Reverend Dr. Saju George's performance presented the nritta and the natya aspects of Bharatanatyam.
The golden jubilee celebrations of the Kerala Jesuit Province at Loyala College in Thiruvananthapuram provided a platform for Reverend Saju George to perform and exhibit his abundant talent as a Bharatanatyam dancer, composer and choreographer. Dr. Saju is a Jesuit priest of Calcutta Province and has a Master's in dance, and a doctorate in the Philosophy and Religion of Indian Classical Arts. Although his home State is Kerala, this is perhaps his first performance on ‘home ground.'
The hour-long recital obviously could not contain the repertoire of a full length Bharatanatyam recital, but Dr. Saju had carefully selected the pieces to present both the nritta and the natya aspects of dance. The recital began with a traditional pushpanjali dedicated to Lord Ganesha, followed by alarippu. The next number was ‘Ananda natamidum padan' in praise of Lord Nataraja of Chidambaram – a simple piece, neatly executed. However, it could have done with a little more exuberance, depicting as it were the ‘ananda natanam' of the Lord and perhaps, embellished with some of the 108 karanas for which Chidambaram is noted. The fact that the artiste was male would have stood to the dancer's advantage too.
The latter half of the programme featured two pieces inspired by Biblical themes – both composed and choreographed by Dr. Saju. The keenly awaited keerthanam ‘Kandu njan thirumeniye, mara kurissil thoongum thirudehi' was an intense expression of devotion and takes inspiration from the works of St. Ignatius. To quote Dr. Saju: “It depicts the passion, death and resurrection of Christ and takes one through the core of the Christian mystical experience and ends in surrender to the Lord.”
‘Kurissil pidanju pidanjen nathan' was the line chosen for delineation and portrayed moving incidents such as that of Saint Veronica, who, overcome with pity as she encounters Jesus on the way to Calvary, offers him her veil and wipes the sweat off his forehead. Equally emotional in content was the depiction of Mother Mary holding the body of her son.
The choreography brought to light Dr. Saju's resourcefulness when he redefined mudras to incorporate them into the Bharathanatyam vocabulary and make it amenable to the Biblical themes.
The music for this keerthanam composed by Fr. Paul Poovathinkal is in the form of a raga malika in six ragas and it is to his credit that the ragas chosen aptly reflected the pathos and the piety that were the prevailing moods of the piece.
Dedicated to Mother Mary
The whole project was supervised by Professor C.V. Chandrasekhar who is Dr. Saju's guru. A vibrant and crisp thillana dedicated to Mother Mary of Velankanni – ‘Velankanni vazhum amme, nal varam nalkum amme' came as a fitting finale to this very unique and enjoyable performance by Dr. Saju..
What is exceptionally commendable about Dr. Saju 's work is that it does not sacrifice tradition for innovativeness – a fact that speaks for the high calibre of the artiste as well as the adaptability that is possible within the strong foundation of the Indian classical art.