Dance Conceived and choreographed by Bimbavati Devi, ‘Leichan’ combines tradition, technique and innovation.nita vidyarthi

Splash of colour, movement and music, unforgettable performance by the young, extraordinary Manipuri dancer Bimbavati Devi and dazzling choreography embedded in tradition - this was ‘Leichan,’ a presentation by Manipuri Nartanalaya, Kolkata and Imphal, at the Rabindranath Tagore Centre, ICCR, Kolkata.

Leichan means an assortment of flowers and the recital with four items was a bouquet of ritualistic festival dances of Manipur interlaced with the glimpses of the rites related to them.

Conceived and choreographed by Bimbavati Devi, the dances were born out of an impassioned and devout psyche, classical in technique yet refreshingly innovative in outlook. Bimbavati, a brilliant dancer, is also a skilled pung (Manipuri mridang) player and carries forward the rare legacy of her illustrious parents, Guru Bipin Singh, doyen of Manipuri dance and the genius, Guru Kalavati Devi, with sensitivity to the purity of the art.

Conferred with the Ustad Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskar 2008 by Sangeet Natak Akademi, Bimbavati, whose authenticity and perfection “was cradled into dance even before realisation,” has been guided by her mother.

“I belong to the Guru Bipin school of Manipuri dance, the creator and the pioneer of which are practitioners of Manipuri origin, who have deeply sensed the problems while relocating the dances from the temples to the stage.

Contemporary outlook

“Today, people want the same tradition to be presented with a contemporary outlook. However, while assessing the changes I have felt that the problems and prospects of Manipuri dance are entwined and the progression and regression of this dance form depends on its innate qualities. This transfer and repositioning has been tried earlier by many, but the pioneer is my father, Guru Bipin Singh. To me, my mother, Guru Kalavati Devi, is undisputedly the main torch bearer of our gharana. She is an effervescent dancer, ingenious choreographer, a gifted singer and a meticulous teacher”, Bimbavati declares with pride.

“I feel a lot is still to be done. At times the strong disparity in the views of the senior dancers perplexes the younger dancers and researchers. The development process of Manipuri dance cannot be so easily analysed. Few Manipuri dancers have realised that the horizon has to be extended and they should use empirical methods to augment its popularity.

“Preserving our revered temple tradition should be of key concern as it forms the backbone of our cultural civilisation. In this era, tradition should work as a catalyst. In ‘Leichan,’ some of the items are composed by me and some, which were originally composed by my parents, have been re-choreographed by me in order to give a more vivid picture of the essence of the festival and highlight the cultural ethos of Manipur. The music is traditional or composed by my parents,” says Bimbavati.

After the invocation, ‘Kathakchaba’ (offering) with flowers and ‘jayadhwani’ by the dancers dressed gorgeously in phanek-inaphi and with flower-bedecked hair, Bimbavati began her solo number, ‘Madhura Nartana Gati Bhangi,’ a Krishnastuti in tala menkup. It described the glory of Lord Krishna.

Graceful movements

Bimbavati’s graceful movements of Achouba Bhangi Pareng in the lasya style with the song in traditional tune usually used in ‘raasleela’ and ‘nupipalas’ (female nata sankirtans) were stunning and delightful.

The ‘Bhangi Parengs’ are one of the most important traditional dance compositions articulating a vocabulary of movement arrangements involving ‘Bhangas’ or body inflexions connected by ‘Gatibhangas’ (the body movements composed on the determined measure of time and rhythm flowing from one bhanga to another). The tune of the song, rendered soulfully by Romila Devi, was composed by Kalavati Devi, who is in the process of reviving old songs and Sanskrit slokas.

‘Ayi Rituraj’ was a joyous celebration of the arrival of ‘Basanta,’ (spring). The colourful group item of Holi with male and female dancers embracing Joydeb’s ‘Lalita Lavangalata Parishilana’ and ‘Basantey Basanti’ showed efficient dancing, but crowding affected choreographic neatness.

‘Goshta Kreeda’ inspired by the traditional dance drama, 'Sansenba' or ‘Goshta Leela,’ captured the authentic spirit of the basics of ‘Gopdanda raas’ with dancers in traditional ‘natavar besh,’ sticks in hands allowing the spectator to luxuriate in every accomplished movement of the games and complicated choreography. Originally composed by Bipin Singh, the item has been re-choreographed by Bimbavati.

‘Danguli,’ a game of hitting a piece of wood with a stick uses an uncommon tala of seven beats. Premila, Romila, Bimbavati and Kalvati Devi enhanced the appeal with their vibrant singing.

The concluding ‘Kang Chingnaba,’ the Rathayatra festival beginning with the Dasavatar Stotra from ‘Geet Govinda’ moving in procession with the sound of ‘ramtal’, a type of large cymbals, on to ‘Khubak Ishei’ the traditional clap dance, was re-choreographed and embellished with pung chalam, dhol chalam and kartaal chalam, sparkling moves and formations. It portrayed the divine glory, spirituality, mysticism and authentic spirit of Manipur, where dance is a way of life.

Mention must be made of the ‘langul’ performed by the pung players and their innovation of movements with the female dancers in pung cholam without a pung! A performance of pure optical beauty, sharpened by choreographic technique.