It was a treat to watch vintage works given contemporary touch.

Kalakshetra’s Swati Tirunal Margam that brought the curtains down on the three-day bicentennial anniversary celebration of the patron-musician Maharaja not only paid homage to the musicality and dexterity of the compositions, but also threw up quite by accident, interesting contrasts and parallels in group choreography.

Barring founder-artist Rukmini Devi’s, the presentations had been choreographed specially for the occasion by eminent teachers, dancers and alumni of Kalakshetra, such as Prof. Janardhanan, Sheejith Krishna, Jyolsana Menon and Bragha Bessel.

Kalakshetra believed in group presentations as it possibly afforded a limited democracy within the many artists on campus. Rukmini Devi’s style was to present a lively canvas with lots of movement on stage, using nritta as pleasant, rhythmic sequences in between a narrative. The dramatic impact for her seemed to stem from perfect execution not from loud, long jatis or melodramatic music.

She had an unconventional way of saying things. In the ragamalika Dasavathara piece (‘Kamalajaasya hrta’, Adi) that had been choreographed for Maharani Sethu Parvathi Bayi at the Kowdiar Palace, the treatment of each avathara was concise and efficient saving the fairly long musical composition from being further burdened with details. The Parasurama episode had a stand-out scene - to show how his enemies or kshatriyas were scared of him, the dancers went back on their toes with palms on the mouth, showing fear and agitation in the speedy retreat. There was also a learning in how Rukmini Devi used the six dancers, as she had them take turns at presenting episodes while remaining offstage otherwise.

One wondered about how the hauntingly beautiful Utsava Prabandha kirtana, ‘Kanakamayamaayidum’ (Husseini, Rupaka), would be interpreted as a group of six, but it turned out to be a stylish masterpiece (Prof. A. Janardhanan). It opened with the majestic procession itself, and percussionist K.P. Anilkumar made it sound real with a recording of the panchavadyam accompanying the utsava murthy of Padmanabha.

The composition speaks of the onlookers’ dilemma, as they try to identify the effulgent god who is being taken in procession. Prof. Janardhanan was able to capture the intimacy of a conversation, by having only two take centrestage at a time, while the others remained passively involved. It was so subtle, one did not feel it was stereotyped acting. He used the diagonal to stunning effect as the dancers gaze in awe and puzzlement at the sight for every repetition of the pallavi, and with split second timing the dancers would disperse for each charanam.

There is no doubt that Kalakshetra alumnus Sheejith Krishna is a star of next-gen choreographers. In the invocation, he took the pallavi of ‘Sankara Srigirinath’ (Hamsanandi, Adi) and created a misra triputa (11 beats) composition describing Siva’s dance in the Chitrasabha, adding a misra Alarippu in between for good effect. Change of speeds in rendering, dynamic formations and poses created electric visuals.

Jyolsana Menon’s Todi Jatiswaram (Adi) choreography had adavus that matched musically and were presented in all their majesty. It was also marked by excellent execution. Bragha Bassel’s handling of Swati Tirunal’s sensitive Manipravalam padams (‘Dhanyayaayi’, Navaroz and ‘Kaminimani’, Purva Kamodari, Saveri) showed her depth of understanding. The worshipful heroine (Shaly Vijayan) in the former padam conveys her unconditional love through her eyes, in a style of interpretation that uses only facial expressions. Sharada and Sreedevi as the heroine and her friend who has betrayed her portrayed the suspicious interrogation scene convincingly.

Vocalist K. Hariprasad maintained a flawless, pitch-perfect tenor all evening. He was supported by musical stalwarts: T. Sashidhar (flute), Sreenivasan (violin), N. Ananthanarayanan (veena) and K.P. Rakesh (nattuvangam). The margam was a treat both aurally and visually.

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