The inimitable Kalakshetra experience

Kumara Sambhavam being staged at Bharatha Kalakshetra

Kumara Sambhavam being staged at Bharatha Kalakshetra   | Photo Credit: B_VELANKANNI RAJ


The mood was recreated at Koothambalam, as Rukmini Devi’s choreography was showcased during the annual art festival

Watching the production ‘Kumara Sambhavam’ at Kalakshetra’s annual festival in its newly restored theatre, Bharatha Kalakshetra, was like opening the family treasure box and looking at an old piece of jewellery. The design may be outdated and the colour may have faded but the value is immeasurable. The theatre itself is like an oasis, away from the hustle and bustle of the city, with all its greenery. Koothambalam, as it is also referred to, has its aestheticallydesigned entrances guarded by Dwarapalakas and the steps are flanked by the Diggajas and Yali motifs. There are no pillars to obstruct the view of the audience and the low stage affords a full view of the happenings on the stage. “Bharatha Kalakshetra theatre has the features of a traditional theatre but with the sophistication of the modern to give visitors a visual and aural treat,” says Revathi Ramachandran, the director of Kalakshetra.

The four productions showcased at Kalakshetra this December, apart from the two from the Ramayana series, seemed like the very journey of Kalakshetra. ‘Kumara Sambhavam,’ a 1947 production of its founder Rukmini Devi Arundale, had the markings of its times. It was produced and premiered in the year of Indian Independence and staged in New Delhi at the inauguration of the Republic of India in 1950.

‘Kumara Sambhavam’ is the dance narrative of Kalidasa’s epic poem on the coming together of an ascetic Siva and a lovelorn Parvathi to cause the birth of Kumara to get rid of Tarakasura, who had obtained a boon that he could only be killed by the son of Siva. So Manmatha shoots an arrow at Siva, the ascetic in deep meditation to be awakened and desire provoked in him to unite with Parvathi. The production has a vintage feel to it.

Kannappar Kuravanji being performed at Bharatha Kalakshetra

Kannappar Kuravanji being performed at Bharatha Kalakshetra   | Photo Credit: M_Karunakaran

Rukmini Devi’s choreography shines with elegance and great dignity be it ‘Kumara Sambhavam,’ ‘Koormavatharam’ or ‘Kannappar Kuravanji’ but each is moulded in a different tempo. ‘Kumara Sambhavam’ moves slowly, giving the audience time to savour the musical qualities composed by Tiger Varadachari. ‘Koormavatharam,’ produced in 1974, a good 27 years after ‘Kumarasambhavam,’ has colour, glamour and plenty of humour.

It is the story of Gods, who want to get the amrita or nectar which is in a pot at the bottom of the ocean, with the help of demons. Vishnu comes in the form of a Koorma or the turtle to steady the mountain Mandara, used as a pestle, has eye-catching costuming, particularly, the hairdos, the likes of which were not seen before, the neat drape and the colours all making this production stand out as one of Rukmini Devi’s finest apart from her Ramayana series.

From ‘Koormavatharam’

From ‘Koormavatharam’   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Brilliantly original and perhaps the most erotic that Rukmini Devi could come close to, in just about four decades, this production must be savoured for its context and the time that it was produced, the beauty it offers in concept, presentation and execution.

‘Kannappar Kuravanji’ takes a completely different route. It has a mountain-forest feel with the costume in various shades of brown and green and has dialogue in rustic dialect.

Choreographed in 1962, Kuratti or Devaratti is dignified and respected as opposed to the image of an unclean, unsophisticated person generally projected. The choreography is particularly brilliant in the entry of Tinnappar, who later becomes Kannappar and in the hunting scene.

Kuravanjis of Kalakshetra was a topic chosen for presentation by Nandini Nagaraj, Nirmala Nagarajan and Jyolsna Menon during Kalasamprekshanam, held recently, where the stalwart Janardhanan, who supervised the productions, shared nuggets of information.

From ‘Panchali Sabatham’

From ‘Panchali Sabatham’   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

‘Panchali Sabatham’ is a post-Rukmini Devi production of Kalakshetra. Choreographed by Janardhanan and Krishnaveni Lakshmanan to music composed by D. Pasupathi, it reflects the uncertain times prevailing in Kalakshetra after the passing of Rukmini Devi.

The production remains literal. The music is sedate, though musically rich, does not have the variety needed for a full-fledged dance-drama. The group choreographies are outside the story line and repetitive. But some superb acting saves the production. Apart from Haripadman who is a star performer of Kalakshetra with his characteristic vibrancy in every role given to him, it was Girish Madhu, who surprised with his sthayi of the innate cruelty of Duryodhana in very subtle nuanced acting. Jayakrishnan brought in plenty of humour as Mahabali. Indu Nideesh as a coy Parvathi in ‘Kumara Sambhavam’ and as a fiery Draupadi in ‘Panchali Sabatham’ was notable. K.P. Rakesh was calm and precise in his dancing. Sreenath as an angry Arjuna and Rajkamal was vibrant, although he had very little to do as Karna.

The experience was enhanced by the orchestra — Saishankar (vocals), Hariprasad (mridangam), Anilkumar (maddalam), Kiran Pai (veena), Anantha Narayanan and Shashidhar (flute) and Siva Kumar (violin). Glitches were of course there. The translations of the poems projected on the screens on either side of the stage were almost comic in the beginning with complex words, disjointed sentences and some spelling mistakes. These were taken care of in ‘Panchali Sabatham.’ Transliteration may not be needed, but simple explanations are called for.

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Printable version | Jan 28, 2020 1:30:55 PM |

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