Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra’s production “Abhimanyu”, despite a well-chosen cast, fell short when it came to scene visualisation and sound
As in most dance drama traditions in India, Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra’s corpus of ballet productions has relied largely on myth and history as sources of ideal fodder for themes. While their Ramlila ballet has been the evergreen annual perennial, productions like “Karna” and “Meera” through their sensitive designing have earned a large number of fans. The Mahabharata, more than the idealistic Ramayana, exemplifies in its human situations the eternal human being represented in mixed shades — neither black nor white. The predicament of Karna, of Draupadi and of a myriad characters are typical of what life is all about even today. The human drama as played out in this epic acquires different dimensions according to the conceiver of each artistic expression built round these incidents.
Abhimanyu’s tragedy, at first glance, seems ideal material for the Chhau dance idiom. Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra’s “Abhimanyu”, presented at the Kamani auditorium in New Delhi as one of the suite of ballet productions during its festival of ballets, is a revival of the earliest work choreographed by Shashidharan Nair. Without being judgemental, it aims at narrating the events leading to the tragic end of Abhimanyu — a youngster in his prime, quartered to death on the battlefield by a whole tribe of Kaurava kin, with no help emerging from any of the Pandava elders, as promised.
Unlike other ballet productions of the institution, one found the sound tape playing tricks — too soft or too loud, with Manohar Singh’s voice not as clear as the other recordings. Whether the fault lay in the sound system or tape was difficult to say. The music by Barun Gupta, another veteran, had an uneven flow. Just the drums, particularly the Chhau dhumsa, could have been used to much greater effect, one felt. In various scenes, the Krishna-Duryodhana interaction before the Kurukshetra war, Draupadi’s pleading that without war her humiliation at the Kaurava court would go unavenged, the premonition of tragedy that Uttara, Abhimanyu’s wife, has, and the fine carriage built for the young warrior before he sets off to battle, were satisfactorily brought out.
While the group symmetry was not in question, some of the scenes needed reworking. The most disappointing aspect for this critic was the Chakravyuha scene itself. To conceive of a battle formation in which Abhimanyu is trapped, unable to find a way out, is not easy to visualise through dance movement. What is even more challenging is that Abhimanyu should be visible amidst this web-like formation, fighting in futile fashion to find a way out. But this is a point on which more choreographic insights are needed. What emerged as a plain circle was too simplistic, and the main thrust of the plot got diluted. Also, the earlier scene where Subhadra is being told about the strategy of penetrating the Chakravyuha battle formation (also heard by the child in her womb), with her falling asleep before the escape part is related, was not clear enough, even while it was shown at two levels — one with Arjuna and Subhadra, and the other as the actual act. More clever lighting could have enhanced the feel of the child in the womb acquiring half knowledge before birth. Similarly Abhimanyu’s ascent to a celestial world could have harnessed more gimmicks of lighting, with blurred images and smoke whirls giving a feel of a force entering another world, rather than a direct approach of a fully visible character moving. Clearly, for this critic, the work has to evolve to acquire more conviction.
The main characters were chosen suitably. Costumes were tasteful. Abhimanyu (Ram Hari), with the looks of a pretty female, emphasised the telling point of a very tender, young prince sacrificed in the cause of war — always a costly venture with no gains barring pain.