DANCE Tradition in transition was palpable both in overt and unstated ways at recent performances in the Capital. LEELA VENKATARAMAN
T hat within what is considered the traditional Guru-taught format of a classical dance form, innovative work can find space was what Madhavi Mudgal's Odissi with her group demonstrated in the festival of The IIC Experience. Madhavi's guru, late Kelucharan Mohapatra's prodigious work was itself a creative version of what the region of Orissa had known as its traditional dance. And Madhavi in her recital titled “Tradition and Transference” while preserving the guru's work in its unchanged entirety, has explored the possibilities of Odissi technique for group productions.
She began with a solo presentation of mangalacharan with Guru Kelucharan's old visualisation of the “Manikya Veenam…” hymn with the simple beauty of his nritta punctuation to the syllables “tadinaka dhina ta” and “takutakadhina takadhina” in a slow and gradual increase in speed with the dancer treating the movement in profile and on the round, generally getting away from the very frontal-aspected dance. The original Bhubaneswar Misra Shankarabharanam pallavi choreographed by Kelucharan, re-worked as a duet without playing with the guru's movement choreography, with Arushi Mudgal and Madhavi dancing their totally synchronised movements like two peas in a pod, performing one beside the other or in tandem, and in various relationships, with Gautam Bhattacharya's sensitive lighting, was like a poem. “Priye Charusheele”, one of her guru's favourite ashtapadis, in very understated abhinaya, portrayed Krishna declaring his love for Radha and making the supreme gesture of offering his bowed head for Radha to put her sublime flowerlike feet on, to dispel love's venom. Enchanting was the next Oriya song “Prana Sanginire” wherein an unsuspecting Radha discovers that the trickster impersonating a woman and lovingly decorating her feet with the name of Krishna painted on the soles, was Krishna himself.
The group items, with Madhavi's meticulously trained students, formed the evening's highlight. The ashtapadi “Lalita Lavangalata” with Raghunath Panigrahi's music evoking a sense of fullness in both song and percussion as presented by the well-rehearsed team in aesthetic group formations, saw dancers becoming the birds, the bees and flowers and swaying trees. Arushi made for a pert Krishna with the rest of the troupe as gopis, catching fully the joyous vibes of Krishna sporting with the milkmaids. The solfa passage in between added to the charm. The group nritta designed to Hindustani alap, jod, jhala in a score — excellently recorded — created by Madhup Mudgal in raga Madhuvanti and Durga, sung by him and daughter Sawani Mudgal, gave the perfect rounding off to the evening. Madhavi's use of levels and deflections of Odissi, using counterpoints or creating a domino effect with the same movement done one after the other, and covering of floor space in diagonals, or snaking curves, is unique. And with the 3,4,5 rhythmic combinations so well executed through immaculate dancing in both angasuddhi and rhythm excelled. This was a telling example of transference of tradition.
Shadhona from Bangladesh presenting Rabindranath Tagore's “Hey Ananta Punya” with dance direction by Warda Rihab and music by Suman Sarkar, handled with sensitivity a theme involving a tricky issue like the tension between a political and dominant religion vis-a-vis a less ritualistic one advocating a philosophy as a path to enlightenment and spirituality. Tagore's “Notir Puja”, an adaptation of his poem “Pujarini”, narrates the story of Sreemati, court dancer in the time of Ajatashatru, a diehard Hindu, whose ruthless eradication of Buddhism, which his father Bimbisara had pursued, created tension. Bimbisara's own wife Lokeswari embraced Buddhism with son Chitra becoming a Buddhist monk. Suggestive rather than sloganeering, the choreography aiming at a narrative sans virtuosity, was creative, influenced by a blend of movement vocabularies like Manipuri, Thang Ta and ripples of Kathak, elegant in simplicity.
The meticulous presentation aspects — stage setting with the silhouette of a tree and branch with a few leaves, the painted cloth banners, the tasteful costuming never loud, and a group of trim-figured male and female dancers performing in perfect unison — made for a visually very satisfying production. The music, with percussive variety, was a perfect match, with lyrics culled from different Tagore sources to highlight this theme, extremely well sung. Both Warda Rihab and Lubna Mariam in the main female roles performed with grace and involvement. In their full leg stretches, jumps and broad, neat movements the male dancers were of a piece with the rest. Enriching further the non-Indian participation in IIC Experience was the National Theatre of Ethiopia presenting the country's traditional dance and music. If the Kirar (strings), Washint (flute), Masinko (violin) and Keberof (drums) pleased, captivating in the sheer energy and joi de vivre were the dances from all parts of Ethiopia — the dancers turned out in comely, aesthetic simplicity.
Dhwani's Pehchan series sponsored yet another memorable Kathak dancer in Asavaree Patankar, late Rohini Bhate's disciple. The Bindadin composition “Hey Gauri Ramana Sukhasadana…” in the unflamboyant, lean dance and interpretative understanding straight away carried the Rohini Bhate stamp. The manipulation of weight in impeccable footwork giving to syllables their ‘wazan', the ‘sama' treatment, movement with alap-like fluidity rather than clipped look even in the intra-form, the thumri showing the virahotkanthita “Shyam na abtak ghar aye” with the twist at the end “Shyam ab gar aye” with the doha introduction — were all very Rohini Bhate.
Manoj Desai's liquid singing of Khamaj and Sohini with Arvind Kumar Asan's excellent tabla support, with Ghulam Ali's sarangi were typical of Rohini's minute attention to the wings.