Taut storyline did not allow boredom to creep in.
The ambience of Kalakshetra enhances the aesthetic pleasure one derives watching a dance performance and more so, when it is a Kathakali performance which lends itself so beautifully to this space. The fifth edition of Kalakshetra’s annual thematic Kathakali festival with the beautiful title ‘Bhava Bhavanam’ given by Asan Balakrishnan focuses on the many teaching traditions of Kathakali titled ‘Gurustvam’.
The second day featured ‘Uttaraswayamvaram’ by Kerala Kalamandalam. The play, running into eight scenes, encapsulates the story which is enacted all night in villages. It was presented in a condensed version to suit the urban audience. The choreography not only maintained the story line, but sustained the interest of the audience without giving allowance for boredom to creep in.
The intensive training imparted by the legendary institution was evident in the high degree of skill maintained in the form of expressive abhinaya, gestural language and elements of drama. The sringara in the opening scene, bhayam and veeram on the battle field, roudhram in Duryodhana’s court were some of the memorable emotions in the portrayal of Navarasa.
The characters of Uttaran, Brihannala, Duryodana, Kripar played by Aroma, Kalamandalam Chinosh Balan, Kalamandalam Vyasakan and Vipin were powerful portrayals, whereas the other characters played by less experienced artists revealed a stark disparity in performance and Karna, about whom we have a great visual imagination as a brave warrior, was reduced to a nondescript entity.
There were moments of great visual delight, especially in the elaborate introduction to Duryodhana’s entry with a paraphernalia of peacock feather fans, ornate canopy and thirasheela used as a dance element.
The kummi sequence was a happy surprise element in a Kathakali performance. A suggestive “breast plate” worn over the regular costume added a subtle touch to show Arjuna as the eunuch Brihannala.
There were disturbing elements too. The uduttukettu (a skirt like garment) was not draped properly to cover up the legs on display – a premier institution has to also pay attention to detail on aesthetics of this nature too. Equally garish was the glittering veils draped on the female characters.
The musical support enhanced the quality of the dance manifold. The pristine purity of ragas - Kalyani, Todi, Varali and Madhyamavati shone like jewels through the mellifluous voices of Kalamandalam Babu Namboothiri, Kalamandalam Hareesh and Krishnakumar. Kalamandalam Unnikrishnan and Sreehari on the chenda, and Kalamandalam Rajanarayanan and Sudeesh on the maddalam enhanced the drama on stage with their expertise on percussion.