Gentle and aesthetic
Roja Kannan... abhinaya is her strength.
CONTENT AND tradition are essentially the backbone of programmes put up by the Music Academy each year for its season. And that is very evident in the dance recitals that are featured, mostly in the 7 p.m. slot. It is probably an unsaid thing that the Margam is what the artistes are expected to do. Which is probably quite a comforting thing, because this is something many are used to and can relate to. The combination of New Year eve and the profusion of dance recitals through out the month, resulted in a sparse audience, which filled up in the course of Roja Kannan's recital on December 31. But it is hardly any encouragement for an artiste of the calibre of Roja (disciple of Adyar Lakshman and Kalanidhi Narayan), whose form and movements are not only very correct, but also very aesthetically dealt with. Even if it means traditional items. Her style is technically on the austere side, but immensely softened by the lasya aspect giving her dance a very gentle quality. Even the footwork is never strident or forceful - but is firm with the good foundation she has built upon. Charming in a pink costume, her dance stood up to the passage of time and modern entities with the conventional fare that was displayed. As an item that is not generally on a veterans list Roja took up the Jatiswaram in Saraswati to show up the nritta laced with softness. Whether it was the Muthuswamy Dikshitar composition in Kedaram (Ananda Natana) or the Kshetrayya padam in Sahana or the Swathi Tirunal piece in Useni, Roja's obvious strength seems to lie in her abhinaya. In fact in the description of the Lord of Chidambaram, her bhava was almost ephemeral and when she took up the stances showing various instruments, the moments were striking in their simplicity. Just as it was in the Swathi Tirunal number aided as they were by the soulful vocals by Hari Prasad. It also brought to mind the aspect of timelessness of certain emotions that came into play.
The Varnam in Khamas, a Subbarama Dikshitar composition, had the same gentleness that marked the nritta items performed by Roja. She went through the long number with apparent ease and while nobody can deny the fact that a Varnam can be rigorous Roja displayed none of the fatigue and strain. She simply sailed through it. An undeniably good orchestral support - Adyar Lakshman on the nattuvangam and vocal, Hari Prasad also on the vocals, K. Gopinath on the mridangam, M. S. Kannan on the violin and L. Saravanan on the flute (who played with such feeling) went a long way in making her recital very special.
If dance is worship and tradition is evergreen, then Chitra Visveswaran's recital on December 26 is surely an example of that. That the Ramayana is a constant source of inspiration for the artistes was made amply clear when she decided that even if she took up a concept that is new it was woven into the strands of a story that is always fresh. Says Chitra, ``From the spiritual point of view it is something so positive despite all the events that happen in the Ramayana. And at my age I find it a very beautiful experience. When I do the Ramayana, I don't feel any negative energy at all.'' She called it the Sapta Sapti, a theme revolving round number seven, which according to her has several connotations in the mystical, spiritual and philosophical areas. And she put together an association of ideas that move around this concept - just as there are the seven colours, which come together in one pure white the godhead is the core where different powers gather. Surya is one such godhead who is on a chariot drawn by seven horses and he is the one who is the provider of light. And he is the one who is propitiated in the Muthuswamy Dikshitar's ``Suryamurthe," which marked the start of the recital. As Chitra stood bathed in the yellow light, it was as if the sun was on her blessing her venture as the slow devotional quality of the piece emerged.
Chitra Visveswaran... interpreting the Ramayana.
What came next was the Sapta Suladi Tala (Lalgudi), Sapta Raga, Sapta Kanda composition, which had none other than the Valmiki Ramayana as the fulcrum of creativity. Again the number seven was taken up for detailing through ragas, talas and episodes in the Ramayana The story of Rama (guided by Chitra's Sanskrit guru H. Vaidyanathan) selected a few verses from each kanda and played on words in the sanchari. Thus Sita Swayamvara, Kalyanam, Sita harana, Vali being slayed, Sita languishing in Lanka, the war between Rama and Ravana, Maha Pattabhishekam, Uttara Ramayana, the story of Lava and Kusha formed the core of this piece that ran for a long time. Though it was most aesthetically done the constant exits of sections of the audiences must have been distracting to the artist for whom the whole exercise was one of intense worship to lord Rama. A pity really because by the time she was through with it, there was just a sprinkling of the audience left. Giving vocal support was Visveswaran (who seemed to be afflicted with a severe cold) with Uma assisting him, Sukanya on the nattuvangam, Jagdeesh Janardhanan on the mridangam, Bhavani Prasad on the veena, Shankarnarayan on the flute, Veeramani on the violin, G. Parthasarathy on special effects.
The senior students of Shree Bharatalaya on December 25 performed for the Nungambakkam Cultural Academy with some items that were traditional yet fresh in their approach. What stuck one was the tasteful costumes they were attired in - in white and pink the group of six moved with good coordination right from the first piece in praise of dance, Ananda Mallarum a piece set to music by Madurai N Krishnan, which extols the virtues of dance, to the number in praise of Shiva and went on to extracts from Krishna Vande Jagatguru, to a frothy Raas which centered around the Krishna, the eternal lover and his adoring gopis. As the dancers wove in threes they made a pretty picture. A combination of the many aspects of Krishna, the devotional, the physical, and the esoteric came through in the various images formed by the dancers. While some of the patterns of movements on stage were familiar - like sets of two doing different hand movements and Krishna doing a bit with each set- the circular movements which looked very fresh. And their abrupt freezing at the climax was predictable but extremely effective in its dramatic content. Jayadeva's Yahi Madhava, Yahi Keshava and a thillana in Brindavan Sarang (with Krishna as the central figure and all his leelas) were done with devotion and sincerity. Pieces that were not just instances of choreography but a philosophy they all believed in.
Nandini Anand on vocal and Shashi rekha on the nattuvangam provided able support just as Anirudha on the percussion (to which he adds some extra zest) did to provide the dancers impetus for their foot movements.
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