Guru Dhananjayan’s novel ideas were presented by Gopukiran and Ashin Maria Mathew with vigour.
Irrelevant perhaps, but it was unclear who was giving ‘dakshina’ to whom that evening. With Shantha Dhananjayan guiding the orchestra and V.P. Dhananjayan steering ‘Guru Dakshina,’ the Bharatanatyam performance by Gopukiran Sadasivan (a disciple of the Dhananjayans) and Ashin Maria Mathew (Kalakshetra), with anecdotal introductions for each piece, the gurus gave generously of themselves. The reverse was true as well for the sishyas who offered the gurus’ favourite pieces. ‘Guru Dakshina’ was presented by Bharata kalanjali, Chennai, Bharathakala and Third Eye Dancers, USA.
More relevant was the fact that most of the compositions were Guru Dhananjayan’s. The dancers commenced with a brisk ‘Vishwashareera’ (Gambhiranattai, Adi) on Ganesha, with neat alternating passages of nritta and sahitya. The same madhyama kala pace was continued into the opening jathi sequence of the Thodi Nrittaswaravalli (jatiswaram) in Adi, composed by Guru Dhananjayan, with the vigorous swara passages embellished with fast-changing gati bedams.
As Guru Dhananjayan likes to do things differently, he composed a sabdam on Ganesha, a piece traditionally dedicated to Krishna, (tuned by Rajasekharan) in ragamalika, misra chapu, inspired by his son’s question on dancing about a baby elephant. The manipravalam lyrics in praise of Ishwara and Ganesha, were a standout.
By the guru’s admission, they shot to fame with the Atana raga, Adi tala Nrityopaharam (padavarnam), ‘Ninne Nera Namminaanura,’ composed by Thuraiyur Rajagopala Sharma of Kalakshetra. This devotional piece on Krishna was choreographed with a twist in which the charana swaras instead of going by the usual abstract adavu composition, used 'kais' - gestural language to introduce the story in the sahitya that was to follow, providing a new continuity in the piece.
Brought up as he was around the artistic brilliance of Rukmini Devi of Kalakshetra, Guru Dhananjayan’s novel ideas must have been inspired by the artistic environment. It comes as no surprise that Rukmini Devi herself incorporated expressions to swaras in one of her Ramayana dance dramas, if not elsewhere. Coincidentally, both the Ataana varnam and Choodamani Pradhanam were choreographed in 1968!Well rehearsed
Though there is a noticeable gap in maturity, Gopukiran and Ashin combined their energies well. While they were well-rehearsed and ‘word-perfect,’ their nritta suffered individually. Gopukiran’s bulk was not a pleasant sight, but because he is such a bright, talented dancer, he could get away with it. His nritta though moderately agile even now, is heavier and more laboured. Ashin, on the other hand, is a confident dancer with a pleasing presence. What let her down was the front knee-bend, a fall-out of improper araimandi. The shortfall in nritta is the more serious because the duo had the luxury of alternating jathis during the performance.
Gopukiran has clearly inherited his guru’s flair for the dramatic. We could see it even in short sancharis like the mango fruit-competition in the sabdam or the Gajendra Moksha and the effect of venu-gana in the varnam. Anxious about her husband’s delayed arrival, the despairing virahotkhandita nayika imagines the dangers that might have befallen him on the way in a karuna-rasa inducing Neelambari padam, ‘Yennu Varum En Kaanthan’ (misra chapu, Dhananjayan). Ashin’s deep involvement with the sthayi bhava of shoka (sorrow) was one of her best performances that evening. She was able to sustain the intensity bringing in emotions of fear for his safety and recollection of his loving words, after the initial scene-setting actions of putting her infant to sleep, running to the door hearing an imagined knock and breaking down when it proves to be a false alarm.
The final 20-minute ‘Radha Madhavam’ based on Jayadeva’s Gita Govinda was a mini dance-drama, wherein Radha’s anger in ‘Rajanijanita’ (Mohanam, Adi) and Krishna’s stirring plea for forgiveness in ‘Vadasi Yadi’ (Sindhubhairavi, khanda chapu), came through with conviction. The dancers needed to walk on egg-shells to retain the all-important art of suggestion that defines aesthetics in classical performance arts; this, they did. The little opera ended with a peppy nritta interlude set in Brindavani raga, Adi tala.
The music (T.G. Lingappa) contrasted beautifully - fire for the former and dew drops for the latter part; Rajesh (vocal) and Ramesh Babu (mridangam) raised and dropped their volume and pace accordingly, while Sunil Kumar (flute) and Rijesh (violin) contributed to the melody and mood throughout. Laxminarayan was on the tambura.
High standards suggest generous gurus and committed sishyas. The giving is two-way.