LEELA VENKATARAMAN

Prathibha Prahlad presented Ashta Mahavidyas through eight different dance forms featuring well-known dancers

The Mother Goddess as Shakti or energising faculty comprising both disintegrating and reintegrating principles, manifesting as the Dasha Mahavidya of Tantra Sastra, is a much danced-to theme in Odissi. However Prasiddha Foundation, collaborators in ITDC's Delhi Arts Festival with Hindustan Times, in `Vande Mataram' conceived by dancer Prathibha Prahlad and presented at Ashok amphitheatre, gave expression to Ashta Mahavidyas (Bagala and Dhoomavati were two Durga manifestations left out) through eight different dance forms in an evening of riveting fare, featuring well-known dancers. The entire troupe together, notwithstanding the cramped space, in an opening sequence to the drums and the Gayatri chant, in raga Revati created myriad Devi attitudes of benevolent giver and fierce avenger. As killer of Shumbha Nishumbha, Kali was given a strong dance scaffolding in Shashadhar Acharya's Mayurbhanj Chhau with the typical torso jerks and wide ambit of leg movements in space, though some nervousness seemed to throttle full-blooded expressional power. As Tara, Prathibha Prahlad admirably held the tautness of mood through her Bharatanatyam, with dramatically energising nattuvangam by Tanjavoor Kesavan whose `kitatakatadinginatoms', at breakneck speed created an ambience of charged action. Prathibha's use of the beeja mantras "Om Aim, Hreem, Sreem" woven into a nritta sequence with punctuations, made for strong theatrical quality with singer Rama's voice doing the rest. Highly creative was the forceful/graceful combine, even in the wielding of large and small cymbals, evoking Bhuvaneswari by Guru Singhajit Singh and Charu Sija. References from Manipuri Sankeertan's Dhop and the death Sanskar conventions intelligently transformed into a dance language depicting Rudra's Shakti, Bhuvaneshwari (beautiful and terrifying), presiding over Suryalok, Chandralok and Marthalok (with its obvious Agni or fire associations). The imaginative percussion (Mangang) and excellent music with two voices beautifully blending, the Yoni/death suggestions epitomised true Tantric echoes.

Bhairavi and Matangi

Rendered to Keshavan's pulsating nattuvangam of `Nandichol' syllables `Nan Dhit Tat Tom", rhythmic vigour punctuated by finely blended freezes comprised the resonant Kuchipudi delineation of Bhairavi by Jayarama Rao and Vanashree. Quite surprising in its expressional elegance and dignity was Rajendra Gangani's Matangi depiction in Kathak. The tandav/lasya ang woven with tukras, "Kaun Kachhu Upamana Bachi" kavit, sudden freezes and chakkars not to speak of tatkar flourishes, showed that this scion of the Jaipur gharana is not without abhinaya sensitivity. Given Sadanam Balakrishnan's creativity and the potency of Kathakali, Chinnamasta, the Goddess who severs her head to rejuvenate, drinking her own blood, was predictably powerful. Ranjana Gauhar's Odissi depiction of Shodashi, with energies and ruddy complexion drawn from the Sun's rays, emphasised Devi's softer giving, qualities and beauty, armed with pasha, ankusha and the arrow. Unexplored was the Hiranyagarbha and power of this Shakti of Panchavaktra Shiva, with garbhanivas and death associations, presiding over the chit (consciousness). Shankaracharya's Saundarya Lahiri calls Shodashi of the 16 kalas, as Tripurasundari and Rajarajeswari. Extremely graceful in a tasteful costume was Sharodi Saikia's Sattriya depiction of Kamala, seated on a lotus with four elephants spouting ambrosia. Kamala was equated to Lakshmi emerging from the churning of the milky ocean. The Vande Mataram finale evoking the country as the ultimate Mother became somewhat untidy with exits and entrances hampered by a very poorly appointed stage - something Ashok theatre needs to look into.

Solo Bharatanatyam

Dancing better than ever, Prathibha's solo Bharatanatyam was a triumph of excellently combined music and dance, despite the tacky stage overwhelmed by large panels painted with names of sponsors. She chose the Kamas varnam "Ma mohalagiri meerude" wherein the mugdha nayika, confiding in the sakhi of her overpowering love for Kartikeya, asks her to convey her message to the Lord when he is alone. Realisation comes in the charanam about the impracticality of expecting fidelity in love, given the waywardness of men. Prathibha's interpretative dance exuded joyous versatility and sensuality, and her nritta, aided by Pulakesin's nattuvangam and Srinivasan's mridangam, had conviction, though the elongated pre-charnam nritta to solfa lines and percussion needed editing. P. Rama gave total vocal support, the bhava in the singing and punctuations keeping pace with the dancer's abhinaya in the ashtapadi "Sakhi he Keshi Mathanam Udaram"