Artistry and virtuosity were present in equal measure in Shobana’s Bharathanatyam recital in Palakkad.
As a charismatic and exceedingly gifted film actress, Shobana’s entry into the highly codified terrain of Bharathanatyam was viewed with awe and anxiety by the artistes’ fraternity and the rasikas. The actress as dancer in the films is the binary opposite of a classical dancer whose prowess stems from infinite ‘vasana’ (instinct) and rigorous ‘sadhana’ (practice).
Endowed with an expressive face, rhythmic virtuosity and indefatigable spirit, Shobana could, however, establish her presence on stage as an astute Bharathanatyam dancer within an amazingly short period. As and when she does the margam, Shobana’s latent talent as a dancer comes to the fore. This became evident again in her one-and-a-half hour recital before a sizeable audience at Rappadi open-air auditorium in Palakkad.
Shobana began her recital with Anjali, a musical composition of violinists Ganesh and Kumaresh. In it was interspersed dhrutha kamalakucha mandala, the lines from the Gitagovinda in Natta raga. One could notice a magical shift of the dancer from the unfettered ebullience of pure dance to expressional dance during the depiction of Krishna dancing on the many hoods of Kaliya, and of Garuda, the mythical bird as the vehicle of the Lord.
The piece-de-resistance of the recital was an exceptional varnam of Swati Tirunal – ‘Sarasasara Sundara’ in Neelambari, Adi tala. References to Lord Vishnu and his incarnation as Lord Krishna frequented the sequences in well-knit upakhyanas. The dancer drifted along the legend of the Tirupati temple, Srinivasa and Padmavathi Kalyanam, vividly detailing the anecdote of sage Bhrigu stamping on Lord Vishnu’s chest, the latter’s composure, and goddess Lakshmi’s discomfort as well as her resolve to leave Vaikuntam instantly.
Shobana, in succinct visual frames, presented Bhrigu’s initial irritation at the indifference of Lord Siva immersed in a conversation with Sri Parvati, and Brahma avidly listening to Saraswathy playing the veena when the sage approached them. She also touched upon Sudama’s encounter with Lord Krishna at Dwaraka and the former’s rise to wealth and glory as the Lord eats a handful of the ‘aval’ (pounded rice) he had brought along.
In the pure dance segment, Shobana revelled in the niceties of foot-work and movements of her ‘angopangapratyangas’ (body, face, neck, shoulder and the limbs) elegantly synchronised with the jatis. The item could have been set to ragamalika instead of having the repetitive pattern of Neelambari raga enveloping each and every charanam. However, Preethi Mahesh, a fabulous singer by all accounts, strived to provide a tonal bloom to the rendition.
The third item was a rarely staged composition of Swati Tirunal – ‘Kaminimani Sakhi’ in raga Poorvakamodari. Almost akin to a Javali, it turned out to be a memorable dialogue between the Nayika and her Sakhi. Sobhana and her prime disciple, Srividya, displayed vim and vigour in its presentation.
The Nayika’s questioning of the Sakhi about her dishevelled hair, reddened eyes and exhaustion, and the latter’s efforts in vain to hide her tension and awe carried an unusual visual intensity. Her lokadharmi natya never once crossed the limits.
Jayadeva’s Ashtapadi ‘Kuruyadu Nandana’ followed. Set to Sarasangi raga in Adi tala thisra nata, the mid-tempo rendition of the Ashtapadi and its visualisation failed to impress despite Shobana’s histrionic adroitness and complex musical phrases. Had it been executed in slow tempo, the sensuousness brimming in each and every word could have had a mesmerising impact on the audience. Discerning buffs of dance are well conversant with this Ashtapadi treated as a slow tempo padam set to Mishra Bihag and portrayed with understated sensousness by eminent dancers.
Shobana concluded the recital with a thillana in Sankarabharanam raga composed by Moolaiveettu Rangaswamy Nattuvanar. Her sway over rhythm and eye for minutiae in movements had an extraordinary deportment in the improvised segment of madhyamakala niraval. A fitting finale to a memorable recital!
While Srividya Ramachandran did commendable work in her role as a Nattuvankam artiste, seasoned percussionist Ramakrishnan and violinist Karekkal Venkitasubramanyam were at their creative best. The recital was held under the auspices of Gowri National Cultural Festival in association with Ministry of Culture, Government of India.