Anita Ratnam's performance focussed more on expression of 'madhura bhakti' in myriad and subtle ways.
The South Indian Cultural Association (Sica) began its annual art festival with dance this time around. When it is an Anita Ratnam presentation, you are bound to look for the unusual in the usual (dance idiom point of view) scheme of things. ‘Neelam' provides food for thought. There are singularly unique ingredients but the basis of the theme is religious or rather sectarian though the underlying philosophy was emphasised time and again less through dance and more through prefacing by Revathy Sankaran. In a way, Anita went in search of her roots from where evolved the all-enveloping concept of love in its pristine form.
The title itself had to be elucidated or it was very difficult to relate it to the theme. The essence of Vaishnavism is that God is embedded in two entities, namely, jeevatma (soul on earth) and paramatma (divine soul) which finally are set to merge into one whole in life's spiritual odyssey. ‘Neelam' depicts the deep blue hue that is often descriptive of Vishnu/Rama/Krishna, deities of the Vaishnava pantheon. It has alluring connotations at various levels which is what Anita portrays in her dance.
One has to view Anita, the dancer-choreographer too in layers. Her presentations are neither for all and sundry; nor just for the connoisseur. All you need is to apply the creative part of your cerebrum, learn to derive and in the process experience and enjoy. In fact ‘Neelam' is not all that complex to defy easy comprehension. To make matters easy, she also chose crisp yet beautiful briefing by Revathy Sankaran, on each piece that was plaited into the theme. She brought together the great bhaktas of Vishnu spanning across the centuries and across the country too; Vaishnava modes of worship, symbolism through costume, props and stage management techniques and the element of dance, not in the rigid format but definitely within the classical framework. Despite compelling jatis, the footwork was essentially fundamental adavus in vilambit as the presentation demanded more abhinaya in dance format than nritta as such. There was no scope for vigorous dance either as focus was more on expression of ‘madhura bhakti' in myriad, subtle ways. And this, Anita executed with élan.
In the first two pieces Vaishnava saints were steeped in imagery bordering on the esoteric. The ritualistic worship in the Vishnu shrines, the devotees enchantment at the sight of the lord in palanquin, the chants with a few pashurams (verses) from Alwars was defined in the finest mime while the Andaal verses from Nachiyar Thirumolzi addressed directly to the ‘Panchajanyam' (Krsna's conch) was a piece of emotional excellence. The dancer sits on a low seat to the corner of the stage with brass temple lamps hung above her throwing light on her persona and depicts Andaal's envy towards an inanimate conch which is blessed with being closest to her beloved lord's lips. There is eroticism in the longing, there is innocence, there is a sense of wonder at the magnitude of the beloved and thousand other feelings flowing through this poetry. It needs an art-soaked mind to appreciate Anita's abhinaya at this juncture. The stage was as picturesque as the depiction.
From the Dravidian theology we moved over to Gita Govindam of Jayadeva. ‘Priye Charusheele…' in Vaasanthi brings out the yearning of lord Krsna for Radha in the mundane terms while in the metaphysical realm it denotes the longing of the universal soul for the earthly one. Though the concept is definitely Vaishnavite, the sudden transportation from a defined Dravidian theory where Radha has hardly a place in the scheme of things, to the Radha-Krsna cult, was like a geographical relocation.
The ‘Ksheerabdi kanyakaku…' of Annamacharya was a thoughtful interlace going by the audience and the place of performance. The refrain ‘ neerajanam' (aarati) was enacted in as varied a way as it occurred with each verse. Her virtuosity and versatility came to the fore in showing the aarati, not just by a few hastha mudras or abhinaya but with body kinetics which was superb. The most appreciated Dikshitar's kriti in Brindavana Saranga (Rangapura Vihaara…) should have preceded ‘Ksheerabdi….' technically-speaking.
The entire Ramayana narrated through mime and movement in a nutshell followed by a fleeting Dasavataara using a flower garland as a prop to illustrate the 10 avatars and finally the flow of the lyric itself was handled with finesse.
The absence of a live orchestra or percussion except ghatam in one particular piece was very evident though it did not in any way dent the presentation. The slightly odd costume at the beginning to symbolise the dichotomy of Vaishnava philosophy with a golden yellow hue did not gel in this religious thought as it would have in the ardhanaareswara tatwa. It was not an aesthetic choice either and the audience were relieved when she donned two bright hued skirts for the last two songs. Revathy Shankar stole the show with her histrionics and narrative skills though English would have been an ideal substitute to Tamil. The show was staged at Ravindra Bharati auditorium .