The Konark Festival featuring group choreography by classical artistes yielded a rich haul of experience

The growing multi-disciplinary approach and a personal touch keep the Odisha Government’s annual Konark Festival — jointly mounted by the Department of Tourism and the regional Sangeet Natak Akademi from dwindling into a hackneyed, routine event. Ambiance, décor and arrangements, constantly evolving, act on less-than-perfect aspects of the year before, thanks to the personal interest of the bureaucrat heading the Department and established artistes like Ratikant Mohapatra, Sangeeta Goswain, Ramahari Das, lending ready helping hands oiling the organising machinery. The one still grappling challenge settling down after the opening day snafus, remains the uneven spread of sound to every part of the large open air auditorium — an irritated artiste conducting the recital voicing her impatience over the microphone, unmindful of DD Bharti’s live international broadcast! Along with this the simultaneous Balaram Maharath live painting inspired by the performances, the sand art exhibition on the Chandrabhaga beach luring several foreign participants, the handloom, handicrafts and painting exhibitions, make this a cross-pollination of art forms.

Of the several Odissi presentations, Nrutyagram’s “Samanvaya” (already reviewed in this column earlier in detail) left the audience speechless with the Odissi/Kandyan (Sri Lankan) dance interaction. The other show stealer was Darpana Academy’s “Sampradayam”, led by feisty women’s lib fighter Mallika Sarabhai in an unusual avatar, evoking an uplifting experience, this version totally different from the earlier presentation at Chennai’s Music Academy which fell flat. Pandanallur Bharatanatyam, simple and direct with no self-indulgent virtuosic flourishes, with minimal gestures and deep inner joy interpreted bhajans sung in the typical bBhajana pPaddhati by Jayan Nair and Maheswari, who transported the audience to another world through the devotion and vigour of their music. Surya, Kartikeya, Meenakshi, Shiva, Jagat Janani the Goddess, Akhilandeswari, Panduranga Vitthala, Sai Baba evoked through compositions of Todaya Mangalam, of Muttutandavar, of Jayadeva, of Rama Das, hymns in Sanskrit, Tamil, Marathi, Hindi made every viewer’s inside dance. As the bhajans held an enthralled audience, while the dancers changed costumes, tempo never sagged. An enriching experience!

Elegance marked the curtain-raiser Odissi presentation by Madhavi Mudgal with her meticulously trained disciples, depicting images of the flowing Ganga descending from Shiva’s locks, as part of the Mangalacharan Stuti, the music conceived by Madhup Mudgal and the neat group formations melding smoothly into the Trikhandi Pranam conclusion. Singer Manikuntala Bhowmik held the fort with Poornachandra Majhi’s vocal chords unable to negotiate the top notes. In the exquisitely neat pallavi, a composition of Madhup Mudgal, simplicity, synchronicity and arresting group arrangements created riveting visual images. Successfully communicating interpretative dance through group expression (despite wavering sound and sahitya clarity) was the Kishor Chandranana ‘Ka, Kha’ champu of Kavi Surya Baladev Rath “Khorapatu helu re”. The finale of group homage to Surya was evocative. Tasteful were the matching costumes in earthy colours with a burnt orange touch.

Vocalist Aditi Sharma’s delightful rendering of Bhairavi, Nata Bhairavi, Durga, Darbari Kanada, Hamsadhwani notwithstanding, even as sound played truant, to have an entire Kuchipudi recital by leading performer Raja Reddy and his troupe rendered to largely Hindustani music starting with Bhairavi (the finale in Hindustani concerts — and prayog in the Carnatic Sindhu Bhairavi different)) was strange to say the least — music being a vital element in identity of a dance form. Pandit Ravi Shankar’s Nata Bhairav tarana, an old favourite expressed through Kuchipudi movement (dramatic silences won applause) was understandable. But “Natawara Taruni”, Oothukadu Venkatasubbaiyar’s composition and tarangam in Mohanam sounded unrecognisable in the singer’s rendition. And with violinist and flautist from Odisha (not doubting their quality), whatever happened to Kuchipudi music? Is paucity of musicians so acute as to reduce the usual accompanying team to just Bhaskar Rao on mridangam and Kaushalya’s nattuvangam?

Homage to Ganapati seated on the holy rice spread on the topmost of platforms on the tree in the milky ocean, (symbolising Sopanam or seven steps leading to the sanctum,) began the Mohiniattam recital of the group led by Bharati Shivaji. The two levels of the stage were aesthetically used in the Saraswati homage, solo space created with each dancer performing to vaitari-s. Mukhachalam taking from the talas of pancha vadyam was redolent with heady, slow swaying grace of Mohiniattam. The ‘aneka nari’ Gita Govind sequence of Krishna with the gopis and “Hariririha mugdha-vadhoonikare” evoked the feel of erotic love play through lasya with conviction — two dancers with heads swaying in opposite directions in close contact, with the hasta symbolism of two birds uniting to the phrase “Pinapayodhara..” subtly communicative. The dramatic pandattam had the entire audience playing ball with the dancers. Rajagopalan’s vocal, Shyamala Balasubramaniam’s veena, Unnikrishnan’s chenda, and Gopa Kumar on mridangam provided strong melodic base.

Meera Das shows great promise as a young choreographer. The “Hiranmayagarbha” sukta from the Rig Veda as mentioned (also found in Isha Upanishad as homage to Surya “Hiranmayena paatrene”’) adapted in Jagannath Das’ Odiya Mahabharata, made a most suitable start with the Sun temple in the backdrop. The golden orb of the Celestial Seed, with the Sun’s fire kindling creation with water and land with all the living creatures, the Sun and Moon as two eyes, was conceived with some creative group dance images. The well rehearsed Desh pPallavi in Roopak tala with a more reposeful starting laya would accent the chauka and bhramari more. There is obvious inspiration from Yoga, and the full split one dancer demonstrated was credit worthy. The newly created Moksha, given all its rhythmic verve, falls short of the musicality of Kelucharan Mohapatra’s traditional Moksha, which evokes that impression of movement reaching beyond itself. The ending was a soulful homage to Surya. Music, particularly the percussion accompaniment, was spirited.

Best avoided

Tinkering with items composed by veteran gurus is best avoided. In the presentation of Sankalpa by Kasturi Pattanaik “Thei Ghara Nata” was the pick of the items rendered. The Patdeep pallavi in various jaatis portraying gaits of animals, thematically was uninspiring. As for “Sthithavpragnya” the dance drama, though the rather simplistic first part had a flow, the end with Kama, Krodha, Mada, and all other vices trying to disturb inner stillness of the meditating rishi missed the point. A sthitapragnya does not destroy wrongdoing as much as rise above it. The redeeming part was the sur faithful melodious singing of Yashwasin Nayak and Vinod Bihari.

I have no complaints about the quality of Malabika Mitra’s s disciples doing nritta or a Bindadin thumri or Bhopali as Lakshya geet portraying viraha vedana or cosmic tranquillity. But the entire presentation resembled the usual solo Kathak rendered by a multitude of dancers. Each dancer in a different costume made for too much mismatched colour on stage.

GKCM Odissi Research Centre took us back to the days of yore with its dance drama “Aranga Ranga” with inputs from Nabakishore Misra helping choreographer Durgacharan Ranbir with Ramahari’s music. The dancing was disciplined and very neat, male dancers particularly finished. Blending the champu of Kabisurya Baladev Rath and Kalicharan Patnaik’s lyrics in the usual Radha/ Krishna/Lalitha triangle, the dance evoked nostalgic memories of the old Ras-Lila. A very big musical team combined effectively with no loss of cues.

Anita Sharma’s Abhinaya Dance Academy proved its worth once again with a commendably organised performance of Surya Vandana and Gosha keertana, followed by Govind Lila in ragas Goi, Kamod and Malita showing Krishna pranks, and a pure dance Chali Nach followed by a fine Uma/Rudra Samavad with an anguished and enraged Shiva calmed by Vishnu after Uma’s self-immolation. Aesthetic costumes, excellent synchronisation and neat technique spoke volumes.