Dance Asmita presented dance ballets ‘Menaka’ and ‘Ahalya’ depicting the plight of women. Gudipoodi Srihari
‘Asmita’ an organisation addressing women’s problems and emboldening them to resist injustice and bring awareness through performing arts like dance;, sourced mythical theme of ‘Menaka’ and her daughter ‘Sakuntala’ and compared them to what is happening today. This concept was presented recently at Ravindra Bharati featuring leading Bharatanatyam artiste Rajeswari Sainath as Menaka and her daughter Vaishnavie as Sakuntala. While Menaka was a victim of enraged Viswamitra for disturbing his penance; Sakuntala was cheated by king Dushyanta though he accepts her in the end.
The ballet’s presentation ran against verbal narration of script, conceived and written by Vasant Kannabhiran, replacing the usual kirtanas of a Bharatanatyam dance. Vibrating dance choreography by Rajeswari and wonderful jatis for rhythm provided by Rajeswari’s guru Karaikkudi Mani were a treat to watch. The best part of it was wonderful music track given by B.V. Balasai. In the absence of kirtanas it’s a challenge for any dancer to compose a dance matching the verbal narration with perfect mime and jatis. In fact what carried the show was the way the sequences were filled with nritta-based drama, proving that nritta too has its own thematic element, though we call it pure dance. The ballet was presented to a pre-recorded music score with commentary.
Though the theme and characters are distributed to the dancers, abhinaya is limited to the narrative. Jatis were performed by all the dancers but a major share went to Rajeswari and Vyshnavie.
The suffering of a woman in silence was portrayed by Vyshnavie extremely well.
ABharatanatyam ballet centred around Ahalya, conceived by Vasanta Kannabhiran, was presented at Ravindra Bharati by Rajeswari Sainath and party. Dedicated to late freedom fighter and writer Kaloji Narayana Rao, the ballet had music by B.V.Balasai. Karaikkudi Mani played mentor to this.
Rajeswari played the narrator and her student Nainita played the role of Ahalya. The dance opened with jatis to pre-recorded music with prose narration by Sagari and Kalpana. Choreography by Rajeswari suited the emotive narrative element. The slokas selected also explained the sage’s ashram atmosphere and how Ahalya fared in the care of Gouthama. ‘I am Ahalya sculpted by sage Brahma’ says Nainita aptly portraying Ahalya and the conditions in Ashram life, all interpreted with mime and jatis. However the loud music affected the clarity of narration. The tunes in multiple ragas suited the mood of the sequences and the abhinaya matched the vocal narration. The essence of the ballet , as conceived by Asmita, raises issues of purity and pollution, desire and denial, illusion and reality of crime and punishment. Now Ahalya is worshipped as a chaste woman, despite what she underwent, to earn a place in the patriarchal order. Rajeswari as narrator and Nainita as Ahalya excelled in their roles through abhinaya and mudras. The rest of the dance was in Nritta format.