The show stealer was Dasavataram that conveyed the joy of a dance drama.
Electric energy crackled in Shobana’s performance to evoke compelling symbols of the lady with mesmeric eyes, be it Syama Sastri’s ‘Kamakshi’ or the Thanjavure Quartet’s ‘Vanajakshi.’ The stylised Bharatanatyam carried the packed audience in the hall with its combination of energy and emoting.
As against the regular gravity-bound footwork in Bharatanatyam, there were swoops, leaps and frozen moves where the whole torso was employed in action. Whether in wearing a double row of ankle bells in the early part of the recital or the inclusion of two percussion instruments in the latter half, Shobana’s craft was an ingenious combination of accentuated sound, showmanship and mood. The aharya was tasteful without being flashy.
Statuesque poses representing Goddess Kamakshi were juxtaposed with shimmering expressions for the resonant Bhairavi kriti as the opening number. Set in a tempo suitable for dance, the mellow swaras were translated into fluid larger than life dance. A classic movement to retreat into the rear of the stage space demarcated each portion.
‘Vanajakshi,’ a sringara varnam in Sankarabharanam was a cascading synthesis of form and communication with plenty of lissom movements and decorative nritta sections being prominent features. Though the jatis were exciting to watch initially, the combined effect of continuous airy moves and high decibel levels of the mridangam only whipped up white noise instead of rhythmic harmony.
Some other highpoints were eloquent statements which described the hero King Adikeshava as gallant, generous and radiant and the heroine’s predicament vividly. The dancer’s stamina and fitness polished the impact of the entire varnam.
Preeti Mahesh’s involved singing was an effective support with other orchestral team members joining in with equal enthusiasm. But it was not these factors alone that captivated the audience; it was the dancer’s unstinting connection with her art that was the real appeal, and thereby was Shobana’s forte.
Although the varnam forms the main item in most recitals, in this case the show stealer was Dasavataram, a composition of Jayadeva. The detailed descriptions and the twist given to this piece ensured that miming and brisk actions told not just one but nine stories dramatically.
With a short thillana like item woven in between, the narration this exuded effect of a joyful dance drama. The Matsya avatar, the story of the boar and other anecdotes were effectively captured while retaining the devotional thread. A particularly delightful moment was in the depiction of Sita, where Shobana’s face reflected myriad responses to the abduction by Ravana. That moment where she tied one episode in space and time to another, with total conviction was unforgettable.