While Jayalakshmi Eshwar revealed her love for the skies in her Bharatanatyam recital, Geeta Mahalik's Odissi was an audience charmer.
Years ago, introducing in a varnam images like an aeroplane taking off and its aftermath, with a crashing denouncement in the critic's column, Jayalakshmi Eshwar had revealed her love for the skies and risk-taking mind, with ideas the world of classical dance balks at. At the Kamani, Eshwar's Bharatanatyam and Sashadhar Acharya's Chhau troupes jointly participating in “Antariksha Sanchar” again showed Jayalakshmi's love for reaching for the skies, and penchant for thinking out of the box.
Flying is an unlikely subject for a dance tradition known for its grounded strength with hardly any aerial movements. But dance is nothing if not the art of suggestion and one needs no actual levitation in order to create in the audience the feeling of being air-bound. Using scriptural references, myth, Vyamanika Sastra verses (believed revealed to Bharadhwaja Maharishi in the 4th Century B.C.), with musicians for all seasons like O.S. Arun and Gopal Rao providing the score and rhythmic take-off base, Jayalakshmi's concept and visualisation, aided by Sashadhar Acharya, has certainly produced a unique work, proving that with creative imagination, no subject is outside our dance and music reach.
Whether it is ability to levitate through yogic powers like Hanuman in the Ramayana flying to Lanka, or the Pushpavimana Yantra in which Ravan travels and later Ram takes Sita back to Ayodhya, or the vertical flying described in Jeevika Chintamani, or Manimekhalai (daughter of Madhavi and Kovalan of Silappadikaram, converting to Baudha dharma and acquiring levitating powers), Jayalakshmi has taken great pains to ferret out literary sources. The entire ‘rahasya lahari', or technical secrets about pilot craft like detecting and going after the enemy, becoming an invisible part of the sky to escape the pursuing enemy, to spin in the air, from the Vyamanika Sastra, was interpreted through dance formations in chaste Bharatanatyam movements performed with discipline, with the infectious drumbeat, like a jam session making every youngster in the audience imagine dancing to it. To a five syllabic khandam rhythm the Chhau dancers make an entry, enlivening further the proceedings — the leg swirls in the air making Chhau the perfect vehicle for aerial themes.
The melding of the ‘akasa' charis of one and the ‘bhoomi' charis of the other made a fine jugalbandi. A dark stage spotlighting just the Pushpavimana with Ram, Lakshman and Sita moving on the higher level of the elegant stage, and episodes recapitulated below as danced narratives unhindered by other thematic concerns, would have aided the feel of movement in the skies. This work is bound to evolve continually with new ideas.
Geeta Mahalik's recital used a group of dancers in neatly rendered, though oft-seen group images for the opening mangalacharan invocation with Devi as the destroyer of evil in Kali Tandav. Banamali Das' “Jhoolanti Range” pleasantly pictured Krishna and Radha on the swing. The solo ashtapadi by Geeta was done with involvement with tuneful musical accompaniment. The concluding mini Ramayan based on Swati Tirunal's lyric “Bhavayami Raghuramam”, with fleeting Ramayan episodes, was an audience charmer with fine performers in Rajnikant (son of late Prabhat Maharana) and Sashant Maharana (son of Trinath Maharana) and two graceful female dancers, Pushpanjali Mahanti and Sangeeta Mahanti.
Geeta retained the Swati Tirunal text setting it in a non-Carnatic Odissi mode. There is a sensitive aspect here, for legacy vaggeyakara (composers of both sahitya and its music) compositions are regarded as inviolable, indivisible sahitya/music entities. Late Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, Asthana Vidwan of Travancore court, and head of the Swati Tirunal Music College, was authorised by the royal family to create the score for “Bhavayami Raghuramam”, the singing of which put instant spotlight on Swati Tirunal's compositions in Carnatic music. Sung innumerable times during over 50 years, this song has a cultural memory. Like Tyagaraja songs rendered only in prescribed modes, perhaps dancers would do well to keep this delicate point in mind.