What a pity that the almost otherworldly beauty in simplicity of "Kanappar Kuravanji", staged at the Kamani by the Kalakshetra troupe as part of NSD's Festival on Dance Theatre, had to be for an apathetic audience, unwilling to even try to appreciate what the late Rumini Devi Arundale had attempted as far back as in 1962! Far from the stereotypical nayika/nayak interaction, the hero here is a hunter Thinnappar, made the crown prince by his father Nagaaja, the hunter king a decision the priestess Thevarathi endorses fully. During the hunt, Thinappar's eyes fall on the top of the Kalahasti hill where the temple of Lord Siva beckons to him. Losing himself in worshipping the Lingam, washing it with water spouted from his mouth and offering the Lord pieces of meat from the boar he had hunted, Thinnappar seems lost to the parents and kingdom. The Brahmin priest Sivagochariar entering for his daily puja, shocked and repulsed by what he deems is defiling the Lingam, soon realises that the God is not so bothered by what constitutes the prasaad as the devotion it is offered with.
Echoes of the hillsRukmini Devi's Bharatanatyam captures faithfully the echoes of the hill peoples. The 1880 script by Markanda Navalar of Thozhuvur blends with verses from Periya Puranam and Tiruvachakam. The delightful music composed by Papanasam Sivan and Thuraiyur Rajagopala Sharma interlaces the Kurinji raga of the hill tribes and a Punnagavarali or Varali or a Kavadi chindu tune with a Nadanamakriya or a Neelambari on even a Bhairavi, a Kapi, a Todi or a Shankarabharanam. The high Kathakali jumps of the hunter, or a chaste Bharatanatyam sequence interspersed with teermanam or sollukattu, or even a Kummi step, come together smoothly without any feel of dissonance. Characters occasionally speak a Tamil which sounds like the dialect of the tribes. The colourful processions of hunters with `kombu', drums, etc. and the way a hunting scene is enacted shows how the sense of theatre was so strong in Rukmini Devi, but without ever harming classical aesthetics. And how refreshing to see an entire troupe of well-trained dancers! Young Sheejith as the aging Nagaraja in demeanour and stylised singsong speech was by far the best. The singing by the two female vocalists and accompanists, never harshly loud, provided soothing melody. The only character falling short of expectations was the Brahmin priest, too soft for the required authoritative air and revulsion. LEELA VENKATARAMAN