Choreography and finesse marked Kalakshetra's 'Kannappar Kuravanji'. And Manipuri dancer Priti Patel's 'The Throw of Dice' went beyond the game in the Mahabharata.

The beautiful patchwork curtain in earthy tones at the Bharata Kalakshetra auditorium is creative and aesthetic, so too is their choreography. ‘Kannappar Kuravanji,' with music composition by Papanasam Sivan and choreography by Rukmini Devi, is an aesthetic work that was presented by the staff and students of Kalakshetra Foundation on their Founder's Day. It is the story of a hunter-prince who becomes a saint by the strength of his devotion to Siva.

Set against a gigantic forest backdrop in the first half and an equally gigantic Siva Linga in the second, the simple movements and dialogue, the straightforward role-play and the mood-enhancing melodies, both classical and folk, came together to create tasteful 70-mm wide screen spectacle.

Every scene was rich with colourful handloom costumes, music and movement. The story and the characterisations were given pride of place and the rest, such as music and dance styles were chosen to fit in. Thus the story of Thinnappar (Siva calls him Kannappar when he sacrifices his eyes for him) unfurled slowly like a beautiful flag in a gentle breeze.

There were nuances that stood out for their ingenuity. The introduction scene was a case in point in which Nagaraja (Sheejith Krishna) and his wife (Shaly) performed a short korvai together. The sollus were the same, but the movements for each were so different, in keeping with their characters.

The choreography was also always inclusive. When the soothsayer (Nirmala) performed a puja (‘Malayaala Bhagavathi,' Pantuvarali), the tribals gathered around in attention. Some followed the Devaratti's worship, while others kept rhythm with a small drum or with anklets. Again in the celebration -- kurathi dance after Thinnappar (Hari Padman) was crowned -- the bystanders were not left out. Thinnappar and a group of young, armed men go to the forest to kill wild animals that have harmed their crops. They march in line and stop in line! And when they hunt (‘Vaarum Vaarum Vedargalai,' Kapi), their true colours come out. This scene was surely the most entertaining.

Believing the Lord's eye to be bleeding, Thinnappar gouges out his own. When he prepares to remove the other eye, Siva manifests and stops him. This was a powerful moment.

With an elaborate orchestra led by the stalwart Sai Shankar, whose excellent diction and calm melody added depth to the dance drama, the involvement of the percussionists (Jyotsna Menon-nattuvangam, Anil Kumar-mridangam) was also notable. The other experts were: Shyama and Murali (vocal), Srinivasan (violin), Sashidhar (flute) and Ananthanarayanan (veena). Venkatesh manned the lights.

Reflections of Manipur

“…It is in the nature of man... to play games... games of power... in his home, in his society, in his country,” were the opening lines of Manipuri dancer Priti Patel's contemporary choreography, ‘The Throw of Dice.' Clearly, the production was not to be a graphic description of that momentous game from the Mahabharata. It did, in fact, go beyond that. It was an impassioned commentary on the disintegration of human civilisation. The words hit home because they were straight from the heart. That apart, the production was also visually stunning. It traced the journey of human civilisation, from the creation of the Universe to a simple, self-sufficient agricultural society to the ‘game-playing,' destructive era.

The medium was abstract choreography with movements taken from Lai Haraoba (creation segment), the Thang-ta, the martial art form of Manipur, and the softer Raas Lila. The lighting (Samar Das) was subdued for the most part with white spot lights and minimal colour. There were some inspiring touches during the dice game.

One watched in awe as the young, agile and naturally muscled male dancers leapt across the stage with perfect control or froze in yoga-like postures (wide-legged Sarvangasana, Ardha Halasana, etc) for long counts. Their discipline and training was truly inspiring. The Thang-Ta choreography was by Th. Imocha Singh. The female dancers represented fragility and delicacy.

The dancers from Anjika stood out for their perfect co-ordination. The dice game was particularly challenging. The tone of the production changed in that segment. The music (Mangangsana, W. Suraj Kumar) that was percussive grew more assertive with bigger and louder drums, clanging cymbals and faster beats.

The ancient story-telling technique of Manipur was also integrated into the piece.

Priti in an ethereal black and white appeared as Draupadi who is dragged to the Kaurava court. Dusasana and others try to disrobe her when suddenly she is saved from humiliation. Here long rolls of white cloth appeared and formed a canopy over Priti creating a dramatic visual.

It was interesting that while she was Draupadi who was a wager in a game, she also stood for a whole people who are the victims of greed and violence.

Befittingly, the victims had the last word. 'What is right and wrong...?.. Bombs and guns are the gifts of the century... Manipur O! Manipur!'