EVENT Sankhya, the dance fest that marked the birth anniversary of its founder member late R. Yagnaraman, was an evocative, evolved presentation. LEELA VENKATARAMAN

In traditional Indian thinking, numbers go beyond arid arithmetic to acquire mystic associations. Sri Krishna Gana Sabha’s festival, Sankhya, marking the birth anniversary of its founder member and fountainhead, the late R. Yagnaraman, differed from the precursor, the SNA-sponsored event held in Hyderabad, in its featuring of fresh entrants and projecting reworked, more evolved versions of old productions.

Swapnasundari’s ‘Shadrrtu’ playing with the number six, was one such evocative work benefiting much from revisiting the first version wherein the choreographer’s woven design jostling with ideas, went totally unrealised — the dance visualisation of varying proficiency combining teacher and students never living up to the designer’s intended messages. By approaching the theme through the solo perspective, with concept/dance integrated in one person, Swapnasundari rubbed off the inchoate group version, creating a transformed presentation, original and powerful.

Operating at several levels, Swapanasundari’s thematic visualisation used the eternal cycle of the six seasons as a metaphor into which was woven the everlasting dialogue of the male/female energies, the former represented in the Sun, the God icon in temple and the Nayaka (imagined but never visualised in respective danced sequences), with the female energy (figuring in the performance) correspondingly manifesting as Prithvi (Earth), the Devadasi, and the Nayika.

Thus the Cosmic energy Brahmananda Purusha released through the heat generating Sun with the Sun-Prithvi union giving birth to the Seasons, finds symbolic extension of the same idea in the Agamic Kumbharathy offering in temples playing out the Devadasi/God union. Then there is the nayaka-nayika relationship, with seasonal changes influencing emotions. All these strands deftly manipulated by the dancer, smoothly moving from one to the other without jerks, merged into one integrated concept.

It was a one-woman show with the taped music scored and very effectively sung by the dancer herself, the lyrics, along with the poetic clarity of a linking English narrative, in multiple languages. The yearning nayika introduced in the Prakrit Greeshma verses from Hala’s Gatha Saptha-shathi continues through Vanamamalai Varadacharylu’s Telugu verses ‘Horumanu Jhamjhaanilum’ describing the pouring rain and howling winds of Varsha: the agonised wait for her beloved goes unabated through Sharad caught in Tagore’s haunting recitation ‘Ajee Sharothy Thopney’; the scorching fire of desire lives on unquenched by the cool weather of Hemant based on a thumri sung in Khajri style, with the unrequited desires having to live through the cold of Shishir described in verses of Kalidasa’s ‘Niruddha Graheetha Sungandhi,’ along with a haunting Kashmiri verse by Ghulam Ahmed-Mahjoor. Finally arrives the re-awakening hope with Spring (Vasant) sung through the verses of Mohammad Quli Qutb-Shah. And linking these passages were sequences offering oblations to Agni, Varuna, Vaayu, Isana, Indra and Brahma tracing the Alaya sampradayam ritual of the Andhra devadasi. The poetic intensity, Swapnasundari’s inimitable powers of interpretative dance with the odd immaculate nritta passages woven in as counter-point, and the matching visuals which became one with the totality of the dance, created rare fare. The dancer’s costume in one colour without a contrast for the central frilly portion would have brought out the contrast in the draped veils in different colours, better.

Strong visual images

Not dimmed by Swapna’s brilliance, Stem Dance Company’s ‘Pancham’ – Storm in 5, saw some arresting geometry of mandala formations created by the dancers’ bodies juxtaposed against the backdrop of the geometry of the Sri Chakra, Star of David, and Tantric Yantra diagrams, the play of one against the other creating some strong visual images and dramatic impact. All the dancers are excellent movers and group discipline was laudable, the ‘Pancham’ of five elements implied rather than represented in the dance. Vajra was another very striking item based on the integration of five martial art disciplines – Kalaripayattu, Thang Tha, Chhau, Yoga and Japanese Ninjitsu. Described as ‘work in progress’ the whiplash energy of movement contrasting with the still, contained silence of frozen moments, while already palpable, is bound to get more potent with time and practice. For this critic, ‘Storm in Five’ the Jhaptal item in its contemporary wrapping of a traditional Kathak tala, fell short of bringing out the assertive vigour of the five syllabic ‘dhinadhadhina.’ It was more the formative conjunctions than the rhythmic thrust that the item brought out.

Costumes were elegant and modern, and Sai Venkatesh’s light designing was imaginative.

On a high note

The big dance names doing the rounds for years were the crowd pullers, at the packed Krishna Gana Sabha hall on the final day of Sankhya providing the kind of audience such a festival effort demanded.

Number 2 as the theme for the twosome Raja and Radha Reddy, the Kuchipudi stalwarts, featured the male-female identities of Prakriti and Purush represented in Siva-Sakti manifested forms, revel in the Lasya-Tandava danced state, the apparent ‘Dvaita’ a complement of contrasts.

Purusha as dancing Siva Nataraja, imbibes into his body Prakriti. With the virtuosity of this couple and Kaushalya Reddy’s commanding nattuvangam, nritta punch was assured.

Inspired rendition

Unfortunately delayed, and able to see only the latter part of the recital, one was happy to be present for the very dramatic, intense, highly inspired rendition of the Gitopadesa scene bringing out the Jeevatma-Paramatma divide with Arjuna’s predicament on the battle field of Kurukshetra — Radha in the role of the confused Arjuna enfeebled at the thought of having to fight against elders he has grown up with, and Krishna (enacted by Raja) preaching the philosophy of dharma and revealing his true form clearing the blinkered thinking of Partha.

Though different from the usual team accompanying the couple, the new composition of musicians seemed to work very well with Manda Krishna Mohan’s vocal support, Kiran G. Nath on the mridangam, Srilakshmi Venkataramani providing very tuneful interventions on the violin and Suryanarayanan on the flute.

The Advaita philosophy of Sankara, notwithstanding its high metaphysical content became the ideal springboard for dancer Padma Subrahmanyam’s interpretation of the number 1. The very start focussed on the oneness of the ultimate Reality based on the Sivamanasa Puja Stotram and Dakshinamurti Stotram wherein the devotee speaks of his body as the temple of the Lord and everything he does as His praises.

Sankara’s ‘Viveka Choodamani’ verses have the Guru addressing the pupil as ‘vidwan’ asking him to acquire control over the five senses as the only way to liberation. Ridding the self of the veil of Maya spread by Ego was attaining the true state of the Brahman and the world he says is only Brahman. Reinforcing the same idea, Padma, in a largely interpretative recital, focussed on the well known Sankara-Chandala dialogue – the Brahmin urging the Chandala and dogs in his path to move aside to provide him right of way, inviting the retort asking in what way the Chandala’s spirit is different from that of the Brahmin. Is the Sun shining on the Ganga different from the Sun shining on the waters of the well? It is the same ‘tatva’ reflected in all beings and that realisation is the one Brahman.

In all Padma’s recitals, the advantage of family musicians like Kannan and Gayatri (one who scores music and plays on the veena and the other a vocalist), who have all worked and evolved under the dancer cannot be minimised, for coordination between dancer and the wings is never less than total. The concluding reaffirmation of that Oneness came in Annamacharya’s ‘Brahmam Okate.’ And what Padma does by stringing the words in ragas and mode of singing found in rural areas, is to make the statement along with her interpretation the voice, not of esoteric but of an earthy truth.

‘Poornam’ or unified wholeness which was the theme of Sonal Mansingh’s neatly conceived Odissi began, with the inevitably fitting Upanishad hymn ‘Poornamidam’ on the world as only Brahman seen in parts or whole. The way it was presented interspersed with nritta flourishes was striking, the one imperfection (particularly when weighed against Sonal’s expertise in Sanskrit) being vocalist Bankim Sethi’s splitting of the words making ‘avashishyate’ into ‘vashishyate.’ Poornam and Shoonyam represent two ends of a spectrum – the polarities emphasised by the dancer whose theme in the Hyderabad version was ‘Shoonya.’ But this void or nothingness of Shoonya is that from which has manifested the five cosmic elements (‘Viswam Panchaatmakam Jagati’). The joy of creation with all the flora and fauna and man, woman and child was echoed in a Tarana, ‘Dheem Tanana Diranadaani.’ The Dasavatar often regarded as the evolution of life followed in a smooth transition with Vishnu manifesting as fish and tortoise and boar, going on to half man and half animal as Narasimha, then appearing as stunted man and later as evolved Being in the Buddha. The energetic presentation was based on Jayadeva’s Gita Govindam verses ‘Pralaya Payodhi Jale.’ Poornachakra and Kalachakra signify the cycle of the wheel of time, where the macro and/or its manifestation as the micro – signify the same wholeness. Abrar Hussein on the sitar and Prashant Maharana on the mardal, along with Bankim Sethi formed the musical unit.

Constant laya cues from the dancer guided the pace, and while the previous dancers faced no such problem, Sonal found the music not sufficiently audible on stage. An aesthetic pink and white costume turnout and excellent lighting by Sharad Kulshreshta made a qualitative visual difference to the presentation.