After a weak start the Konark festival picked up with some feisty performances.

The festive air notwithstanding, with Chinese lanterns hanging from trees, delicately illuminated bush fences, and resplendent rangoli patterns decorating the road leading to the open-air theatre, the Konark festival began on a disappointing note with a mismatched Odissi duet by Purnashree Raut and Lucky Prajna Mohanty. Lucky’s prowess with Purnashree’s less finished movements made for an uneven Ardhanariswar curtain-raiser. The choreography, drawing on the composition of late Kelucharan Mohapatra, failed to live up to the Shiva/Shakti complementing contrasts of tandav and lasya energies. Purnashree’s casual sauntering to freeze on a higher level of the stage for the “Jagatjanani” segment looked contrived. Salabeg’s “Ahe neela sailo”, visualised for a group, framed within the aggressive visual impact of 20 dancers, diffused the actual episodes of Jagannath saving Gajendra and Draupadi, concluding with a convincing Narasimha avatar thanks to Lucky. The Ramayana Prasang had moments like Rama breaking the bow and an impactful fleeting Janak’s role. But Purnashree as Sita lacked mukhabhinaya. Deliberately positioned group arrangements in Lucky’s choreography should evolve during the dance flow. Uninspired to start with, the musical effort picked up with singers Sashikant and Sangeeta Goswain. Purnashree’s enthusiasm for spreading Odissi in schools cannot overlook improving her own dance. And why the weighed-down look with over ornate costuming, hairdo and ornaments?

Retrieving sunken spirits of viewers, though many had unfortunately left, was the brilliant Bharatanatyam recital of chiselled finish by dancers of Chennai’s Bharatanjali under Anita Guha. Nobody could have realized the ordeal of the troupe – having to don their costumes and regalia in a moving train running and travelling by road from Khurda Road station to Konark to take the stage in one motion for the recital, sans any rehearsal on the large performance area. Immaculate group spacing, co-ordination, and beautifully profiled central Ardhamandali stance, involved half a dozen performers including a lone male dancer, losing themselves in the dance, exuding an aura, permeating the large space. After a fitting start for Konark with Suryashtakam in Bowli (music by Neyveli Santanagopalan), Swati Tirunal’s “Bhavayami Raghu Ramam” followed as the varnam by the group performing without a cue missed. Following a crisp navarasa slokam, the Ramayana episodes unfolded, spirited Jatis linking the Saveri, Natakuranji, Dhanyasi, Mohanam, Mukhari, Poorvikalyani and Madhyamavati narrative sequences, with unimpeded flow in dance narrative. Each dancer donning a role for a fleeting moment gave it all the person had. Subtle aesthetics in dance treatment, with Rama’s role carried with dignity by Pavitra Bhatt the male dancer, scenes like Sita’s abduction, the breaking of the bow, exchange with the boatman Guha, the fleeting Setubandha scene with three dancers at the rear comprising the monkey sena with Rama, Sita and Lakshmana crossing the bridge in a line, emerged as flawless sequences - simplicity creating the impact. The Kapi Tillana provided a racy finale to an inspired programme with excellent music led by Anita Guha’s nattuvangam.

How wise to couple Kathakali (being a first exposure to most of the audience) with Mohiniattam in “Radha Madhavam”! Guru Sadanam Balakrishnan’s script and concept with choreography, with Pallavi Krishnan contributing the Mohiniattam part, rendered to music composed by Palakkad Suryanarayanan with intensely involved singing by Kalamandalam Jayaprakash who caught all shades of emotion with his vocal chords, made this recital an experience, keeping the audience totally immersed in the performance. Ragas like Nattai, Bhairavi, Todi, Kalyani, Vasanta, Kamas, Revati and Madhyamavati created the ambience for Radha’s pining and final union with Krishna – the internalized abhinaya of both main performers taking to an abstract level the Radha/Krishna union, transcending the physical plane.

Rudraksha’s Odissi offer with a well trained group of dancers started with Mangalacharan, the stuti part paying homage to Krishna “Bhaje Brajeika Mandanam”. The climax was the rhythmic masterpiece of teacher Bichitrananda Swain, Tala Madhurya, created on a foundation of Mardal ‘arasa-s’ composed by Dhaneswar Swain (who conducted the recital) and instrumental music playing a repetitive melodic refrain - the Champu “Banchibo kehi re.” Rhythmic exactitude with impeccable technique of the all-male group created scintillating moments. But after this oft rendered work, it is time Bichitrananda created more such challenging compositions. The ashtapadi “Samuditamadana” portraying Radha as virahotkanthita, played out at two levels. Solitary Radha suffering pangs of loneliness performed close to the audience, while her mind playing tricks of Krishna romancing with another was enacted on a higher level by a male and female duo. The lighting for simultaneous Doordarshan broadcast, cut out all mood effects with the over-bright hinterland exaggerating the imaginative workings of Radha’s mind blurring Radha’s presence. The ending based on Adi Shankara’s Nirvanam verses with the transcendent “Sivoham” chant, evoking quietude, and a mood of beatitude, lost out with a group of too-busy dancers with nritta sequences woven in.

Kolkata’s Shinjan Nrityalaya led by Aloka Kanungo provided a blend of Gotipua bandha with Odissi dance. In creating visual aesthetics by designing unique combinations of simultaneity in action, with dancers tastefully attired in matching colour combinations, with rural and classical traditions of dance interacting, even as each creates its own space, dancer Aloka is very imaginative. More rehearsals would have enhanced the co-ordination. The Prabandha Geet Dasavatar in Odiya poetry in the Chhanda style was one of the unique items – for, with Gitagovinda version using Odiya literature as base, after Panjakcharan’s Glanisamhar, seems out of vogue. Aloka made her presence felt in solo interventions.

The Manipuri presentation under Guru Singhajit Singh and Charu Sija Mathur, after the Raslila Vasant Ras with the breathtaking costumes and grace, captured the audience with a truncated version of Pung Cholom, under Sailesh Singh and Inaocha Singh, the Pung experts. Sringar Bhakti saw Radha in various Nayaki manifestations with Charu Sija Mathur as Radha and the troupe as Gopis with a lyrical dancer as Krishna. Nagar Keertan choreographed by Guru Singhajit Singh captured the Chaitanya aura when Harinam was spread with devotees in a procession singing and dancing, chanting the name of the Lord. Using the Manipuri Khartal and other Choloms, patterns of rhythm were aesthetically evoked within the circular formation of the dance.

Alekhya Punjala’s group became more solo group, with dancers performing glued to their positions, flanking Alekhya in the centre. Alekhya’s monotonic grace needs more spicing with the vitality and spark of Kuchipudi nritta, so much part of its identity. The recital ‘Trishakti’ paid homage to Saraswati, Parvati and Lakshmi through compositions of Swati Tirunal (Kalavati), NCH Krishnamacharyalu (Vasanta), and Kakaturi Padmavati’ (raga Lalitha). The finale was an ode to Maheswari Mahakali in Misra-Sivaranjani. Preferring frozen stances to movement covering stage space, and sticking to the topmost level of the performance arena distanced the dancers not helping communication. The singer K. Chandra Rao was excellent.

Ileana Citaristi’s Art vision in the movement visualisation for the Shivashtakam mangalacharan, called for the tribhangi and the chauka articulated as strong Odissi statements. “Kaala”, Ileana’s painstaking production with evocative music composition by Annada Prasanna Patnaik (who was the flautist too), rhythmic inputs by Sachidananda and text by Devdas Chotrai (live music here was a challenge) perceives Time in varying manifestations. Though performers were well rehearsed, the excessively abstract theme and dance language posed communication hurdles. Circular time symbolised in the song “Ritu ase ritu jaye” evoked nostalgia and the male dancer as Time the destroyer (Kaala Chakra) was impressive. The swan by the celestial lake, a metaphor for timelessness, came before a rather abrupt ending.

“Piroye Moti” the Kathak presentation designed by Rani Karnaa for her Kolkata institution Sanskriti Shreyaskar, wove vintage selections of Lucknow and Jaipur gharanas of Kathak into an artistic garland. The Dhrupad invocation in Malkauns and Chau tala, “Poojan chali Parvati” portraying ‘mriganayani’ and ‘chandravadani’ setting off to offer prayer to Shiva, was followed by “Neelakantha Mahadev” (composed by late S.K. Saxena) in Jhap tala. Scintillating pearls of Jaipur gharana nritta bandishes saw elegant, finished performers, all with flowing grace and a presence, with varied tala patterns in 10,12, 11and 16 matras and many ragas, with parans, tihais, lamchand paran, kavit, trivat, ginti bandishes and graceful anchal gat touches in the Raas samyoga — compositions of Narayan Prasad, and Sunder Prasad. The finale of tarana in an ‘aprachalit’ tala arithmetic was by S.K. Saxena. From tasteful costuming to the way dancers in twos and threes entered and made their exit and the fine classical music, the recital spoke of aesthetic sensitivity.