With the summer providing opportunities for younger dancers, the week had its share of variety.
Decidedly Vazhavoor in stylistic approach as a student of Kanaka Srinivasan, Uma B. Ramesh, now based in Chennai, is more Kalakshetrian in her Bharatanatyam, as evident from her recital at the India International Centre. A shade less light-footed than about a decade ago, Uma's dance however still sports the same unwavering stamina. Coming after the mallari in Gambhiranattai in three speeds with its very gradual build-up, was the Papanasam Sivan varnam in Natakuranji (now riding a popular wave with Bharatanatyam performers in Chennai) "Saami naan undan adimai" in a demanding nritta/abhinaya blend, with the nayika's transition from the devotional to the erotic having a natural flow. Shiva's rescue of devotee Markandeya from the death noose of Yama and the boon conferred on him of eternal youth was part of the choreographic narrative. The rhythmic interludes did not lack for dancing command, Venkatakrishnan's nattuvangam somewhat low-key while correct. The dancer's best was in the javali in Behag where the interpretation of Maharaja Swati Tirunal's "Saara maina maatalanda chaalu chaalu ra" describing the heroine crossed in love, refusing to be taken in by the erring lover's syrupy explanations, had all the khandita bite in abhinaya. After this the utsava prabandham, again a Swati Tirunal, composition added little to the stature of the recital. The Khamas tillana, despite rhythmic flawlessness, at points lacked clutter-free movement. After this abstract dance climax, the long-drawn Desh bhajan with dice play and Gitopadesh became an anti-climax — Murali Parthasarathy's vocal embellishments decidedly overdone. Nellai Kannan (mridangam) and V.S.K. Chakrapani (violin) provided strong support.
Trained under Samar Bhattacharya and the late Ram Gopal Sharma before joining Kolkata's Padatik Centre as a student of Pandit Vijay Shankar Sharma with guidance under Pandit Birju Maharaj, Madhumita Roy has had a varied learning experience in Kathak. Her performance for Habitat's HCL Concert Series was unexceptional, though neat. Uthan and nritta bandishes suggesting Kamdev's arrows, and ball playing, the ginti tihai, udaan and chhand were some of the Teen tala highlights. The Bindadin thumri "Tero Kunwar Kanhai" showed sensitivity for interpretative dance. The fusion dance rendered to a blend of music by Birju Maharaj and Louis Banks, given the scratchy tape, was neither here nor there. As for the earlier duet `Varsha' with a student, done to taped music of Rashid Khan, Madhumita's unaesthetic costume revealing the stomach bulge distracted. The nritta part needed more substance for a tabla player of the calibre of Akram Khan.
Veering away from her usual Bharatanatyam avatar was Rashmi Khanna presenting contemporary dance based on rebel poet Kazi Nazrul Islam's lyrics, at the Triveni, under the aegis of Kalyani Kala Kendra. The free style movement choreography, Bharatanatyam-derived in places, also had the typical Bharatiya Kala Kendra touch in items like "Kothai Brindavan" showing the Krishna/Radha hide and seek interaction. With just three dancers, group synchronisation was good with simple and neat movements. The best part of the evening was the melodious and strong singing of Shobhana Banerjee. If "Yesho" welcomed the rains, "Paradesi Megh" showed the heroine unable to bear the memories of love evoked by the monsoon. "Chinmoy Roop Thore Aye" evoking Goddess Durga hardly needed the obvious prop of Devi's statue. With more experience, Rashmi will overcome the overdone symmetry and prettiness in group arrangements. When an organisation has outlived its usefulness, it needs to be wound up instead of remaining a shadow of its former avatar. One fondly remembers, two decades ago theatre evenings held inside The Ashok hotel's Convention Hall with the crème de la crème attending and a sense of pride in the attention given to details of official protocol and presentation. A far cry from what Ashok Theatre in the open-air gallery presents today. At the mesmerising O.S. Arun bhajan evening under the banner of Ashok Theatre, it was sad to see the wafer-thin audience following indifferent publicity and abject dissociation of the staff whose only response was a firm negative to even having somebody announce the name of the artiste! A fine venue with immense possibilities needs more involved staff participation.