The Ananya festival’s tryst with audiences continues and while presentation levels vary, it is heartening that new groups are being given opportunities.

It goes to the credit of Seher that after 10 consecutive years of mounting the Ananya festival in the historic Purana Qila venue, the event continues to draw audiences of steadily increasing numbers. Impeccably organised, the designing of the festival is such that classical dances in group expression become riveting fare for sizeable mixed crowds comprising the discerning and the uninitiated.

Jointly sponsored by the Department of Art, Culture and Languages, Government of Delhi and Sahitya Kala Parishad in collaboration with Doordarshan which through its DD Bharati televising later, helped this festival in reaching out to audiences all over, this year’s presentations having the best projections in works choreographed keeping in mind the dimensions of the large performance area. Led by dancer/ choreographer Pallavi Krishnan, the Mohiniattam group’s presentation of “Panchabhuta” showed that creative energies can successfully push the frontiers of the dance form to cover even abstract themes with élan. Starting with the Shiva/Shakti verses from Adi Shankara’s Saundaryalahari, connecting the five cosmic elements of the Universe to the five energy centres in Man — the most evolved of the prototype of the macrocosmic universe, the theme went on to the activating of the subtle energies, opening the coiled energy at the base of the spine, rising to the final point of awakening — the Sahasrara — when realisation occurs. Professor Sundarasaran’s collection of verses apart, the entire movement visualisation made intelligent use of levels, mixing the circular nature of the Mohiniattam form with group arrangements stressing the vertical geometry with the horizontal. The idea of coiled energy spiralling upwards came out very strongly, and with excellently trained dancers from Kerala Kalamandalam, the constantly changing patterns never failed to surprise.

The music set in a ragamalika format with ragas like Hindolam, Amritavarshini, Bilahari, Hamsanandi, Sindhu Bhairavi, Athana, Bhairavi created moods through the abstract movements showing the elements. Pallavi’s solo presentation of Swati Tirunal “Chaliye Kunjan mo”, did not quite fit in with the rest of the group, which began with arresting formations in the Ganapati stuti sung in Puraneer in the Sopanam style.

For sheer subtlety and poetry, it was hard to beat Bindu Juneja’s “Narmada Parikrama”, a reworked production with just three dancers who managed to fill the large stage — each dancer creating the aura which made the rest of the uncovered space non-existent. The Odissi movements catching the meandering grace of Narmada and her volatile moods as she gushes through forests down mountains, with the most lilting music composed by Meera Rao and Abhay Phagre, with lyrics like “Rewa ke teer” and “Sohe dhara” made for delicate aesthetics — proving that one does not need a large group, or exaggerated gestures or loudness of music to reach out to a large audience far away from the stage. The folk tale of the marriage of the mango tree with the entwining jasmine bride with the rejoicing of the village folk, added a quaint delightful touch. The imaginative conceptualising into four parts, all encompassing the beauty of Nature and above all underlining the spirituality without which this theme would be arid, and last but not the least Bhavani Pankaj’s poetic Hindi/English narration, made this one of the most sensitive productions presented on this platform.

Malavika Mitra’s Kathak group from Kolkata, comprising excellently groomed dancers, somehow failed to live up to expectations, because the choreographer seemed unable to get away from her solo Kathak preoccupation. Inability to think in group terms made the package of the Shiva vandana, “Taalanga” in Dhamar, “Chhand Parikrama”, “Gopi Viraha” and final tarana in Malkauns look like solo multiplied seven times. Apart from the high decibel level and lack of melody, the music recording left much to be desired.

Given the challenging task of a jugalbandi with two forms, Kathak and Mayurbhanj Chhau, “Maharas” by Maitreyee Pahari’s group appeared woefully under rehearsed. The music arrangement by Sharad Chandra Srivastava, mostly in the Hindustani genre with a sudden appearance of “Gopa Gopi” in Purvikalyani sung by Sudha Raghuraman in the Carnatic mode, while melodic, lacked any connectivity. Excellent costume colours with male Chhau dancers and female Kathak group made for arresting visual aesthetics, though while the Kathak form was dominant, the Chhau never went beyond just postures and acrobatic group formations. And one lacked a real intense interaction between the two forms which shared space. The Maharas vision did not quite come out. One felt that some Chhau drums (if not the music) could have given more of a profile to the Chhau.

Given Kiran Subramanyam’s mridangam expertise, the Bengaluru-based Bharatanatyam group under him and wife Sandhya Kiran understandably showed a preference for laya composed in different arithmetical combinations. But what when demonstrated in the small space during the morning “Pratibimb” deliberations seemed eye-catching, in the actual performance got diluted, with dancers seeming to hurry up movements trying to cover space — in the process taking away from finish, and assertive quality, by dancers of varying proficiency. Instead of costumes in so many colours, dancers turned out in a uniform attire would have added to the synchronised feel. A lot of effort had evidently been spent on conceptualising, and the pushpanjali with epithets of Shiva shown through group postures came off fairly well. Asking for information on the size of the stage would have made the choreographic ideas jell with what was needed, particularly in the high energy of the Poorvikalyani kirtanam expressing Chdidambaram Nataraja’s dance, where the dancers were often unsteady in holding one legged stances after covering space. And “Madhurashtakam” involving the perennial issue of how to deal with abhinaya in a group, required more of stillness than a Krishna kicking Kaliya and dancing triumphant on his hood — which did not go with the ‘madhuram’ mood of charm. The finale was Madurai Krishnan’s tillana in Shanmukhapriya.

While the presentation levels are always varying, it is very heartening that new groups are being given opportunities in Ananya.