The Sangeet Natak Akademi Awards 2012 Festival saw a tribute to Bharatanatyam margam as well as a new, urban interpretation of Kuchipudi that respected the old
The Bharatanatyam margam is best presented without undue tinkering with its form and structure; conceived by old master gurus, it is so finished that trying to change it invariably results in unsatisfactory results. It was heartening to watch Priyadarsini Govind, at Meghdoot Theatre for the Sangeet Natak Akademi Awards 2012 Festival , making a straightforward presentation of the Tanjore Quartette Ragamalika varnam “Saami nine kori naanu ra”, portraying the virahotkanthita. In K.S. Balakrishna (nattuvangam), Arun Gopinath (vocal), Shaktivel Muruganandan (mridangam) and Shikhamani (violin), she had experienced support, and through the passages in Todi, Shankarabharanam, Pantuvarali, Athana, Kalyani, Bhairavi, Mukhari and Vasanta, the nayika, expressing her steadfast love, pleads for Tanjapurivasa’s response.
There was a relaxed quietude to Priya’s entire approach, with no frenetic urgency in her abhinaya, always her strong point. In the nritta interludes, characterised by the dancer’s statuesque grace and clean lines, a more definitive assertion would have imparted a highlighting contrast.
Sharmila Biswas’ Odissi offer of “Trikayi” — a group choreography most intelligently recast by her for a solo dancer who, after months of staying away from the dance due to unavoidable health reasons, was slowly working her way back towards agility — had its greatest take-off point in the golden-voiced singer Srijan Chatterjee. As the notes of Misra Khamaj (musical composition of Madhup Mudgal) flowed, Sharmila, through slow starting movements that gradually caught pace, made the dance a shared journey with the music. What one missed was Bijay Barik’s creative mardal. But Dhaneswar Swain’s expertise, along with Buddhanath Swain’s delightfully evocative ukkutas, presided over the mardal accompaniment.
Yashodha’s story — a quaint mix of the Krishna Karnamritam slokam done by Bharatanatyam dancers, which Sharmila learnt from Kalanidhi Narayanan, and her own inputs portraying Yashodha trying to lull a recalcitrant child Krishna to sleep — was sensitively done. This, despite the second vocalist’s sur wavering, the vocalist not quite at ease with the unstructured spaces that Sharmila keeps for improvisation.
Nandini Ramani’s presentation brought out the salient aspects of Balasaraswati and Kandappa Pillai and Ganesh’s Bharatanatyam approach with clarity in her introduction, the sabdam (a forgotten item from the margam today) based on her father scholar V. Raghavan’s composition in Sanskrit on goddess Karpagambal Kalpakambal as the peahen looking for her blue-throated consort, Shiva: “Was it something said in your love quarrel that has made him a mendicant roaming all over?”
Through several, smooth hand gesture interpretations, so typical of Bala, Nandini showed the goddess looking for her mate.
The singing by Chitrambari Krishnakumar, classically chaste, melodic without virtuosity, and with clarity of diction was a case in point. After the Tamil padam — a ninda stuti “Mugattai kaatti” in Bhairavi wherein the devotee, addressing Shiva (revealing only the face) enshrined at the Mooladhara kshetra in Tiruvaiyar temple, asks him the secret of the deity not showing his full form with the deer and fire — Nandini went on to an abbreviated tillana in Manadari, not showing the corvais in all the five jatis. That method of mei adavus and movement with accented and unaccented syllables in nritta is no longer seen.
Under Nandini’s direction, Sanskit theatre excerpts from “Anarkali”, “Ascaryacudamani”, “Vikramorvasiyam” and “Mattavilasa Prahasana”, presented by Samskrita Ranga, were, for this critic, highly communicative in their simplicity — part of the audience given to Koodiyattam theatre felt it was simplistic — and even an audience not familiar with Sanskrit could follow the proceedings. In a varied selection, the clarity of the Sanskrit enunciation was most wonderful to hear. The most impressive artistes were P.G. Subramanyam as the Kapalika in “Mattavilasam”, Sushama Ranganathan, who played two contrasting roles of Anarkali and later the comic role of the Kapalika Devasoma, Dr.V. Santosh who, with gusto, played the role of a lunatic in “Mattavilasam”, and Prakash Kaushik as Prince Salim in “Anarkali”. The Parnasalankam scene from “Ascaryacudamani” was somewhat tame and repetitive, despite the moving music in the background with V. Sumitra (vocal), Raghu (flute) and Chandrasekhar (mridangam).
Jai Narayan Samal’s Seraikella troupe, with the accompaniment of musicians led by Shashadhar Acharya on dhol and Vikas Babu’s shehnai, presented traditional items, their Radha-Krishna in “Jogiya” with the “Dhinta dhaginna” bol coming off as a highly sensitive item in the sringar interaction. Siva’s wraparound fake tiger skin skirt in “Hara Parvati” set to Shyamkalyan and Bairagi in a 16-beat tala needed to be slightly longer to hide the half pants underneath, showing in a constant non-aesthetic peek-a-boo. The14-beat tala in “Hansa”, with the typical gait of the swan, set to raga Madukosh was another evocative item.
After a very long time, one experienced an authentic Kuchipudi dance drama, in the Yakshagana vein — though without the vachika bits — scripted, directed and led by SNA awardee Ramalinga Sastry, who hails from the Kuchipudi village of Andhra Pradesh. What one admired about “Nartanasala Kuchipudi Nritya Rupakam” was the urban sophistication of later gurus incorporated without destroying any of the earthy flavour of the dance in its original form. The evening began with Ramalinga Sastry as Keechaka making a vibrant entrance, the sparkling energy and verve of his performance electrifying the entire audience. What followed were truly exhilarating moments with two other earlier SNA awardees — Y. Srinivasalu as a brilliantly evocative Bhima, and Ravi Balakrishna as a most convincing Arjuna as Brihanala (the male-female blend carried through in costume and characterisation). Balatripura Sundari was Queen Sudekshana unable to control the brother’s roving eyes and erring ways, and Durga Anusha made a gracefully anxious Panchali as Malini, trying to escape the clutches of Keechaka’s lecherous advances. The stage moves were adroit, and the tempo never sagged. As for the music, in myriad ragas like Charukesi, Mohanam, Kamboji, Shahana, Durga, Bhairavi, Purvikalyani, Shivarajani and what not, it was sung with feeling by DSV Sastry with Vedantam Venkata Durga Bhavani, who provided nattuvangam support, singing for the female roles. Crisply edited, the entire rendition held the audience enthralled. A presentation where music, dance and script (by Ramalinga Sastry) held together wonderfully.
In the article titled “A vision to woo” published in these columns, the sentence reads “…Arjuna’s ascent to Heaven is assured.” It should be “Karna’s ascent to Heaven is assured.”