Rama Vaidyanathan’s “Mad and Divine” was a riveting piece of choreography, while the best part of Emily Ghosh’s Kathak recital was her flawless padhant
Kri’s special evening ‘Darshan Darshana’ was dedicated to the just departed Lakshmi Sahgal, a rare woman who fought against the British as an acclaimed soldier of the INA. The programme which followed, in keeping with the theme of unusual women driven by an obsession was Rama Vaidyanathan’s “Mad and Divine” based on the lyrics of two passionate women Jana Bai and Lalded from two regions of India, Maharashtra and Kashmir respectively. First presented in the “Mad and Divine” Festival mounted by Anita Ratnam at Chennai, Rama’s work which has continued to evolve, is one of the most riveting pieces of creativity one has seen lately. Woven round two personalities, one was a maidservant in the house of Sant Namdev, Jana Bai. Imbibing from the spiritual ambience Jana Bai evolves into an ardent devotee of Panduranga Vitthala, beseeching the Lord to accept her as his dasi. From the spirited entrance of the dancer draped in the sari worn in the typical Maharshtrian kachha fashion (which her slim figure carried off with élan), exhorting the Lord in the temple to wake up, for the Vaishnava devotees are waiting for a glimpse and worship, to the woman drunk on her insane involvement with Panduranga, Rama’s dance had not a dull moment. Whether in the abhang “Utho Panduranga prabhaat samayo panthala” sung in a soulful Vasanti, or the different manifestations and ‘roopas’, in which he seems to fill her life — like the mother deer who has abandoned the offspring crying for her all the time: as a fellow maid, her equal from whom she will brook no attitude (“Your strength lies in me,” she says): as the child for whom she has abandoned the whole of samsara: as the humble dasi who can only offer leftovers to one who has the best of ‘prasad’ waiting in the temple. The role captured the vivacious Maharashtrian Tamasha flavour right through the dancer’s springy movement stylisation, a natural understated sensuality never becoming provocative. Rama maintained the unselfconsciously natural openness with a self pride of a woman engaged in menial work, without any of the ‘uttama’ nayika aloofness. Pounding rice, or grinding and working on the mortar and pestle, or describing the Lord, she never let the integrated thematic image sag. And what evocative singing of the abhangs by Sudha Raghuraman! Whether a lilting Vasanti or Yaman or Ragesri or a Sindhu Bhairavi she was in her element.
Entirely in a different mould, this time in chudidar kameez with a touch of Kashmiri jewellery and open tresses, as Lalded, Rama’s dance revelled in a severe and austere majesty (not without a seductive undercurrent), with movement ornamentation kept to the minimum. Born to a 14th Century Brahmin family, marriage with a violent man and harassment by in-laws drove Lalded out of domesticity to embrace ultimate sainthood, her life consumed by trying to attain the bliss of Shiva/Sakti union through aspiring for the higher consciousness of the Kundalini Sakti. Without any images, here it was abstract dance — the movement spread with full leg and hand stretches and wide ambit symbolising the all embracing all-encompassing grandeur of Sivahood. Shiva Kumar’s nritta interludes encompassing the syllables Ta, Dhit, Tom, Nom (Nandichol) in slow pace in the misram with the dancer’s matching movements catching in minimalism the unostentatious power of “Parama Shivanu Tantara” seemed very fitting. The world well lost in the love for Shiva, Lalded discards even her clothes, shedding the last ounce of ego. Societal criticism and praise marked by a knot tied on either of two slips of cloth of even weight, slung on the two shoulders, after years, when weighed are equal. Attain jeevan mukti while living, says Lalded. Powerful as the choreography is, one still felt that the posing with the light spot to utter a few lines of dialogue, perhaps with the association of a theatre director could be managed more artfully. The music, with painstaking score by Vasudevan in ragas like Bindumalini and Charukesi, while beautifully sung, still sounded very Carnatic, despite the sahitya in Kashmiri language. But nothing takes away from the effort of the dancer.
Emily Ghosh’s Kathak recital at the India International Centre did not quite live up to her credentials of being trained by maestros in both Kathak gharanas, Lucknow and Jaipur, the latest teacher being Malabika Mitra. Despite competent wing support through Debjith Banerjee (tabla), Sandeep Niyogi (sitar) and a melodic vocalist Sumashish Bhattacharjee (with very poor sound balancing squandering the advantages), the Teen tala start, with glimpses of uthaan, thaat, paran and tihai did not rise above clean but sparkleless Kathak. The Chautal Ki Savari had some interesting moments, with the first 8 counts articulated and the rest shown through hand beats — in fractional syllabic arrangements. The abhinaya item Varsha “Kare Badal Chaye…” did not go into great elaborations, even the mayur gat somewhat disappointing. The ginti sequences, overdone, were very clever in arithmetic, but needed a little more artistry in presentation. Even the various ghungat gats had no subtleties. For this critic, the best part was the kavits and the toda based on gamak chal. The dancer’s padhant was flawless. Finally came a Jaipur gharana composition as homage to late Kishan Maharaj. The short tatkar sequence culminated the performance.