The varied techniques of classical dance were put to the test by artistes trying out new expression.
Anusha Lall’s explorative foray is fuelled by the urge to find new perspectives of looking at movement from the traditional Bharatanatyam vocabulary, the dancer’s training having imbibed the uncompromising movement geometry of the Kalakshetra school under Leela Samson. Anusha’s latest exploratory work, ‘Tilt’ presented at Max Mueller Bhavan had its starting point in taut, superbly balanced, scrupulously trained bodies of three dancers along with her — Mehneer Sudan, Mandeep Raiklhy and Veena Basavarajaiah. Metaphorically and literally ‘tilting’ the form away from its frontal presentational mode and centrality, movement profiled in different directions, in the opening two segments, explored the mey adavu used in the Bharatanatyam tillana.
The specially laid white dance floor with Matsuo Kunhiko’s interactive media design of changing geometry appearing in the centre, strong dancers moving at the outside edges or diagonally, and the varied music of drums and Dhrupad by Suchet Malhotra, P. Vetri Boopathy and Samrat Bhardwaj, projected several independent energy streams in simultaneity. Minimalism was the key and no movement arrangement was dictated by symmetry, in a ‘solo-group’ pattern. Instead one saw each dancer in the group starting the movement at a different point of time, with the totality of group dynamics seeming to be a perfect orchestration amidst individual freedom within group interaction.
A happy dissonance, by happenstance became consonance at times. Familiar movement in treatment, context and dynamics appeared totally different from what one is used to in classical presentation. Though no dedicatory sahitya was involved, concentrated movement energies acquired a reverential feel. Movement very slow, held back in time without articulating fractional points of a rhythmic phrase had an implosive, contained power. The dynamic flourishes of the ta tai tat tat adavu in climax tapered off with a slow end. A disciplined, unusual work!
At The Ashok’s open air theatre, a Bharatanatyam/Kathak jugalbandi conceptualised by Bharatanatyam teacher/dancer Jyotsna Shourie, featured her disciple Nandita Kalaan and Rashmi Uppal, an alumna of Kathak Kendra now under Aditi Mangaldas. The interactive dance exercise came in the meditative opening hymn to Lord Krishna in raga Jog, the dedicatory start with both dancers in a freeze, leading to a dramatic sequence with Nandita as Arjuna unable to hold the mighty Gandiva bow after viewing the prospect of having to fight his mentors and those he had shared his childhood dreams and games with.
Rashmi Uppal as Krishna counsels Arjuna on the transitory nature of the body and reveals his cosmic form (very quiet with none of the high theatre normally associated with this scene), giving back to the warrior his mental strength to wage war as behoves a Kshatriya. The two singers Sudha Raghuraman and Sami Ullah Khan taking up the refrain one after the other was tricky but fairly managed. The finale a tillana in raga Thaya, had both dancers weaving permutations into the repetitive musical line, and Nandita was equal to the tempo set with her rhythm never flagging, though a Bharatanatyam tillana at such speed takes away from the sculpted dignity of its aesthetics — the laya here making it natural terrain for Kathak by Rashmi who was in her element. The percussion overture, with Tanjavur Kesavan (mridangam), Yogesh Gangani (tabla) and Mahaveer Gangani (pakhawaj) evoked warm applause.
Though the potent bhakti/sringar tones of a vintage Tanjore quartet varnam like “Mohamana en meedu” in Bhairavi is for an experienced dancer, Nandita gave the rendition all she had. Lissom grace and correct rhythm apart, a more tautly erect back, full arm and leg stretches with a more articulated plie (araimandi) without the frontal instead of sideways knee deflection, would give strong stillness and wider amplitude to Nandita’s Bharatanatyam. Maturity is needed to interpret, in contained intensity, musical statements like “Bhoga Tyagesa anubhogam seyya vaa” wherein the devotee is offering herself to Lord Tyagesa. And Sudha Raghuraman’s rich singing in niraval fashion must not veer away totally from the prescribed format of the composer’s mettu.
Using all the elements of Kathak like thaat, tukra, paran, tihai and even padhant (as a punctuation making it seem like a verbal interaction) for interpreting different nayikas like vasakasajja decorating herself and waiting for the Lord (“Pyari apni karat sringar” in Kedar), abhisarika, swadheenapatika and finally virahotkanthita “Mein kyon poochoon yeh virah nisha”, Rashmi showed her considerable talent. Fully mood supportive with the right minimal touches was the tabla and singing by Sami Ullah Khan.
At the Triveni, Rashmi Agarwal, a disciple of Saroja Vaidyanathan, gave an impressive performance, the varnam in Dhanyasi “Nee Inda Mayam” projecting the dancer’s perfect command over rhythm. A good presence, neatly profiled movements with full hand and leg stretches, and involved expressional element show her as a complete dancer. While the vatsalya delight of the mother, and wonder of Tulsidas in the antics of toddler Rama in “Thumaku chalat Ramchandra” in Dwajavanti came off very convincingly along with most parts of the varnam showing the love stricken nayika, the first line “Nee inda mayam seydal nyayamo?” (Is it fair to play these tricks on me?) needed a changed emphasis in interpretation with less stress on the nayika decorating herself. Saroja Vaidyanathan (nattuvangam) and Tanjavur Kesavan (mridangam) gave fine support.