Brilliantly choreographed ‘Menakaa’ told the story of exploitation of women.
Asmita Resource Centre for Womenpresented a critical analysis of the role of a nymph, Menaka, whose story is considered as another form of exploitation of women. And a ballet on this theme, Menakaa, choreographed by renowned Bharatanatyam artiste Rajeswari Sainath was presented at Ravindra Bharathi recently.
The narrative format is conceived and written in English by Vasanth Kannabiran, well-known women’s activist and author.
The ballet was an audio-visual delight. The musical input was pre-recorded under the direction of Kaaraikkudi Mani, a great name in percussion art and B. V. Balasai, a distinguished flautist who was experimenting with fusion and jazz under the guidance of Mani. The musical compositions set as a backdrop for various scenes in the drama were an outstanding feature of the production.
Music and dance were never out of the classical base. It would have been better had the playback sound levels been reduced to a little lower output to balance with the jingling sounds of the footwork.
Rajeswari Sainath’s choreographical part for this theme was challenging as most of the narrative was in English.
As regards the thematic content, the title character of Menaka had lesser role to play in a theme that passes though three generations, Menaka, her daughter Sakuntala and the latter’s son, Bharata.
Rajeswari minimised her role as performer but maximised that of the choreographer.
Rajeswari, the prime dancer, playing the role of Menaka, appeared after the opening Saraswathi Vandanam presented by Nainitha playing Sutradharini. Menaka’s entry sequence was in the mode of self-introduction of her life and mission.
Rajeswari came out with jatis in variegated rhythmic patterns with perfection in the Bharatanatyam style. Jatis were also set for other roles.
Birth of Sakuntala
Celestial beauty Menaka is sent by Lord Indra to distract sage Viswamitra from his penance. Menaka succeeds in her mission.
When she gives birth to a baby girl, she casts her away on the river bank. Sage Kanva, finding the baby, names her Sakuntala and brings her up as his own daughter.
Sakuntala was impressively played by Rajeswari’s daughter Vaishnavi. Several dancers were featured in other roles, mostly as companions of Sakuntala.
The role of child Sakuntala was given to sweet-looking Kirtana Kannabiran.
The story follows Dushyanta falling in love with Sakuntala, the latter being spurned by the former, Bharata’s birth and their reunion as a family. The ballet interrogated the basics of construction of gender, ideology and the theory of dance itself. The English lyrics were mixed with some Sankrit slokas, rendering the whole show as a kind of fusion.
The costumes and lighting work were superb, adding to the elegance of the production.
Rajeswari’s choreographic work was well-distributed among all the other dancers moving on the stage in a geometrical manner displaying excellent talent.
Some played Sakuntala’s maids and others figured in earlier parts for jati presentation, at once precise and perfect.
The ballet drew great applause in the end.