LEELA VENKATARAMAN

Jayalakshmi Eshwar was competent in her choreography in ‘the dance of Shiva’ while Saswati Sen was her usual assured self in her Kathak recital.

One of the greatest motifs in religious art, the symbolism embodied in the dance of Shiva has been both a challenge and/or a source of utter confusion when treated thematically in dance. Abhinaya Aradhana’s group expression Kala Shruti presented at Gurgaon’s Epicentre, conceived and visualised by Jayalakshmi Eshwar, treats Shiva as the embodiment of time (Kala) and Sound with the origin of the Universe comprising the five cosmic elements.

An intricate weaving of the various temple sthalas where Shiva Linga representing one of the cosmic elements is worshipped was an interesting idea but the very lacklustre visuals made for a less than bright start, though the dance itself was well designed. A disciplined and coordinated unit (comprising Jayalakshmi and her disciples) the performance was balanced and of an even standard with no sagging segments, and Jayalakshmi’s choreography uses varied profiling of movements which apart from being principally from the Bharatanatyam vocabulary also include Chhau and Kalari like stretches. Cluster formations, unusual mixing of lines and angles to avoid visual monotony — all blended with a tempo which is maintained are plus points in the production. The entire work rests on the excellent recorded musical foundation of Sudha Raghuraman’s score where ragas like Revati, Shivaranjani, Vasanta, Megh, a tillana in Shubha Pantuvarali, etc., mellifluously sung and rendered, blend with recited hymns, and jatis well set by Tanjavur Kesavan in an integrated manner, with instruments like kombu and pancha vadyam and Chhau drum used for effect — no part sounding like an alien misfit.

Abstract concept

The ballet begins with the sound of ‘Aum’ (akara, uklara, makara) emerging from the drum of Shiva heralding the beginning of creation. Representing ether or nothingness or space is the Lingam worshipped in Chidambaram (Chit+ambalam). An abstract concept, this represents the dance within the heart and the self of the realised person. Like heat latent in firewood, the dancer Shiva diffuses His power in mind and matter making them dance in their turn. As Vayu Lingam in Sri Kalahasti temple, the story of hunter Kannappa who, at the last minute, is prevented by Shiva from gouging out his second eye too, offering it to the Lord whose eyes are bleeding was briefly shown. As Agni Lingam in Arunachalam with fire as the main component of a Yagna, as embodiment of water in Jambukeswaram and as Ekambranatha representing Prithvi in Kanchipuram Shiva, each segment was punctuated by a jati.

“The Tat Dhit Ta Nam” start, “Ta Thin Ta Ta” of the dhumsa, Nature and trees swaying in vayu, Durga rising from the fire of sacrifice with the music in Vasanta, the khanda jati hymn recitation, Kalabhairavashtakam verses, Patanjali’s vedic sounds with the seven musical notes governed by time and rhythm in the taanam were all visualised in strong images. The conclusion, evoking a feel of a process of Shiva as creator and dissolver, showed time, rhythm, form and space withdrawing to become absorbed in the only reality of Shivam.

Competent Kathak

Lady Irwin School every year offers a platform to one of its old students among established dancers. This year at the Kamani, taking the stage was Kathak performer and teacher Saswati Sen who breezed through her nritta in Teen tala and Dhamar, the crisp upaj, tihai(s), paran(s) with telling explanations very much in her usual professional mode. Ahalya Udhaar portraying Ahalya’s deceit by Indra, Gautam Muni’s curse and the final resurrection by Ram was marked by the dancer’s sensitive abhinaya. Based on different ways of expressing fear or bhaya, in all its facets caused by extraneous factors, or due to inner shortcomings, Saswati’s work with the young school students is one way of bringing home to youngsters how much range there can be in any one subject treated through dance. The Kathak students moved well and with the right ang. The brief Odissi segments while elementary were correct. What in stance and bearing needed improvement was the Bharatanatyam part.

Discovering laya and rhythm in every game is what Saswati’s guru Pandit Birju Maharaj has done with great enthusiasm, and the dancer followed the teacher’s example faithfully in exploring how each game has within it actions which can inspire expressions through the bols and movements of Kathak. Utpal Ghosh on tabla, Roman Dheka as vocalist, Rakesh Prasanna on flute and sarod, Ghulam Waris on sarangi with Mahua and Ipsita for padhant comprised a competent musical team.