The Delhi International Arts Festival featured some magnificent performances as well as some disappointments.

Kudos to Pratibha Prahlad and SNA for artiste selection for the classical dances at Meghdoot Theatre, flagging off one section of the mammoth Delhi International Arts Festival.

Dancer Swapnasundari's sheer command over every aspect of the Andhra devadasi tradition, now called Vilasini Natyam (printed as Koochipudi in the programme sheet) began with the choornika and swara-pallavi in Arabhi, with the tradition's rounded grace and precision seen in tisram, chatusram, khandam and misram rhythmic combinations (patterns of three, four, five and seven beats respectively). Then came the pada varnam in Bhairavi raga, Adi tala, addressed to Koppulingeswara in the Paliwala temple in East Godavari district.

Following the devadasi rendition of a totally improvised, unstructured varnam, this composition from unscripted oral tradition portrays the dootika pleading the case of the young nayika — in this case Parvati. The detailed keshadipada (head to toe) descriptions of both Shiva and Parvati in the elaborations apart, what Swapnasundari's interpretation highlighted superbly was the difference between the experienced dootika on the one hand (suggesting that a more fit mate for him than the young Parvati cannot be envisaged), and the inexperienced nature of the mugdha Parvati whose case she is advocating.

The jatis the dancer has introduced for contemporary presentation, in the summations and crisp arudis, were authoritatively immaculate. Raghunanda's nattuvangam was a delight and equally sharp was Sridhar Acharya's mridangam with Sudharani living up to the challenges of singing for a dancer, an accomplished singer herself, whose unrehearsed presentation may run into countless repetitions of the musical line.

Class of its own

The other exquisite rendition was by Nrityagram's Bijoyini Satpathy whose Odissi was in a class all its own. Ritu Vasant in abstract dance portraying the ecstatic joy of spring through movement had flawless line along with a sensuous lyricism in a potent blend. As for the sublime abhinaya in the two ashtapadis, the mind's eye saw the graceful winding Yamuna river and felt the balmy breeze as the sakhi urged Radha to join Krishna in “Dheera Sameere Yamuna teere”. In “Priye Charusheele” it was all Krishna in ardent declaration of love, and utter submission asking Radha to place her lotus feet on his bowed head, washing away the inner poisons.

As for Sridevi, Bijoyini's depiction of the mighty Goddess, destructive of evil and benevolently gracious, had the audience in raptures at each moment of the Devi Mahatmiyam and verses from “Aigiri Nandini”. Surupa Sen's brilliant choreographic vision creates incisive imagery in minimal ornamentation. The totality of the experience owed not a little to the excellently coordinated, mellow wing support, melodious and utterly bhava-filled singing of Rajendra Swain, Srinivasa Satpathy's flute and Shiva Satpathy's sensitive mardala. One wished musicians who clamour for raised decibel levels heard this controlled, soul-filling music. Lynne Fernandes' light designing provided the crowning touch.

No VIP presence or fuss accompanied Nartaki Natraj's Bharatanatyam recital Nartaki becomes the dance, and this 15-year gurukulavasa disciple of late Guru Kittappa Pillai did just that in the Todi varnam, “Mohalagiri konden Swamy”.

The mesmerised nayika's love for Krishna as Mannargudi Rajagopal was caught in abhinaya characterised by subtle intensity. The myth about each of the infatuated gopis trying out ways of assuaging Krishna's headache, till the Lord murmurs that the treatment is to rub his forehead with the dust from the soles of the feet of the gopi who loves him the most, was tenderly portrayed.

Tamil Nadu's rural culture with its Muruga worship revels in the Kavadi chindu set to tune by Annamalai Reddiyar, showing a harried mother wondering about societal gossip and censure at her maiden daughter being lured to elope with Lord Subrahmanya in the dead of night. Sans flamboyance, Nartaki's Bharatanatyam has sensitive abhinaya and clean pure dance lines and rhythm. Singer Padma Swaminathan in the higher notes tended to go occasionally off-tune. Annadorai's violin strings seemed to lose tautness in the open air, sounding off key. Kesavan provided mridangam support.

Group choreography

Of the group choreography, Madhavi Mudgal and her disciples were by far the best, both group designing in Odissi and music of high standard, with very well trained students. “Tapoi”, Gopinath Das' tale still popular in Orissa while praying to Kudukuni Usha, as conceived for a group by Madhavi, uses the typical Orissan narrative traditions, where innumerable recitative metres with arithmetic of misram (7), 15, 7 plus 2 (9), 4 plus 6 (10) gives scope for natural rhythmic gait changes, making the dance narrative varied. Different from the sprightly tale was the quietude of the final Kalyan finale.

Coming after Bijoyini's magic, Prasidha's Repertory Bharatanatyam group lacked immaculate coordination in the Siva Panchakshara Stotram and in the Krishna Karnamrita “Gopa Gopi..” in Ritigowla, the two female dancers constantly losing balance. Individually, the male dancers were better. But no new ideas in terms of a group statement came out. The last item in its springy light footed playfulness was good.

Kathak kendra's young dancers were below the standards shown some time back, when one felt proud of this institution. “Mahadev” based on the Dhrupad tradition in 12 beats and set to raga Jhinjhoti had the male dancers doing tatkar and chakkars in a mechanistic fashion. The girls were far better. Neither Govindashtakam in Teen tala nor tarana in Rageshri in Roopak had that immaculately clean look of rehearsed perfection. The music with all instruments strumming in simultaneous fashion lacked clarity. One expected more from the Kendra Repertory.

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