Performances at the recent IIC festival in New Delhi focused on the theme of the forest.

With the annual weeklong IIC Experience in New Delhi celebrating the theme of the forest, its integrated approach featuring folk songs and dances, classical arts, jungle stories for children, films, exhibitions, and even food, pertained to flora, fauna and culture, focusing on how forests have nurtured and sustained animal and organic life on this planet and fashioned lifestyles.

Aranyani presented by the Tiruvanmayur Kalakshetra troupe gave glimpses of late Rukmini Devi's creativity, fired by Valmiki's Ramayana muse, and the great Mysore Vasudevachariyar's music — the six-part Ramayana being her magnum opus production. The first scene pertained to young Rama and Lakshmana being introduced to the scenic magnificence of the forest by sage Viswamitra, visualising life round the Pampa Sarovar with Chakravaka, Karounch and Sarasa cranes and humming bees drunk on honey from tree blossoms. Amazing how mimetic gestures sufficed to build up in the audience mind's eye the entire forest.

The next part was from Rama's banishment period, when the brothers with Sita cross the Ganga in a boat. The simplicity in Rukmini Devi's choreography, visualising mighty mountains and rivers, stood out, with the human touches like Rama applying henna on Sita's hands and decorating her hair with forest flowers or caringly tending to Lakshmana's hair underlining the tender Rama/Sita relationship and sibling love. Heightened rhythmic Kinnara dance, the panchapsaras, and the Kuchi dance scene counterpointed the Chitakuta serenity. The stylised perfection of the dance was of a piece with the music (on tape) highlighting the word clarity along with classical melody, and the way the individual instruments used at varying points evoked special emotional throb. And what resonant mridangam clarity!

Tonally different, the second part comprised a scene from Kannappar Kuravanji — the Devaratti's (soothsayer's) prediction about Thinappar the son of Nagarajan the tribal king soon being crowned King, being in accordance with the Chief's plans. After the coronation formalities, Thinappar ceremonially presented the sword by Nagarajan, sets off on his maiden hunt. The folksy ditties in the score by Papanasam Sivan (composed as early as 1962) have a different ring. In a uniformly proficient dancer group, making a deep impression with their versatility were P.T. Narendran switching from Rama to Nagaraja in the second part, and Haripadman who after the benignly authoritative Viswamitra, takes on the role of Thinappar

Out of the ordinary

Sitaparityagam in the solo Koodiyattam female Nangyar Kootu mode by Kapila Venu, provided the festival's most intense moments, the tension in the packed auditorium evoked by Kapila's performance palpable, even being a first exposure to this tradition for many. Stricken at being banished a second time, now by Rama himself, Kapila as Sita, in the trembling Koodiyattam sing-song narration, tauntingly addressing Lakshmana doubts his brother's education or royal lineage when he could thus discard a loyal wife whose purity even fire could not burn. Kapila's entire performance held each moment in the narrative with an empowered focus, the hallmark of Koodiyattam expertise.

Restricted to space of a small stooltop, or tiny spot on stage, the Koodiyattam/Nangyar Kootu performer, with unwavering concentration, explores inner spaces while conjuring up images of outside spaces of vast forests and high mountains. Moving in total consonance with this intense journey are the mizhavu copper drum players seated at the back of the performer. Here, the drumming of Kalamandalam Rajeev, Kalamandalam Hariharan and Kalanilayam Unnikrishnan evoked emotional shades from trembling anger to the most delicate quietude.

Kapila in seamless smoothness changed from Rama one moment to Sita the next, from the twin princes Lava and Kusha to the hermit Valmiki. The concluding moments climaxed to exceptional heights portraying Rama's utter consternation at losing Sita forever. Joyfully united with his sons, when Rama mentions his desire to take back Sita after another fire purification ordeal, Sita appealing to Mother Earth disappears forever into her bowels. Pleading and then demanding that Bhumi Devi return his lawfully wedded wife to him, Rama finally in utter defeat bows to the inevitable.

The curtain came down on the event with Nata Sankirtan and Kunj Ras, both still ritually performed at Sri Govindji temple and enmeshed with the aesthetics and religious devotion of the Manipuris. On the all-white, artistically appointed stage with Thakan hanging and floral arches, clad in snow white dhoti and turban were the Sankirtan performers. The Jayadhwani by Chief Mapu, Mridanga Rag, Haribol, salutations to Chaitanya Mahaprabhu were followed by the Cholam on pung and khartal with the constant ebb and flow of movements rising to a crescendo and then descending to calm, interweaving force with lyrical grace and restraint with totally abandoned devotion. Then came the delightful colour and spirituality of Kunj Ras with throb in the singing by the Rasdhari and Sutradhari Ng. Ranjit Singh and H. Indu Devi with Meghachandran's melodious flute. Krishna Abhisar, (Goutamani Devi) Radha Abhisar (G. Chandra Devi), Krishna Nartan and Radha Nartan and the final Milan with the symbolic significance of the geometry of the circle formation and weaving of concentric circles in movement, a visual and devotional treat.

Other events were the colourful Myanmar dances, the Bonbini Pala (The lady of the Forest) from the villages of Sunderbans where tiger and man in conflict still see the people propitiating Dakshin Roy the spirit of the man-eating tiger, Milarepa the Hunter from Bhutan, Thinai Isai or music of the landscape in the Carnatic style and Bishnoi bhajans by Lakha Khan Manganiyar.