Navtej Johar stole the show at the release of the journal Attendance”, while elsewhere, valiant dancing wasn’t enough to depict Yashodhara’s predicament
In an era when ever burgeoning events of classical dance are attracting less and less public interest, to have kept a dance magazine afloat for 15 years is in itself an achievement — a point duly noted during the evening at New Delhi’s India Habitat Centre presided over by Shanta Serbjeet Singh, with the latest edition of “Attendance” released by Karan Singh.
The dance programme following the release featured dancers presenting brief recitals in three classical traditions. The evening belonged to Navtej Singh Johar, whose Bharatanatyam presentation of “Meenakshi me mudam dehi” in the raga Purvikalyani, in an intense portrayal of the fish-eyed Goddess, the “Malayadhwaja Pandya Raja Tanaye” (princess, daughter of the Pandya King), transcended all gender considerations of dancer normally influencing the viewer. Here was a male body which identified totally with the thematic images — of the Goddess of Madhurapuri, who is the embodiment of Nature’s greenery and who is omnipotent in every movement, who sustains continuity and who is the playful consort of the mighty Shiva.
Navtej successfully erased his personal identity in the dance, in a totally involved recital. The excellently recorded tape had the sur-filled melodious voice of G. Elangovan’s mood resonant singing, that combined simplicity with classicism and clarity of diction. The simple teermanam passages were neat in line (excepting the hand stretch backwards in a straight line which remained half finished) and executed with crisp tala exactitude.
While applauding Navtej’s rendition of this varnam, one would like to see the dancer add to his varnam repertoire, which seems to have got stuck with this one item.
A finished dancer with sensitive abhinaya ability, Ambika Paniker’s no-longer-reed-slim waist tends to iron out the delicate torso and waist deflections of Odissi. The dance loses some of its curvilinear grace. The sabhinaya pallavi rendered to the Odiya song in raga Aravi (Arabhi) “Ajashri Goshtachandrama”, one of the very old items choreographed by her guru Mayadhar Raut, was, however, full of expressional nuances in the portrayal of the “Ki Sundara” Krishna “kebe mo dekhi nahi” (the beautiful Krishna, such as never seen before) and the mother/child glimpses were full of vatsalya rasa. The tape revived old memories while listening to Bankim Sethi’s music sung by Himamshu Joshi with Jitendrasai on the mardal.
Aditi Mangaldas’ Kathak presentation entitled “Immersed”, as is her wont, harnessed classical dance units to visualise her own response to the idea of Krishna who is “Achala, Aniruddha, Yogeswara, Yashoda Nandan, Ananta, Chakradhari, Keshava, Gopinath, Madana Shyama, Parabhrama”, and much more. What distracted me was the costume (which in Aditi’s case is usually very tasteful) — the peacock blue pants with a veil somehow seeming totally mismatched in maryada, if one may use the word in the absence of any other.
But Aditi’s Kathak was full of verve and sparkle. The slow postures symbolising Krishna in the thaat mode, one felt, could have been stretched a little more. Both the Kaliya-daman and the Govardhana-giri-dhari episodes she knit into the piece were rendered with gusto. The live singer’s diction left much to be desired – and one was all the time trying to catch the sahitya which was muffled. The ‘Dha Taka Thunga’ woven in and all known dance phrases utilised in a new context were electric in appeal.
Altogether a well planned evening!
Supported by a grant from the Department of Culture, Government of India, Ganesa Natyalaya presented at the Kamani Auditorium a dance drama “Yashodhara”, choreographed and directed by Guru Saroja Vaidyanathan. In the attempt to tell a story, the dance narrative, for this critic, killed the ambiance of the theme woven round Yashodhara the forlorn wife of Prince Siddharta, deserted for no fault of hers by her royal husband, who later became the great Buddha. In terms of a costume drama, with glamour and well rehearsed and coordinated dancing by the students of Ganesa Natyalaya, the production may well have its appreciation from the general audience. But one was disappointed that the real character of Yashodhara, (rendered by the very talented Dakshina Vaidyanathan) left to pine in loneliness, who as the sole parent brings up her little son, only to find herself totally mesmerised by the philosophy preached by her husband, encountered after years as the Enlightened One, should have been differently visualised. In the usual light-hearted scenes with her sakhis, very déjà vu, the seriousness was lost sight of.
Also, the virtuosity of teermanams and group arrangements, which had little to do with the context of the theme, brought in a very contrived look. One may have music with classical ragas like Hamsanandi, Kadanakutoohalam, Sindhu Bhairavi, Revati or even Punnagavarali or whatever, but in the manner of rendition and the very loud orchestration, the Tamil lyrics missed their classical weight.
The entire effort, seemingly on a rollercoaster ride, lacked the silences, the quiet reflective moments on the deep mysteries of life’s suffering, to understand which Siddhartha had left all his royal trappings and disappeared. I must applaud Saroja’s sporting enterprise in donning the role of Shuddhodhana, the father of Siddharta. She started off well, but her abhinaya expressing sorrow (“Va va va enru azhaittum varaadirunda…”) at not having seen the son who has disappeared, was drowned in a backdrop of dancers in formations, plunging into sudden nritta patterns.