Odissi, Kuchipudi, puppetry, poetry and mime were the instruments of storytelling at the recent Calcutta International Performing Arts Festival 2012

Calcutta International Performing Arts Festival 2012, called ‘Story Tellers’, brought to the city the art of storytelling through various genres. The audience lapped up the four stories — “Chaturmukhi” by Sharmila Biswas, in Odissi style; Dadi Pudumjee’s “Simple Dreams” through puppetry, mime and dance; Vyjayanthi Kasi’s stories about three women in her production “Yajna” in the Kuchipudi style; and “Sarpasutra” unfolded by Carnatic singer and director Gowri Ramnarayan.

The festival made an effort to trace the skill and knack of storytelling through the performing arts. In “Simple Dreams”, Dadi Pudumjee with the help of choreographer Astad Deboo created celebratory images with simple objects and movements. It was a non-verbal visual poem on nature and life with music.

In “Sarpasutra”, Gowri Ramnarayan wove together poetry, storytelling, music and dance to unfold the story of revenge and counter revenge from the Mahabharata that threatened to destroy the earth. The script consisted of Arun Kolatkar’s “Sarpa Satra” in English, Vyasa’s Mahabharata in Sanskrit, verses from 11th Century poet Nannaya in Telugu and mnemonics, providing deep insight into social issues, ethnic cleansing and genocide, environmental depredation, individual responsibility, greed, corruption, oppression and preservation of values.

“Chaturmukhi” was a production in four parts conceived and choreographed by Odissi dancer Sharmila Biswas. Each of the parts captured the mood and expression of a different rural art of Odisha, strung together in the conventional ‘marga’ of Odissi dance, thus exploring the form in newer ways. ‘Devi Bharni’ evoked the mystic spirit of Sambaleswari Devi. Sharmila and her student Nilay rendered the piece, creating stunning and exquisite designs and sculpturesque poses to the accompaniment of beautifully sung Oriya songs, using the shloka “Rupam dehi jayam dehi yasho dehi dvisho jahi” as refrain. The piece ‘Trikayi’ imbibed the musical motif and spirit of Prahlad Natak. In ‘Pancharasavali’, the sakhi is the guru, who is the only one possessed with the power to perceive Radha Krishna lila, reveal to Radha the five-fold path of moksha or salvation and bring her to the threshold that separates Prakriti and Purush and where Prakriti plays with Purush, according to Vaishnav Padabali ‘Sakhi bina ayei lilay naiko geet’. The sakhi urges and entreats Radha to go alone to meet Krishna — ‘Pravesa Radhe Madhava samipe’. The various moods of Radha — the eternal devotee — and sakhi were aesthetically portrayed. The presentation was concluded with ‘Patuar’, the processional dance of the Rath Yatra.

Sangeet Natak Akademi awardee Vyjayanthi Kashi, Kuchipudi performer and guru, chose to tell the story of great women who sacrificed their lives as mere shadows in the lives of celebrated men. She made a statement about these ‘Avatara Purushas.’ The story of Renuka, the wife of sage Jamadagni, is a heartrending tale of a woman who has her head chopped off for having looked at the reflection of a Gandharva couple in a loving mood. The story of Sita, the consort of Rama, is no less poignant, she had to go through a fire test to prove her chastity, besides being left in the forest even though pregnant.

Struck by the valour of Bheesma, Amba , a lesser-known character from the Mahabharata, burns into oblivion, only to return as Shikhandi to take revenge. The disciples of Vyjayanthi Kashi who made a mark were Sandhya, Vidya, Banupriya, Meghna, Sudipta and Gururaj. Prateeksha Kashi’s dancing ability is phenomenal as is her ability to emote. Vyjayanthi has excelled in every aspect of the production.