Vaibhav Arekar is a dancer to watch out for. As for Sandhya Eswar, her confidence is an asset.

For rasikas who may have reached a saturation point with an over-dose of pining nayikas this Season, Vaibhav Arekar’s performance was like a whiff of fresh air.

Being the only male soloist at the Academy’s dance festival this Season, Vaibhav’s performance infused energy into the space. This was enough to have the hall packed with the rest of the male dancer fraternity applauding to every other stance he exhibited.

Opening with Surya Stuti, Vaibhav’s presentation was crisp. What struck one right from the very beginning was the young nattuvanar Kalishwaran Pillai’s efficient delivery of jatis. Being the son of the great T.S. Kadrivelu Pillai, one could see how the baton of tradition had been successfully passed down to the next generation.

Vaibhav continued his performance into a combination of two Subhashitas with hasya rasa as the main theme. Choreographed by Kanak Rele, the authorship of these poems remains unknown. Set to Mohanam, the first one was a dialogue between Ganesa and his brother Karthikeya. Teasing each other, the brothers come under the watchful eye of their mother Parvati. The second one in Ritigowla was the story of Vishnu’s unannounced visit to Siva, who is left embarrassed as the snake that binds his animal-skin coverings slips away after being threatened by Garuda, Vishnu’s vehicle. Vaibhav’s abhinaya to the actions of the eagle and snake were delightful.

A neatly choreographed Swati Tirunal kriti on Hanuman ‘Anjaneya Raghurama Doota’ took the shape of a varnam. The dancer portrayed various tales of Hanuman in the sancharis. Both the pieces were good, albeit the over-load of jumping around.

While Arun Gopinath is undeniably an outstanding singer, a little effort to get his pronunciation of sahityam would help raise the act.

Utilising a simple yet elegant ragam-tanam technique was the pure dance piece in Thodi titled ‘Mukti.’ Narrating the tale of Nandanar struggling to get a glimpse of Siva while an adamant Nandi obstructed his view, Vaibhav’s dance reached a point of high drama, all in a rectangular frame of light thrown as an open temple door at the far end of the stage. It is important to have a light designer who also understands the process of good art and Sushant Jadhav’s expertise stood out. However, the final thillana in Sivaranjani seemed a bit misplaced with the pathos in the mood of the raga standing in the forefront after such an energetic performance. From selection of his items to diligent execution, Vaibhav’s show reiterated the fact that male dancers, if given a good opportunity, will prove their worth.

Watching young and energetic Sandhya Easwar, one must credit Kalakshetra for producing a talented dancer and gurus V.P. Dhananjayan and Shanta Dhananjayan for grooming her so well. Sandhya was one of the winners of the ‘Spirit of Youth Festival’ prize from the Music Academy in 2012. The first thing that strikes you about Sandhya is the effortless ease and sowkhyam she displays. She began her performance with an invocatory ‘Pranavakaram’ set to Arabhi, a composition of Oothukadu Venkata Kavi before she got on to the main piece, the varnam which the Dhananjayans insist on renaming as‘Nrithyopaharam,’ the philosophy of which they have been trying hard to indoctrinate to the world. Opening with an elaborately rendered soulful alap on the violin by Easwar Ramakrishnan, Sandhya presented ‘Sakhi Inda Velayil’, a popular swarajathi by the Thanjavur Quartet set to Ananda Bhairavi. (For 200 years, this composition has been called a varnam and no one seems to have any issue calling it just that.)

While the sancharis on Lord Rajagopala got repetitive in the latter part, no one could doubt the clarity and precision in Sandhya’s lines. With Guru Shanta Dhananjayan wielding the nattuvangam, the sishya danced meticulously under her watchful eyes. Shanta is easily one of the finest and most efficient lady nattuvanars from the Kalakshetra bani.

The next item ‘Muruganin Maru Peyar Azhagu,’ a composition penned by Guru Surajananda, tuned in Behag by T.M. Thiagarajan, could have been vastly edited. Except for the heart-melting melody of J.B. Sruthi Sagar’s flute combined with Easwar’s violin, most of the composition was crammed with one too many stories on Lord Muruga. Does one need to tell all the tales from mythology when dealing with gods?

The next composition, ‘Sarigga Kongu’ in Surutti, a javali by Ghanam Chinnayya, is a timeless classic from the Kalakshetra repertoire. While Sandhya was once again pleasant in her demeanour, it would be good if she worked on her abhinaya.

Radha Badri has a wonderful voice but her atrocious pronunciation of Telugu sahityam can be highly distracting.

Sandhya concluded her performance with ‘Nrittangaharam’ composed by M. Balamuralikrishna. If you wonder what that is, it is the new nomenclature devised by her gurus for what is otherwise popular as a tillana.

Watching Sandhya’s confidence in performing, one can’t help but recollect the wonderful archival footage of Leela Samson decades ago. Sandhya even carries off that kind of smile mingling with her side-glances, with panache. If she can be focussed and work harder on her abhinaya, it won’t be too long before she evolves into a better dancer.

(The writer is an editor and a culture critic)