Sandhya Raju’s Kuchipudi performance consciously alternated the rigorous and the tranquil, to superb effect.
There is something about the up and coming Kuchipudi dancer Sandhya Raju that tells you that she leaves nothing to chance. She is simply word-perfect - her timing is accurate, movements are precise and expressions are contained. Add these qualities to agility and perfect posture and you will get a near 10/10. No wonder she is so self-assured.
She represents the ‘refined’ style of Kuchipudi as developed by the maestro dance director Vempati Pedda Satyam in the 1940s and perhaps more so by his illustrious younger brother Guru Vempati Chinna Satyam a few decades later, both of whom had migrated to Madras. The obvious changes in the style are streamlined adavus, the use of the out-stretched arm, lip-sync and additions to the repertoire.
Sandhya, a disciple of Guru Vempati and Kishore Mosalikanti, has developed a unique style of her own, the buzzword for which would be ‘stylish.’ It is a bit more angular than the style she represents, but more than that, it is the cultivated finesse that sets her part.
Her recital consciously alternated the rigorous and the tranquil – ‘Ananda Narthana Ganapathim’ (Nattai, Adi, Oothukadu Venkatasubbaiyar) portraying a dancing Ganesha, ‘Siva Siva Bhava Bhava’ (ragamalika, Adi, Narayana Tirtha) and the Behag thillana (Adi, Dr. M. Balamuralikrishna), all choreographed by Kishore, were brisk, nritta-based ones.
It is interesting to note that even in these pieces, barring the thillana which is an abstract composition, the sthayi bhava or the dominant theme was always in sight. In between interludes of Ganesha dancing amidst other gods, was the quiet devotee meditating on him. The Siva composition, reset in ragamalika by Kishore and Ramesh, had the Bhagiratha- Ganga story set in an unusual jathi, showing how the arrogant Ganga gushed down with full force, but was caught in Siva’s matted locks and let out only after her ego was destroyed. Siva's five faces that gave birth to the panchabhoothas were also described clearly.
Radha is tortured by the thought of Krishna flirting with other gopis in the Jayadeva Ashtapadi, ‘Sancharadhara’ (ragamalika), while memories of happier times continue to haunt her. Sandhya presented images of Krishna and Radha in diametrically opposite moods, switching with deft timing and mature handling. There was a moment in the Guru Vempati choreography when the gopis adorn a swing with flower strings and seat Krishna on it. Sandhya’s portrayal of Krishna on the swing was a remarkable amalgamation of style and expression; it conveyed her artistic depth.
If earlier there was a hold back in expressions, she is maturing well and going in the right direction. There is a self-conscious streak in her that can be worked on, and it’s important that she does not get carried away by style alone.
The music department led by nimble-fingered Kishore (nattuvangam) was very participative. While Radha Badri (vocal) and Hari Babu (mridangam) provided the bedrock of music and rhythm, B. Muthukumar (flute) and Sigamani (violin) stood out for their timely contributions. The ashtapadi opened with a haunting Mohanam on the violin reminiscent of forests and winds blowing, setting the stage unobtrusively. Radha is looking for Krishna and spots him as she parts a curtain of creepers the same instant his flute is heard, making the timing surreal. The lighting (Murugan) too was just right, as everything else was that evening.