Vikramorvashi recreated Kalidasa’s magic through superb music and dynamic choreography.
The origin of Indian theatre is dealt with in ancient Hindu mythology -- in Tretayuga, Brahma created the ‘Natyaveda’ that combined yoga, music, dance, acting, aesthetics and rasa theory, which formed the guiding manual for theatre. Historically, the earliest record of Sanskrit theatre is with the third century playwright Bhasa. Using stylised acting techniques, Sanskrit plays were based on mythological or historical characters and were staged in temples and palaces. With time and the decline of the popularity of the Sanskrit language, the art form lost relevance, with its only surviving representative being Koodiyattom in Kerala.
Even at its peak, Sanskrit, being a classical language, was understood only by the educated elite, so the theatre tradition adopted a unique way of democratising its reach -- only the male protagonists spoke in Sanskrit, while the others spoke in the colloquial language, Prakrit. To this day, the vidushaka (clown) in Koodiyattom speaks in Malayalam.
Following the theatrical practices of the past and interpreting Kalidasa’s detailed presentation notes in accordance with contemporary music and dance practices, K.S. Rajendran, professor, Classical Indian Drama, National School of Drama, New Delhi, presented a dance-theatre production ‘Vikramorvashi,’ based on Kalidasa’s ‘Vikramorvasiyam,’ through The New Delhi Theatre Workshop founded by him.
Coincidentally presented in the rustic setting of Spaces, the one and a half hour performance extended the earthy feel of the past, and recreated Kalidasa’s magic through an evocative Carnatic musical score (Sudha Raghuraman), dynamic yet unobtrusive Bharatanatyam-based movement choreography (Anjana Rajan), clearly enunciated dialogue (Narendra Kumar and Dr. Baladevanda Sagara), with design and direction by Rajendran.
Rajendran’s adaptation of Kalidasa’s story of love between King Pururavas (Suresh Kumar) and an apsara Urvashi (Anjana), concentrated on the lovers while he enlarged the scope for dance. Besides the romance at the beginning when the characters fall in love at first sight, Rajendran focussed on the fourth Act, in which the lovers have a misunderstanding, Urvashi disappears and a broken Pururavas wanders through the forest seeing Urvashi in every animal, tree or river. This is the most poetic part when Kalidasa uses similes to describe Urvashi’s lilting gait or her swirling skirts seen in the swans or the frothing river, and is also the most dramatic, considering Pururavas’ despair.
Anjana’s visualisation was poetic, using simple group sequences and symbolic, graceful movements and oft-changing tableaus. The Bagesri jatiswaram (Rupaka) romantic duet, the Ritigowla akaara describing the lush forest, the lovers enjoying the forest (Sindubhairavi) and later Pururavas’s pitiful lament to the river (Subhapantuvarali), were musical high points that were well-timed and devoid of clichés. Interestingly, the dancers did not wear the customary ankle bells and stayed clear of the harsh definition of Bharatanatyam.
Anjana, herself not arresting in a conventional sense of a dancer being agile or particularly graceful, reined the rasika in with her dignity in deportment and depth in characterisation. Suresh Kumar was likewise dignified, while Swar Gujrania as Chitralekha was bubbly and charming. The other dancers were Elina Abakarova, Pranami Bora, Shruti Arora and Suhail Bhan.
It was the dancer-actors’ stilted deliveries (except for Narendra Kumar-sutradhaar and Bharata Muni - who was exceptionally fluent), and the untidy draped white cotton saris on the women (costume - Elina) that let them down.
The music was perhaps the most inspiring, with Sopana musician K.S. Jayan evoking the mood with full-throated singing and akaara alapanas. In the climax when Pururavas is crying hopelessly with the ruby-like stone in his hands, Jayan’s voice rose dramatically in a Subhapantuvarali alapana, underlying the pathos and perhaps leading into the big moment that was to come; it was a memorable moment. The bansuri played by Sujit Kumar Gupta was haunting especially the Megh in the Kumara grove when Urvashi merges with the vines. As the singer used the cymbals only to indicate the beat, it was left to Thanjavur Kesavan (mridangam) to provide the finer percussive support. He was aided by Manikandan (ganjira).