The low-key festival saw some dynamic performances.
‘Mohini Nrithyathi,’ a 30-day Mohiniyattom Mahotsavam organised by the Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Akademi across the world, came to Chennai between November 15 and 17. The festival held at Chandramandala-Spaces, Elliots Beach, was inaugurated by veteran dancer-teacher Sudharani Raghupathy. It was a low-key affair, with few takers. Very basic technical support was given to the dancers.
For Sunanda Nair, disciple of senior dancer-researcher Dr. Kanak Rele, and a teacher herself, a small window of 30-40 minutes was enough to prove her credentials as an exponent. An abridged version of Maharaja Swati Tirunal’s ‘Bhavayami Raghuramam’ commenced on a devotional note, with events from the epic following sequentially in the charanas. This is a long and wordy kriti that can be exhausting, but Sunanda kept the frames uncluttered by concentrating on key characterisations.
The dancer’s expressions were always on target; the brief Rama-Parasurama encounter in Balakanda, in which a scornful Parasurama challenges a dignified Rama to break his bow, the introduction of Jatayu, the crude and flirtatious Surpanakha in Aranya Kanda, and Ravana, who disguises himself as a sage in Kiskindha Kanda, were portrayed sensitively. Sita is overjoyed to see Rama, but her face falls when she sees the doubt on Rama’s face. That was perhaps Sunanda’s best portrayal that evening. It’s a pity one could not see more of her graceful nritta.
As a duo, the young, enthusiastic dancers Veena and Dhanya, who call themselves the Nair Sisters, have an inherent advantage. Their only challenge being co-ordination which they seem to be good at, they can fill a stage easily and double the dramatic effect of any situation. The dancers, disciples of veteran artist Kalamandalam Kshemavathy, with their glamorous gold-enhanced make-up, did just that. They have after all, a good sense of timing, a commanding presence and a deep well of expressions to draw from. The weakness, however, lay in their visualisation.
Their navarasa presentation in ragamalika-talamalika was an ode to Goddess Anandabhairavi, by K.C. Keshava Pillai, the post-Swati Tirunal lyricist from Kerala. While the nine dominant emotions came through accurately enough, the incidents culled from the Ramayana and the Mahabharatha required better artistic vision; Ravana’s kidnapping scene presenting bhayanaka and Draupadi taking a vow not to tie her hair up until Dushasana’s insulting behaviour was avenged to showcase Roudra, were the best parts.
The duo did show promise in the Siva stuthi tuned by musician-researcher Dr. Leela Omcherry, in Purvikalyani, Rajavidyadhara tala (8 counts), during the Ardhanariswara alankaara, when the dancers seated one behind the other used alternate hands to dress the male and female aspects of the divine entity. More of this innovative thought process will see the dancers move from performers to artists.
If the movements of Mohiniyattom are to represent the swaying palms and back waters of Kerala, then dancer Methil Devika’s graceful movements, from her supple torso to the delicate foot placements, captured all that is beautiful in ‘God’s Own Country.’ There is more, for, this stunning dancer, a former faculty member of Kerala Kalamandalam, is not just graceful but arrestingly dramatic as well.
Devika’s ragamalika Cholkettu composed by flautist Suryanarayanan included verses from Soundarya Lahiri describing the enchantress, Mohini, a female manifestation of Vishnu. The coquettish Mohini was followed by intense role-play in ‘Janma of Krishna’ taken from ancient Brahmaniamma paatu, sung in Bhagavati temples of Kerala. A pregnant Devaki feels uncomfortable before she gives birth to a beautiful baby boy on Ashtami. The new born gives his mother a darshan of his cosmic form, following which unusual events occur. Devika’s natural emoting style gave credence to the sequence of events in Mathura.
Gopika Varma’s 50-minute solo was powered by effective narratives concerning Ahalya, Sage Gautama’s wife, who was wrongly accused of adultery, and Draupadi. The pieces were commentaries on the mythological events, in which eminent authors such as Rabrindranath Tagore and Pratibha Rai spoke of the protagonists with empathy.
It is a good thing for Gopika that Mohiniyattom relies heavily on dramatic portrayals rather than pure dance, else her stiff torso would have come in the way. Theatrics is her strong point, and if one goes past the distracting pout of the lips, there is enough depth of feeling to move you.
Rabrindranath Tagore asks Ahalya, ‘When you were turned into a stone, were you able to feel the seasons change, the cold outside? And what about the inside? As a woman were you able to feel any emotions?’
Gopika enacted a Malayalam translation that brought out the circumstances behind Ahalya’s incarceration well, but left open the series of compassionate enquiries. The Kurukshetra battlefield was more intense with Kavalam Narayana Panicker’s translation capturing Draupadi’s victimisation and the irony of her situation in which she laments to Krishna that she has lost everything in that victory.
Gopika did not lose thread of the sthayi, the sadness and the helplessness of the situation, as she retraced the events in Draupadi’s life -- her marriage to Arjuna, Kunti’s diktat, the accidental laugh when Duryodhana slips and the insult she faces at the dice game. Thought-provoking fare this.
The other participants of ‘Mohini Nrithyathi’ were Aiswarya Warrier and Vinitha Nedungadi.