Depth was conspicuous by its absence in Rama Vaidyanathan's performance. Kumudini Lakhia's Kadamb presented Kathak at its classic best. And Srinidhi Chidambaram should concentrate more on bhava to make her abhinaya always fresh and new.

Rama Vaidyanathan is a dancer who has worked to be different. With a credo of `less is more,' her sense of aesthetics was visible in the simple costuming and in the minimalistic technique in which silence spelt drama.She has a movement vocabulary that is fashionably linear and a technique of abhinaya that is suggestive, so there is both energy and stillness. A winning combination, one might say, however in this case it fell short for lack of depth.Rama has a commanding stage presence and her recital spelt style from the word go. With an unhurried approach, she got into the groove with a symbolic depiction of Siva in a sloka from the Thirumandiram. The humble Alarippu in Ata tala was given centre stage in a dramatic change of pace before she took up the Kalyani ragam, Adi tala varnam by Swati Tirunal, `Satura Kamini,' with the theermanams composed by Karaikkudi Krishnamurthy and visualised by Karaikkudi Shivakumar.Confident of the effect she was creating, Rama glided across the stage expertly keeping time and covering space in what might easily qualify as one of the longest trikalam theermanams of the season. Rama certainly had a good start but the follow through was disappointing.Artistic licence allows for some freedom within the style, and Rama has drawn upon that liberty liberally. Her adavus are expansive with space and movement as pivotal features. The thattu mettu sequences are also cleverly crafted with the same sensibilities. They were stylish and dramatic, but they lost out in their repetitiveness that resulted in a surfeit of movement around the stage.Rama's interpretations also suffered from this fixation for style. Without enough involvement, they hung in the air like unfinished sentences. While the abhinaya portions in the varnam sagged for want of tighter weaving, the sthayi or the predominant sentiment was altogether absent in the Nammazhwar paasuram, `En uyir sevalum' tuned in ragamalika by G.S.Rajan. `Enna thavam' in Kapi ragam, Adi talam by Papanasam Sivan could have had more depth.The musical detailing was a pleasure to behold. With Vidya Srinivasan (vocal) and G.S.Rajan (flute) brilliantly anchoring the melody, Karaikkudi Shivakumar (nattuvangam) and Lalgudi R. Sriganesh (mridangam), kept the rhythm going accurately. Shyam Rajan was on the tambura. Rama concluded with `Shivoham' tuned by G.S.Rajan in soulful Charukesi, (Adi) based on a few phrases from Skanda Puranam. In a quasi-meditative way, the dancer hoped to experience Lord Nataraja through dance. With choreographic inputs by Shivakumar, it had wonderful music and imagery to recommend it and might have even reached its goal had the selfless momentum been sustained.

Colourful display

There were some hitches in the Kathak recital that followed. One was a late start precipitated by the spill over of the earlier programme. The other was to do with the music recordings, some of which were not good. But as the sound of the `ghungroos' and the poetry of the movements filled the senses, any other consideration was forgotten. This was Kathak at its pristine best.`Anuma,' a choreography collection from veteran Kumudini Lakhia and her group from Kadamb, Ahmedabad, was a kaleidoscope of colours and patterns, rhythm and synchronisation, mood and magic. There are so many ways to create drama and one experienced it this time through the grandeur and perfection of classical Kathak.As the dancers, eight of them, filled the stage most dressed in white and grey flared tunic and churidar, unadorned except for long, chandelier earrings and an ornament on their plaits, the beauty of their postures and their split second timing in the opening `Samanvay' in teen taal, was breathtaking. The choreography maximised the dynamics of the group and presented them at different levels, in rapidly changing formations, and in staggered friezes... The Thaat or the warm up itself was exhilarating. The best of the evening belonged to the twosome, Prashant Shah and Sanjukta, in `Yugal' set to Gunakali raag, teen taal. Virtuoso dance was perfumed with a sensual fragrance, as the young couple celebrated their love both in repose and in frenzied movement. And as they built the momentum to a crescendo with their racy footwork, the audience burst into spontaneous applause. In contrast to this rhythmic explosion was a moving ghazal, `Naina re naina' rendered and performed by Vaishali Trivedi with most sensitivity. Her strong voice captured the tone of unrequited love while her eyes reflected the pain. The only regret was that Guru Kumudini had only one such delectable item on her menu.Preceded by a Gat Bhav sequence describing the gait of a peacock and other birds, the concluding `Suvarna' was another treat. Choreographed to commemorate India's 50th year of independence, the eight dancers all in white and gold expressed rhythm in different ways, through claps, eye movements, chakkar and footwork. It was a grand spectacle, topped by the final fresco of the map of India. The minute detailing is surely the mark of a choreographic genius. Within the classical alphabet of Kathak Guru Kumudini has rearranged movements to facilitate group choreographies. She uses the contemporary aesthetics of levels, asymmetry, off-centre formations and unbalanced spaces as well in this vibrant landscape. The results of these imaginative adventures have made history. The other dancers were: Nandini, Nilima, Manuela, Yuko, Atsuko and Dwani.

Skimming the surface

Srinidhi Chidambaram's Bharatanatyam opened the penultimate evening of the Music Academy's Dance Festival. Putting her best foot forward, Srinidhi chose a Kalyani raga varnam of Vadivelu of the Thanjavur Quartet, addressed to Maharaja Swati Tirunal. `Nara stuti' being out of vogue, it was an uncommon choice. The nayika addresses the king, legendary devotee of Maha Vishnu whose compositions contain the mudra Padmanabha, as Padmanabhadasa. Set in Adi tala, the varnam had pleasant jatis. Organically constructed, they created aesthetic aural patterns. In the corresponding dance, there was no obsessive attempt at unusual adavu combinations. The occasional interchange of oosi (syncopated) and samam (regular) beats was also euphonic. But dance is a visual medium too, and drawbacks in the nritta, including sagging elbows, could weaken the impact greatly. A discrepancy was also seen in Srinidhi's kitatakatarikitatom adavu, where the left and right sides were not mirror images. The javali "Apaduruku" where the nayika is upset over gossip about her and the lord of the town, Siva, is a piece with great scope for involved abhinaya and fun. But in this, as also the varnam, Srinidhi seemed merely to skim the surface. To be fair, most young dancers today do just that. As a medical doctor, Srinidhi can easily make the connection between the state of mind and the condition of the body. The poets of old were well versed in the psychosomatic nature of illness when they wrote of nayikas pining away to skin and bone, losing their appetite, feeling hot when everyone else felt cold, and so on. Since the body faithfully reflects the state of mind, bhava emanates from within and is not constructed from mudras and facial expressions. This approach might make her abhinaya new and fresh each time. There was more involvement in the poem by Vairamuthu, set to music by Swamimalai Suresh. This was a strong contemporary criticism of Prince Siddhartha's renunciation in Yashodhara's voice. She tells him his renunciation is hardly a sacrifice, since in giving up his crown, he got the world at his feet in return, whereas she, left behind, was bereft, though in the palace. Showing Yashodhara falling on the ground and beating her head did not go well with the decorum of a queen in natya terms.The supportive orchestra featured nattuvangam by Swamimalai Suresh, vocal by Radha Badri, mridangam by Nellai D. Kannan, flute by Sashidhar and violin by Muruganandam.