Stepping into a new medium

Nupura’s 2020 annual festival-cum-conference – Nitya Nritya -- was new in many ways this year. By systematically holding the entire festival live over four days on its Facebook page, Nupura showed its dedication to continue the three-decade-old tradition even during the pandemic. The 32nd episode of Nitya Nritya gave emphasis on tillana choreographies, composition of adavus and approaches to abhinaya by hosting artistes from Bharatanatyam, Odissi, Kathak, Kuchipudi, Mohiniyattam and Koodiyattam dance forms. Simultaneously, it made it a point to feature upcoming dancers such as Keremane Shridhar Hegde, Bhavajan Kumar, Sophia Salingros and others who have taken up dance as their profession.

Stepping into a new medium

The festival commenced, interestingly, with discussions on the tillana which normally is performed at the end of the programme. By enumerating the mathematics involved in tillana teermanams, percussionist N. Narayanaswamy observed: “Tillanas provide a peek into the dancer’s rhythmic sense, energy and memory.” Tillana presentations by young dancers from Bengaluru followed the talk. If Shilpa Nanjappa, a disciple of Padmini Ramachandran, narrated how a Kadana Kutuhala tillana could be choreographed as a continuum of a padam that depicted a khandita nayika, Janani Murali showcased how a tillana could be incorporated as part of a bigger production. In their respective presentations, the dancers showcased two diverse possibilities of approaching the tillana by tapping into the undertone of its sahitya. This came as a fresh approach as tillana is mostly viewed as a nritta-heavy piece.

The second day of the conference had two research presentations on the ‘adavu artistry’. Uma Sathyanarayana and Lakshmi Parthasarathy Athreya’s paper discussed and demonstrated the Sramavidhi (adavus) listed in Nritya Prakarana chapter of King Tulaja’s Sangeeta Saramrita. It brought to light many of the less-employed brahmaris and mandalas. It was interesting to observe that some of the adavus and movement described by Tulaja are practiced even today. “What makes Sangeeta Saramrita enthralling is its open-ended nature of instruction. This way it leaves room for creativity,” felt Lakshmi Parthasarathy.

For dancer and researcher, Sreelatha Vinod, adavus could be classified based on the position of the body and whether they involve a turn, jump or leg movement. “For any adavu to be mastered, posture, breadth and balance are the core elements,” she added.

Stepping into a new medium

In the sessions dedicated to ashtapadi adaptations in different dance forms on the third and fourth day of the festival, Lalitha Srinivasan and Praveen Kumar, Sunanda Nair, Madhavi Mudgal, Prateeksha Kashi and Madhu Nataraj rendered their solo presentations in Bharatanatyam, Mohiniyattam, Odissi, Kuchupudi and Kathak forms respectively.

Speaking of her teacher’s choreography of Yahi Madhav, Mudgal explained Kelucharan Mohapatra’s highly stylised and yet realistic treatment of dance. “Before the sahitya would start, he would set the context and prepare the audience for what was going to come next – holding the lamp and covering it with the loose end of the sari suggested that it is dark and the nayika is outdoors searching for her beloved. Gestures like wiping hands while holding the lamp made his choreography more relatable,” explained Mudgal.

Madhu Nataraj performed Lalita Lavanga ashtapadi choreographed by her mother, guru Maya Rao. Although technically sound with stylised angika, aharya and natyadharmi abhinaya, it seemed to lack satvika abhinaya. The same ashtapadi performed by Prateeksha Kashi in Kuchipudi was a more intense and vivacious rendition. Through her portrayal of the brindavan garden and the inner season of spring of Radha, Kashi seemed to have internalised both the bhava of Radha and the sensuous choreography of her mother, Vyjayanthi Kashi.

The last ashtapadi rendition by Praveen Kumar Kshana Madhuna Narayana involved challenging portrayal of Krishna’s longing for Radha and the intimacy between the two. Although the choice of the piece and the willingness to portray the vulnerability of the nayaka is commendable, one expected more intense abhinaya from the dancer.

Madhavi Mudgal; Kapila Venu; Prateeksha Kashi
Photo: K. Murali Kumar

Madhavi Mudgal; Kapila Venu; Prateeksha Kashi Photo: K. Murali Kumar   | Photo Credit: K_Murali_Kumar

If the highlight of the festival was the Koodiyattam rendition by Kapila Venu who presented rasakreeda in Nangiar Koothu (the storytelling tradition of Koodiyattam through abhinaya), the thought-provoking lecture of the conference was Vaibhav Arekar’s talk on the social relevance of dance.

To find answers to the questions – what is the purpose of classical dance and in what direction it should be taken? -- Arekar posed another question: “should it be viewed as a valuable past or a gift entrusted to keep it alive as it was?” Discussing both the instances, he observed, “If the first instance meant, classical dance would just be ‘history’, in the second case, it became a ‘museum’. Both these views are detrimental to the evolution of any art form.”

In his search for the answer, he performed a Bhakti piece composed by saint Namadeva that showcased the overpowering nature of physical desires. He then added: “The same could be compared to the highly materialistic lifestyle of the current times. There’s no point in retelling the story of Namadeva if such comparisons are not subtly brought out in the choreography.” Similarly, in one of his productions on the seasons, he has tried depicting various contemporary human experiences such as love deceit, urban compartmentalised living and more. “Classical dance finds its relevance if the portrayal connects to a common human experience of the current times,” he concluded.

Overall, the festival had some fresh themes to ponder upon and introduced upcoming dancers to a larger audience through technology.

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Printable version | Jan 28, 2021 6:57:27 AM |

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