Review The eminent scholar and mentor Jivan Pani was fondly remembered at an annual festival in his memory. LEELA VENKATARAMAN
Mounted by the Centre for Indian Classical Dances with support from the Ministry of Culture and in association with the Habitat Centre was the two-day XIth Jivan Pani Memorial at Stein auditorium, paying tribute to the late scholar/poet who with his uncanny ability for exploring ideational connectives in poetry, shastras and the performing arts, appeared at the right moment as the ideal mentor, guru and philosopher for Sonal Mansingh’s creative journey. The annual feature this year selected for its Jivan Ratna Sanmaan 2013, the eminent mardala guru Banamali Maharana, who is responsible for training and producing a whole line of excellent percussionists for Odissi music and dance like Gangadhar Pradhan, Dhaneswar Swain, Niranjan Patra, Prafulla Mangaraj, Satchidananda Das and several others.
Kathak dancer Adti Mangaldas’ solo gave a fine start to the performance part. Excerpts from her work “Varsha”, with the one-line sahitya “Saavan maas aya Sajani” projected all the typical Kathak intra forms like thaat, upaj and tukras intelligently adapted to convey sringar moods and images of the monsoons, from the trickling drops of rain to a torrential downpour, with the birds, butterflies and flowers and dancing peacock. Aesthetic costume, dance vocabulary and music were totally in consonance with classical Kathak. In the item on Ritu, the gat nikas genre came into play. In Sharad set to verse from Kalidasa’s “Ritusamhara”, one saw poetic interpretation of clouds, water, the trees and even the mind filled with a sparkling white shine. The segment on Hemant based on Madan Gopal Singh’s Hindi translation of Jivan Pani’s poem along with Haiku and Hitomaro poems, elaborated on the one idea of the autumn falling leaves wafted in the breeze, poetically expressed in different ways in the seated position. Aditi’s musicians are always superbly rehearsed. But one felt that the tabla and pakhawaj (the percussion interlude by Ashish and Mohit Gangani was breezy) tended to drown out singer Faraz Ahmed’s voice.
It was a great idea to have Kalamandalam Gopi as part of the festival presentations. A master and arguably the best in the field of Kathakali today, artistes of this dance drama form rarely get a slot in solo festivals. Unsurpassed in his Kathakali characterisation of Nala from Unnayi Varrier’s “Nala Charitam”, considered the greatest Kathakali play ever, the soliloquy in scene I where Nala expresses his unrequited desire and frustration, his love for Damayanti a pent up flame, was mimed with an intensity which made the audience have a sense of horripilation. Just a clenched fist or thumb rubbing against fingers along with mukhabhinaya said so much. Evoor Rajendran Pillai of the International Centre for Kathakali as the Hamsa (swan) joined him in the next scene. For those less familiar with this dance form in the audience, it was a wonderful opportunity to see how the characters based on animal species, but very human in behaviour patterns, are fleshed out in the movement dialogue. After persuading the Hamsa to act the love messenger by conveying to Damayanti at Vidharba his feelings, Nala’s thoughts are lost on contemplating on the loved one “Kamini, Roopini, Sheelawati” Damayanti. The abhinaya spinoffs were in a class by themselves. The music was no less — singers Pathiyur Sankarakutty and Tripunithura Arjun Rajendran combining seamlessly in the tunefully rendered Kalyani, Begada, Todi and Kamboji. Kalamandalam Unnikrishnan on the chenda and Parassinikkadavu Manoj on the maddalam provided the percussion support.
The best part of Swapnasundari’s Vilasini Natyam presentation was the concise articulate manner of putting every item into a context, before presenting it. The talamalika Choornika and pallavi in Kedaragowla in the interesting musical portion showed how by shifting the elongated note in a musical phrase, different rhythmic combinations of 3,4 and 5 emerge. The “Parijatham” extract, in the typical Andhra devadasi tradition, portrayed Satyabhama expressing her charms from head to toe. When presented with the dancer herself able to sing the lines like Swapnasundari, the entire effort gains added conviction. The short introduction on the Andhra/Karnataka connections with the Wodeyar royal house and its patronage of the Andhra devadasi, was followed by the ragamalika javali, addressed to the royal patron. The nayika suffering the panchabana of Manmatha, addressing Krishnaraja Wodeyar, asks why he is still resisting her charms. Sudha Rani is a singer with potential. More performances accompanying Swapnasundari should pave way for a more complete rapport between dancer and singer.
Pallavi Saran Gujral, trained under Sonal Mansingh in Bharatanatyam, is known to be a fine talent. She followed a bristling nrityanjali with Dashavatar, the music in ragamalika based on Udumali Narayana Kavi’s composition.
Fine presence and confidence with impeccable rhythm and good understanding of abhinaya notwithstanding, compared to what one saw of this dancer when she was still directly under Sonal Mansingh’s baton, one could not help seeing a few changes — a uniformly fast paced performance which needs some of the reposeful quality, and an occasional bending forward of the body with the knee bend acquiring a slightly forward deflection in the araimandi, instead of sideway bend, which the dancer needs to look at.