Navtej Johar’s presentation was rather unconventional.
The last day, last show of the Margazhi Mahotsav belonged to a dancer from Delhi, Navtej Singh Johar. A Kalakshetra alumnus, an activist and a Yoga instructor, Navtej has evolved his own style. It is traditional Bharatanatyam no doubt, but the approach is rather unconventional – inward looking and explorative, like a private conversation. The mainstay of the recital was an hour-long rendition of a Dikshitar kriti, 'Minakshi Memudam Dehi' (Purvikalyani, Adi).
The kriti is a melodic gem that is also venerated as the one during whose rendition (anupallavi) the saint-composer breathed his last. The vocalist (G. Elangovan) did justice to the song that was heavy with gamakas and other bhava-inducing inflections with Srilakshmi (violin) providing excellent melodic support. Most important, the music suited the dance. Navtej set the mood of quiet reverence with a description of goddess Meenakshi in the verse ‘Veena nada’ (Meenakshi Stothram, Adi Sankara). The Purvikalyani kriti followed seamlessly in the same quiet path, the contemplative interpretations taking wings on the inspired music. The parrot was a recurring motive in the delineation, the dancer even dipping his hands in green-colour kolam powder to highlight the reference to the emerald-hued goddess.
Navtej's elaborations were not always clear but the silence and the stillness in the performance was enough to make you want to stay. Suddenly the dancer broke away from the symbolism to show a more spontaneous side in the charanam. The phrases 'mani valaye' (gem-studded bangles) and 'viduvidambanavadane' (the beautiful face that outshines the moon) were both handled with a rare warmth and heart-warming pride in the beauty and adornment of Meenakshi. The dancer debated between the moon and Meenakshi - the moon is one day seen only partially, one day fully, as against Meenakshi whose beautiful face is forever luminous.
Navtej has a well-toned, long-limbed body but there was no effort to turn his nritta into sparkling sequences. Following the elaborations, the theermanams were also quiet, unobtrusive and not even admirably geometric or well-defined. They were there to punctuate the narrative, no more. Keeping Navtej company here were Justin McCarthy (nattuvangam) and M.V. Chandrasekhar (mridangam).
Another bhakthi-oriented composition, a Tamil padam this time ('Mugathai katti,' Bhairavi, misra chapu, Papavinasa Mudaliar) and a thillana (Desh, Adi, Lalgudi Jayaraman) completed the evening's unhurried fare. The subtlety and intensity of Navtej's presentation stayed with you long after. Along with the haunting melody.