Dance Whether introducing new movements, re-viewing mythology or experimenting with costume, classical dancers took the contemporary approach in recent programmes. LEELA VENKATARAMAN
The new fangled movement patterns being introduced into Bharatanatyam adavus, making for “designer adavus” as a writer called it, gives a feeling of the entire movement alphabet being changed. After a point, one begins to wonder if changing a definitive pattern evolved over years, for a tone which is acquiring a mannered feel at times, is worth it. Watching talented dancer Medha Hari of Chennai, a disciple of Anita Guha, one could not avoid the feeling of a certain contrived look in the shringar element, and the exaggerated three quarter bend of the knees in the main stance of araimandi. Arai means half (bend)) and why overdo it? But Medha has the ability for fast rhythm rendered with consummate ease, full stretches in the sarukkai movements, and she sparkles with an energy which had the entire audience (specially the North Indian segment) delighted with the performance. In Papanasam Sivan’s Dhanyasi varnam “Nee inda Mayam” wherein the nayika demands of Krishna if his constant disappearing act is fair, knowing full well how she is yearning for his presence, some of the self-conscious poses could be done away with. After the shringar in the first half, the charanam refrain “Ayar kula Deepame”, interpreted with the entire childhood feats of Krishna — Pootana’s killing, Yashoda’s wonder at the Universe she sees in the child’s open mouth, overcoming serpent Kalinga, and saving the inhabitants of Govardhan by holding the mountain aloft — was more evocative of wonder, different from the earlier shringar. Sashidharan’s vocal support too added its own touches, which at times bordered on the unorthodox.
A rare touch of humour was introduced in the treatment of Kalki’s lyric “Ponnammal romba pollaadaval” (the announcer making a hash of the sahitya) warning persons to stay away from the woman whose swan-like gait, beautiful tresses, and hypnotising eyes mesmerise and bewitch men. The humour is in the last line that the protagonist has married Ponnamal. Both this and the Khandita Nayika of the Poorvikalyani javali “Nee Matalemayunura”, while communicative, should in time acquire more internalised abhinaya. Ram Shankar Babu’s mridangam and Rajat Prasanna’s flute provided evocative accompaniment.
At a glittering function crowned by several VIPs, at the Tamil Sangam, young 11th standard student Sudhana Sankar, a disciple of Saroja Vaidyanathan took the stage, with her guru conducting. Very enthusiastic, the dancer has yet to quell the restless energy of youth and acquire an inner serenity, which should take away from the rather strident quality of some of her movements. The best in the dancer was in the shabdam, where homage to Kartikeya astride his peacock was portrayed with a softness not seen earlier. “Velanai Kaanbom” the varnam in Kamas, showed the same kind of frenetic energy, with an overdose of ‘tattu mettu’ toe/heel rhythm, but woven round the martial deity Shanmukha, this tone was accommodated. The Tyagaraja kriti “Soga suga” in Sriranjini was done with involvement.
Story of Draupadi
The story of Draupadi as a metaphor for the status of women to-day has provided fodder for innumerable dance productions. Natya Ballet Centre’s production, based on the script of Guru Naba Kishore Mishra and Dr. Nirupana Mishra, with parts translated into Hindi by Usha Chhabra, choreographed in a mix of Chhau and Odissi by Anirudh Das and Nibedita Mahapatra was presented at SRC auditorium. The approach was simplistic with Draupadi reminiscing on moments from her tumultuous past — and a query, separately put if woman today was better placed than what was mentioned in the Mahabharata. But the main blessing of the production was its brevity in succinct narration, never straying — excepting for one instance when the expression of joy was spelt out through a pallavi rendered in disciplined group formations — into too much self-indulgent virtuosity. The entrance of the Pandava princes and the confrontationist moments used Chhau intelligently, the generally synchronised dance on a clean stage excepting for one draped pillar suggestive of the royal venue, without crowding performance space. Having several Draupadi-s of different ages and sizes (flab round the stomach needed to be shed in more cases than one), one for each Pandava, apart from Lipsha Satpathy as the main actor, was a good way of showing the young princess emerging from the sacrificial fire, wedded to Arjuna and then the entire Pandava brood, moving on to the court humiliation and to the finale of a tired Draupadi abandoned to her own destiny as the five Pandavas selfishly hurry, without looking back, to Paradise.
“I got the entire blame for the carnage of War though you with your power, could have stopped it if you so wished,” she tells Krishna. The choreography for narration used the Sabda Patha style of Debaprasad Das for carrying the story forward.
For this critic, with all the neat dancing and fine group formations, what the production lacked was the passion and anger of an intelligent woman, made to suffer for no fault of her own in a patriarchal society. A deft touch in winning audience hearts was having guest artist Shivani Wazir Pasrich with her presence and the poise of the present-day woman, making a dance/theatre entrance as curtain raiser for the production, setting the tone — the word/gesture portrayal, a soliloquy on the many qualities of Woman, her different roles and her pain and pleasure at the hands of a patriarchal society — which still has not given woman her rightful place — communicating strongly with the audience.
At The Stein auditorium of Habitat, Mayurbhanj Chhau by Gurukul Chhau Dance Sangam presenting disciples of Guru Janmejoy Sai Babu in collaboration with Lok Kala Manch, entertained the audience with the traditional items, choreographed by Guru Sai Babu. Carolina Prada was arguably the best of the disciples, her bodily and inner attitude showing one who has made Mayurbhanj Chhau her personal language. Right from Dandi rendered by three disciples Carolina, Sunil Mehera and Himani Sharma, the perfect balance, the torso thrusts, the full backward bends and stretches, and the ability to hold a posture in total stillness spoke of excellent training. The slow movements of Natraj, difficult for the best of dancers, were extremely well handled by Carolina. Rakesh Sai Babu may have a pliable body but needs to lessen the make-up and blue eye shadow, and his Mahadev fell short of the fire and grandeur of Shiva’s masculine energy. In “Geeta”, parts of his Natraj portrayal were good and Krishna (Sunil) revealing his cosmic power was well choreographed. The Kallibhanga softer movements with light-footed jumps and turns in Kalachakra with Carolina, Sunil, Himani and Shashikant showed the more playful side of this martial art form. Abhyas was a mixed group, but one could see one youngster with his excellent stance and stretches as a very promising prospect. But such a fussy costume is not needed and more of the unadorned vigour of Chhau in the Hathyar Dhara movements would have been in order. The drums and dhamsa were good, though the mahuri had its besura moments.