The three-day dance event was steeped in religiosity and the audience soaked it up.
Monsoon time and an open air venue did not deter avid art lovers from attending consecutive dance performances for three days at Keyes High School.
Two solos and a group choreography drenched the audience in utter religiosity in keeping with the time and occasion. Sri Rama Navami Cultural Festival is into celebrating its golden jubilee year.
Vyshnavie Sainath unveiled the fest with her dual presentation in Bharatanatyam and Odissi styles. The first half of Bharatanatyam repertoire was captivating especially her Abhang. She danced with gay abandon to the bhajan beat of Namdev's composition. Her expressive countenance portrayed the varied bhava of bhakti in different modes – servility, plea, pathos, mercy and so on. The costume went well with the theme. Earlier presentations were a padam which was abhinaya-oriented and hence emotively demanding to which the artist did full justice. A sudden lash of rain played mischief as Vyshnavie forayed into Odissi. Despite a little chaotic situation, the dancer continued with her presentation with the same ease and élan. It was the traditional Odissi range like Jayadeva's ashtapadi. Her talent lay in being able to display romance without allowing it to slip into the erotic though the song did at times spell it out. Vyshnavie was able to handle the erotic with more mudras and eye language than excessive body kinetics thereby endowing it with a dignity of its own. Her precise footwork with pronounced postures and swinging gait delineated the Odissi style from her previous Bharatanatyam technique. Sangeetakala's vocal was commendable as was Srinivas' nattuvangam.
Gurumurthy on the mridangam was good while Suryanarayana simply excelled on the bamboo.
Smitha Madhav rendered Venkata Gireesham Bhaje which is a pilgrim's progress narrated with visual clarity and artistic prowess. Smitha took us on a spiritual journey by foot beginning at Alipiri. After invoking Lord Venkateswara at the peak (Anandanilayam) surveying the world beneath and the divine mother Alimelu Manga who takes care of the earth with Adi Sankara's ‘Kanakadhara sthavam,” we trek through Adigo, alladigo Sri Hari vaasamu… pointing out the length and breadth of the walk ahead of us with the peak in view. We sanctify ourselves at the second stop-over with Brahma kadigina padamu wherein she picturesquely describes the Vamana avatar. The stunned expression of Bali at being crushed to ‘Patala' for no known reason was brilliantly depicted. As we reach the Gaali gopuram enroute, to the chant of Narayana hari we are blessed with the vision of Lord Rama and obviously we extol him with ‘Brochevaarevaru ra…' We climb further up with the much-needed ‘Hanuman Chaalisa' to help us scale the heights. We are treated to Prahalada charitam as we encounter the shrine of ‘Nrusimha' (the lion-man). Smitha was suffused with emotion in the scene where the mother of Prahalada is forced to feed her little boy with poisonous food. We reach a tougher terrain when we come to the ‘mokkalla metlu' where Vaishnava Saint Ramanuja dwelt. The dancer's moves on her knees to the chant of ‘Srinivasa Govinda' was wonderous. We finally make it to Ananda Nilayam with Tera teeyaga raada Govinda… with which the curtain actually goes up to show the Lord in full form (a glowing statue). The presentation concludes with the apt Brahmam okkate. Girija Ramaswamy's vocal was superb. Sailaja Sivakumar on the nattuvangam, Manikandan on the mridangam, Karaikal Venkata Subramaniam on the violin , Bhavani Prasad on the veena enhanced the performance.
‘Sita Parinayam' by ‘Sri Rama Nataka Niketan' dance school was perfect right from the word ‘go'. At the very outset, Guru Manjula Ramaswamy has to be complimented for her excellent training in the use of stage space, absolute accuracy and timing of scene sequences, commanding nattuvangam and above all flawless performance by one and all in this dance drama. Tiny tots (Deepika, Madhulika, Sameeksha Deekshita) fascinated the viewers with their precision in movement and their footwork and a smile that never left their face. The royal courts scenario of Dasaratha and Janaka (Sulochana, Archana) with make-do curtains and a not too user-friendly a stage and many such limitations, were worthy of applause for mastery in stage management especially in a group choreography.
The choice of artists was apt as were the sequence of events which moved in quick succession leaving the audience waiting for the next episode. Certain scenes and certain artistes however stood out as is the case with any dance drama. The Ahalya shaapa vimochana, princess Sita at play with her sakhis, the paanigrahana were very convincing.
Varshini as Sita was the star performer with her sweet, tender countenance and sweeter expressions. In a word, she looked tailor-made for the role. Her dancing ability were at their best but what went down well with the audience was her abhinaya – it was so natural that one would be carried away with the candor of her looks. She moved with the scenes changing the bhava from a coy maiden, to a shy damsel when she meets Rama (Nikhila) for the first time, to a love-lost young damsel pining for her prince charming and finally to the beautiful blushing bride. The transition of all these emotions was done with graceful abandon. Srishti as Vishwamitra essayed a powerful role with a confidence that was astonishing for her age. Her eyes said it all be it command or commendation of Sri Rama. Amulya as Lakshmana looked vibrant. The Tataka (Samata) episode provided the ‘relief'. Prema Ramamurthy's background score was excellent.
‘Sita Parinayam' was a like the delicious dessert at the end of the three-day feast.