A peek at the recent performances of the SNA awardees 2013 in New Delhi.

The dance segment of the festival at New Delhi’s Meghdoot theatre featuring the Sangeet Natak Akademi awardees for 2013, with a good daily turnout, started with a lecture demonstration on ‘Research and Rejuvenation’ of Mohini Attam’ by Kanak Rele, who has been conferred a fellowship. Following a special prayer on Ganapati in Natakuranji, the dancer/scholar deliberated on her journey into Mohini-attam, spurred by a modest Ford Foundation grant and an interested helper in Kerala’s Balakrishna Kurup.

Substantiating mention of her search for and encounter with old practitioners, Kanak screened her ancient films of the then old and frail Chinnammu Amma and Kunjukutty Amma, demonstrating aspects of Mohiniattam. Kanak’s entry was after the first phase of Mohiniattam training initiated by Vallathol at Kalamandalam, which functioned with some difficulty due to non-availability of trained teachers. Nevertheless, there were disciples from non-traditional backgrounds, trained under Krishna Panicker — like Kalyanikutty Amma who, by 1958, was teaching disciples at her school in Tripunithura — and Shanta Rao through her performances was acquiring fame for her Mohiniattam magic. What Kanak Rele’s later research accomplished was to codify the dance, her theory defining the lasya circular geometry of the body in Mohiniattam through what she termed ‘Volution’ and ‘Revolution’. Her later association with Kavalam Narayana Panikkar opened her eyes to the shared sensibilities of Kerala’s Sopanam music with Mohiniattam. Rele’s students Saji Menon and Kadambari Khase acquitted themselves creditably in the demonstrated snippets, like a special jati from ‘Varsha’ conveying through nritta the message of the pitter-patter of rain and glimpses of works like “Madhumasa” and “Jeeva”, influenced by Sanskrit and Prakrit poetry. Kanak herself danced a part of Kubja, her work based on Sitakant Mohapatra’s poetry.

Rajashree Shirke — initially Kathak-trained under D.S. Satamkar and then Madhurita Sarang — in her assertive Kathak solo, presented the intra-forms sans any tatkar, improvisatory footwork virtuosity. She instead presented her patented Kathakar style of powerful theatrical presentation, blending Kathak movement with dramatic dialogue and narration in “Gandhari Aavedan”, conveying the agonised mind of a woman / mother Gandhari, whose blessings to her first son Duryodhana seeking her good wishes just before embarking on the Kurukshetra war, cannot be anything more than “May Dharma win”. She cannot wipe out from the mind’s eye, scenes of Draupadi’s humiliation through her sons.

Led by Rajashree’s son Aniruddha Shirke on the tabla and pakhawaj, the musical accompaniment in Natya Sangeet style had the competent Manoj Desai’s vocal with Mohammad Khan and Kiran Kumar accompanying on the sarangi and flute respectively.

One of the festival highlights was Kalamandalam MPS Namboodiri’s enactment of the taadi role of Hanuman in “Lavanasuravadham”. Sent on a mission by Rama to discover the whereabouts of his Ashwamedha horse, Hanuman encounters Lava and Kusha. Recognising them as the twin sons of Rama, he allows himself to be captured and taken to the hermitage where Sita lived, bringing up her twin sons. The emotional Sita/Hanuman encounter with an overwhelmed Hanuman prostrating “Sukhamo Devi” brought tears to many eyes. The entire Kathakali dialogue portraying Sita’s query on how Rama’s Aswamedha Yagna could be performed in the absence of the wife, and Hanuman’s answer of how Sita was represented by an impeccably sculpted statue of her beside Rama near the yagna kund, made for very powerful theatre, conveyed with the unique majesty of Kathakali. The singing by Kottakkala Jayant and Kalamandalam Manikandan in Madhyamavati and then the Punnagavarali with Reetigowla making a short appearance, and other ragas added so much to the narrative along with compulsive percussion of Kalamandalam Unnikrishnan and Cheruttazham Kunhirama Marar on chenda and Parassinikadavu Manoj on the maddalam. Enacting Kusa and Lava were a spirited Thiruvattar Jagadeesan with Kalamandalam Amaljith, with Sita (stree vesham) sensitively portrayed by Kalamandalam Anilkumar.

Another delicate evening comprised Bharatanatyam by Jamuna Krishnan and her daughter /disciple Ragini Krishnan. Jamuna’s choreography of the “Hari Hara’’ invocation set to Bowli raga, performed evocatively by Ragini, brought out the Shiva/Vishnu contrasts through some unusual imagery, with even the jati through abstract movement visualising the iconographic contrasts.

Jamuna performed to two interpretative lyrics based on the poetry of Sur and Vidyapati respectively. “Tuwa mukha dekhi darata Sashi Bhai” (One look at your beautiful face, totally eclipsing the moon’s beauty) and “the moon ran away”, says mother Yashoda, pleading helplessness when child Krishna wants to hold the moon. Apart from the minimalism (in her guru Kalanidhi Narayanan’s style) which spoke so eloquently, the abhinaya was enhanced by Jamuna’s own music, which by tweaking Mohanam sung in the Madhyama sruti, became a raga outside the classically mentioned repertoire, but sounding delightful — and well sung (except for Sashi being pronounced as Sasi) by K. Venketeswaran. Vidyapati’s poetry showed the sakhi describing to Radha the condition of Krishna pining in unrequited love. “One who lifted Mount Govardhan itself on his little finger is unable to stand the weight of the lightest of ‘kankanas’ round his wrist. Like the chataka bird eagerly awaits the monsoon, Krishna waits for you — Go quench his ardour”, entreats the sakhi. Again, clarity of interpretation with the Sindhubhairavi score, also Jamuna’s. One awaited another abhinaya piece from awardee Jamuna, instead of Ragini’s, albeit fine execution, of the Meera bhajan in Bageshri. Meera defying all norms of her aristocratic background ecstatically dances in joyous love for Krishna.

Typical Odissi music by Bankim Sethi began with his own lyric in Shudh Kamodi, in Tisra Triputa tala “Sakhi Shyam Bandhu mo Kunja kinaayile” describing the condition of the Nayika waiting the whole night for Shyam. Next was the Abhimani nayika based on Kalicharan Patnaik’s lyric in Vageswari set to Ektali “Nahi Nahi muja Kohili”, the remorseful heroine chiding herself at having turned Krishna away. Playing with improvised arrangements of shifting syllables in the line “koradhara kethemora rachile se chatu vira” was interesting. The Chandan Jatra song, a favourite of the Gotipua-s “Dekhogo” was excellent. So were the technical ‘chalan’ and ‘kriya rachana’ with changing ‘jaatis’. The ashtapadi in the restructured Gunakri raga 9 mentioned by Jayadeva in the text, set to Khemta tala, did not, for this critic, catch the poetry and mood of “Pashyati dishi dishi”

Thirty years ago, known for the internalised stillness of her Debaprasad style Odissi, Sangeeta Dash’s dance now, while still graceful and correct, in the years of working away from Odissi stalwarts in the quiet of Puducherry, seems to have acquired a more externalised quality, which needs more animation to make a stronger impression on the audience. Starting with the episode of the devas and asuras churning the ocean for the elixir of immortality, the narrative portrayed the incident leading to Chandra being pursued by Rahu for disclosing the stealthy attempt at trying to partake of the churned-out ambrosia, ultimately finding protection in Shiva’s locks. Natangi “Na jiba khanja Nayana” with the friend flattering Radha, dissuading her from joining Krishna, had a folksy exuberance. The best of the recital, with the Sangeeta that one remembers, came in the abhinaya of her guru’s old choreography in the ashtapadi “Pashyati Dishi Dishi”.

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