Twenty-nine years ago, late Odissi guru Gangadhar Pradhan envisioned an annual dance and music festival at Konark, named it the Konark Dance and Music Festival and called the open-air stage Konark Natya Mandap referring to the marvel of the natya mandap of the Sun temple at Konark that has sculptures of dancers and musicians.
The founder of the festival dreamt of bringing back the frozen frames of the stone sculptures into life through the festival that sought to celebrate the beauty of the arts besides making the tiny town an annual pilgrimage for connoisseurs.
The recently-concluded 29th edition of the festival spread over five evenings at Konark Natya Mandap attracted connoisseurs from far and wide.
This year’s festival featured the three prominent music traditions of India — Carnatic, Hindustani and Odissi — along with four Indian classical dance styles — Odissi, Bharatanatyam, Kathak and Kuchipudi — besides folk dances of Haryana and Odisha that included the enchanting Sambalpuri and the acrobatic Gotipua dances.
Notes from the saxophone
The music segment was the highlight, featuring both stalwarts and young artistes. Kadri Gopalnath samratwas the star attraction of the festival. His concert that contained rendition of ragas Hamsadhwani, Hindol, a Swathi Thirunal composition and the tunes of popular Meera bhajan Bhajoremana, and he struck a rapport with the audience. Even the villagers sans any exposure to classical music listened to him with rapt attention. Accompanying musicians on violin, mridangam, tabla and morsing complemented the saxophone.
Chennai-based Carnatic violinists-brothers duo Ganesh and Kumaresh lived up to their reputation as duet instrumentalists. Never during their concert did one attempt to dominate the other. Their hallmark was their restrained display of the technique — grammar and more exploration of the bhava (sentiments) in their rendering of notes.
Mardal, the indigenous percussion instrument of Odisha and the integral part of Odissi dance recital, got a platform as a solo instrument at Konark Dance and Music Festival in 1987 where festival founder Guru Gangadhar had presented it through master percussionists and rhythm composers Dhaneswar Swain and Sachidananda Das. The two exponents presented an astounding duet concert as a tribute to the late Odissi dance exponent who was also a veteran mardal player.
Similarly, Odissi vocalists and sisters Sangita Panda and Sarita Panda — both daughters and disciples of eminent Odissi musician Gopal Chandra Panda — also performed a duet concert as a tribute to the late festival founder who had introduced them as budding artistes in the festival. Guru Gangadhar’s son-in-law Rabi Sankar Pradhan, a senior sitar artiste with the All India Radio, Cuttack, presented a soothing solo concert showcasing raag Yaman Kalyan.
While Odissi and Bharatanatyam impressed, Kathak and Kuchipudi disappointed. Bhubaneswar-based Bichitrananda Swain, the disciple of Guru Gangadhar, opened the festival with his famed Rudrakshya Odissi ensemble. Known for his path-breaking compositions with male dancers, Surya Stutee and Tala-Madhurya featuring male dancers were a treat for the eyes and the ears. Chandrika Kamodi pallabi, Guru Bichitrananda’s unique piece of choreography stood out for its geometrical formations, exploring the stage-space in every possible direction.
Similarly, Chennai-based Bharatanatyam Guru Sheela Unnikrishnan’s troupe of well-trained teenagers put up a series of spectacular visual treats with their yogic postures and stunning group formations. The seven dancers often looked one — such was their symmetry and harmony.
Although Mumbai-based Kathak dancer Seema Mehta and Hyderabad-based Kuchipudi exponent Alekhya Punjala led their respective troupes, their presentations were more revolved round themselves as soloists that marred the beauty of group presentations.
While choreographer Alekhya Punjala excelled in her expressional dance and emotive background voiceover as the leading lady in her latest production Nayika that has moved away from the traditional repertoire of Kuchipudi adding freshness, her attempt to do the background narration herself after completing each scene, broke the thread of the flow. There was complete silence and darkness on stage in between two scenes of the production that delineated the moods of love and longing of the nayika in different seasons that often appeared like the end of the show and confused spectators.
Unlike their more privileged counterparts — the Indian classical dancers who receive better patronage and attention, the much marginalised folk dancers won over the audience with their dances of pristine beauty, joy and spontaneity.
Legendary dancer and actress Vyjayantamala Bali was conferred the Guru Gangadhar Pradhan memorial lifetime achievement award of the year during the closing evening of the festival. Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, Ustad Zakir Hussian and Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia were the past recipients of the award instituted in memory of Guru Gangadhar who passed away four years ago.