The annual Ananya festival at Purana Quila was a crowd-puller.

The crowded Delhi cultural calendar notwithstanding, the annual Ananya dance festival drew sizable audiences. Dance in the open against a backdrop like Purana Qila challenges the artist in presenting the art, sans dilution, for the general public.

Madhavi Mudgal’s group choreographic élan with presentation sophistication began with consecrating performance space, invoking the ‘Rangadevadata’ through the 11th/12th Century verses of the Abhinaya Darpana — two groups of complementing movement fusing into one in smoothly rehearsed order. The abstract composition Vadya Vaividhya based on Orissa’s percussion instruments — mardal, khol, khanjani, ghanta and jodi-nagara — was noteworthy. In an aesthetic, skilful rhythmic journey from Desi rhythms to Margi stylisation, the basic rhythm played on each instrument evolved into a sophisticated mardala phrase, formulised in stylised movement and music as in a pallavi.

If the sounds of the gong (ghanta) transformed into delicate khanda jati movement pattern, the chatusra, tisra, misra rhythms flowed from other drums. With music devised by Madhup Mudgal, the effort entailed arduous work. Based on Kalidasa’s Kumarasambhavam verses, the abhinaya component enacted the episode of Shiva putting to the test Parvati’s love, with the dramatically smooth cross-over to the nritta Moksha mood as finale.

Superb abhinaya

But for Gopika Varma’s superb abhinaya, the solo interruption in group Mohiniattam presentation, interpreting the Manipravalam Swati Tirunal padam “Ramyanai oru purushan..” would have boomeranged. Engaging the large audience with still power in visualising the nayika wondering about the identity of the magnificent swain who had kissed her in her dream, Gopika drew warm applause.

A. Cholkettu on Kamadeva, winsomely danced by the small group of elegantly costumed dancers introduced Gopika’s concept strung round sringar. The ragamalika composition of K.N. Panikkar with a plethora of fleeting raga changes evoked a cascade of emotions, portraying the Shiva/Parvati altercation at Shiva’s flirtation with Ganga. Interspersed with soft Kathakali-type kalasams, the ascending tempo of Jeeva made a fitting finale.

Monisa Nayak (Rajendra Gangani’s disciple) and Moumala Nayak (Birju Maharaj’s student) in Nartan, traced Kathak’s journey from temple to court to the proscenium. Ashta Chhap poet Nand Das’ Dhruvpad in Jaijaivanti began the narrative with the Rasleela scenes of ‘Chandramukhi Radha’ dancing with Krishna and the other gopis in the “Brindavan Kunj Racho Rasa” to Natwari bols.

The tarana in Gurjari Todi and Farukhabad’s Lalan Shyam’s thumri in Khamaj epitomised the court influence, while the Teen tala and Ek tala jugalbandi with percussion and strings in Shyam Kalyan and bandish in Bhairavi extolling synthesised Indian culture spoke for the proscenium spirit.

While lauding the sisters for the fine team and fitting choice of music, one missed the varying shades of each period imprinted on the dance — which remained the same twirling, foot sure sophistication right through. Costumes were tasteful. The duet portraying Nature images seemed outside the theme.

Deboo delights

Form swathed in plastic changing shapes showing man in embryo form, soft lights silhouetting kneeling bodies gradually raised, the hauntingly slow movements in silence, were all typical Astad Deboo whose collaboration “Rhythm Divine” with Manipuri drum dancers in the first half created a dedicatory experience — Astad’s body leaning as far back as possible in an offering to a higher power, to the soaring soprano of the operatic singer.

Manipuri performers with khartals used minimally froze into a final ladder formation, the tassels making a dramatic red edging with gunshot sounds expressing the poignancy of a peaceful land rent asunder by violence. Sans drum, the rhythm produced by tapping hands on the body and floor had forceful energy. Finally the traditional Pung Cholam brought the house down. Well conceived, Astad’s own minimal interactive appearances in the latter half seemed repetitive.

Vadodara’s Rema Shrikant, the festival’s new find, in the taut geometry of lines of her disciples, lived up to her 17 years under C.V. Chandrasekhar at Vadodara. Innovative and unusual, her Bharatanatyam should have stood on its own without the messy paraphernalia of triangles created through strips held in the dancers’ hands — making movement awkward and smudging the group formations. Yantra formation with triangles’ apex upwards and downwards apart, dance lines should have conveyed the abstract theme.

The competently rendered Oothukadu Venkata Subba Iyer Ganesh composition and the scene with Universe as Nataraja’s performance space needed better music which was mediocre. Bharatiyar’s “Mazhai’ composition on havoc wrought by monsoon fury as sahitya to convey rain as a nurturing agent is farfetched.