concert Series, before an enviably packed hall. The traditional alaripu in Tisra Ekam right away showed the clean movement profile of the Kalakshetra bani with the dancer having trained under Leela Samson. Now on her own for over seven years since her guru left Delhi for Chennai, Aranyani’s technique has preserved its geometry. But where she definitely needs guidance is the interpretative side. The Tanjore Quartet ragamalika varnam “Sami nine kori naanu ra” is demanding and unusual. The nritta interludes, despite missed cues in the nattuvangam support, with Tanjavur Kesavan’s mridangam assertiveness, were managed well by the dancer, who carried on without getting flustered in any way. The nayika’s mood of deep longing for Brihadiswara keeps changing in tone. From being submerged in love, declaring her unshakeable depth of feelings for the Lord, her tone in the charanam portion addresses the Lord in a totally different attitude boasting that he can hardly find another incomparably beautiful and perfect companion like her. In the final sentence she reverts to pleading tones in Mukhari raga, once again entreating that he make her his own. Aranyani needed to flow with the music with the attitudinal changes more articulated in the abhinaya. Also, the varnam required the build-up of a strong image of Brihadiswara, the object of the nayika’s love and reverence, and this was missing — the sanchari portraying Parvati cursed to be a peahen looking for the Lord everywhere, too fleeting to register.
Despite Sudha Raghuraman’s fine vocal support, the varnam from pallavi to anupallavi to charanam did not build up to the requisite climax. The javali, “Entane varnintu ne sakhi” in raga Kedaram, appeared too staid for the playfulness and abandon in approach of the nayika confiding in her sakhi about little intimacies in her lover’s delightful surprises.
Lalgudi Jayaraman’s tillana in raga Madhuvanti choreographed by Leela Samson saw a neat rendition. Raghuraman’s flute support was most melodious. Arnyani’s fine stage presence and technique still require a mentoring presence.
Taking up a work like Girish Karnad’s “Nagamandala” (translated by E.R. Narayanan) in the Contemporary Dance expression was brave of Sangita Sharma who has been doing a lot of work with her group Anveshna. Even for theatre experts, this work with so much mysticism attached to a story about a woman caught in a bad marriage, and seduced by a snake, is mindboggling to catch on stage.
Sangita’s choreography, visualised by dancers from her institution and Ursila Dance Company, with a male dancer from the NSD Students’ Union also joining in, was so packed with body movement inspired by Modern Dance, Yoga, Mallakhamb aerial art, martial arts, folk dances and what have you, that but for the story having been announced by the compere, it would have been difficult to follow what was happening. The agile dancers moved well, and Sangita can pride herself on the hard work put in. But what with curled and entangled bodies and floor level movements, and movements on the cloth rope suspended from the ceiling, one was always trying to find where the husband left and the snake lover came in. The heroine making advances with the husband rejecting her were clear. But other than this, there were so many dancers moving on the stage and so much psychedelic colour and twinkling lights that action became confusing.