Celebrated Odia writer Dr Pratibha Ray’s ‘Yagyaseni’ found a new life in the form of a Kathak dance theatre this past week. The production by Sangita Chatterjee was performed at the Stein Auditorium at India Habitat Centre. Surprisingly, the nearly 400 seating space was nearly full.
The literary fiction by the Jnanpaith awardee created quite a flurry in the manner Draupadi, one of the central characters of the epic Mahabharat gained her own space through a feminist perspective. Draupadi, called Yagyaseni, rose from the sacrificial fire. It was rather commendable to present it to a dance theatre.
Of late, dance theatre has gained grounds with young dancers who have adapted the age-old precepts of dramaturgy from the Natyashastra, the seminal text on Indian classical dance. The dance theatre has provided a space of fresh breath to assert solo dance skills. It enfolds an emotive content woven with the technical prowess of the respective dance traditions. Alongside, the displays incorporate largely recorded music, light and sound design that allows the dancer to provide the growth of a central character.
Though a traditional epic character, the very choice of the fiction located Draupadi into the contemporary feminist discourse. Sangita, along with Averee Chaurey, supplemented an effective script combined with sensitive lighting by Sharad Kularestha.
Sangita, despite her young age, treated the evolving character of Yagyaseni with much prowess. The dramatic intensity of the opening incorporated painted red hands, juxtaposed with a long red cloth, and open hair. Yagyaseni, one who rose from fire, took the centre stage as she is surrounded by ferocious flames and rising amidst blood.
The structure implied by the intense tone gripped the audience immediately and then rocked in the next light-hearted scene illustrating Dhraupadi in her carefree youth.
The performer developed a variety of images to assert her link with Krishna such as writing letters, conversing with birds. The dramatic element evolved with the use of symbolism connected with colours. It was not only red as fire, or blood but the colour of black as well. On one level, the latter was a direct connection with Krishna – the dark one – as her friend (Sakha). On another level, black symbolised both churning and dissolving.
Against this relationship, gradually developed the feminist awareness of injustice and her grandeur. A consciousness that moved parallel to her relationship with Krishna as her guide and protector, until she owns her persona. The apt and beautiful lyrics by Himanshu Srivastava and music by Saroj Mohanty blended to aid the complex dimensions of the story.
Sangita began by depicting the young innocent Yagyaseni playing with nature, dreaming, and writing to her Krishna. This section ended using Kathak technique by manifesting the peacock feather and establishing the splendid majestic Krishna image on stage one that filled the mind of the young Yagyaseni.
Yet another inventive input was the duet with Avinav Mukharji. Performed centrally on a small platform around a hanging curtain, Mukherjee symbolised both the spring season and her relationship with Krishna in the innocent youth.
The third and fourth sections brought the ‘battle of minds’ in Yagyaseni. She marries Arjun and then has to divide her affections between four other brothers. This section deftly touched on the actual power battle in the Mahabharat. From the game of dice to the pathos of leaving her children as Yagyaseni proceeded with her five husbands on a 13-year exile. Finally, the actual battle and loss of her children. Interspersing the structure, her relationship with Krishna remained a constant and allowed the woman in her to develop.
Throughout the production, lights accompanied by competent use of technical Kathak pieces wove to aid the story. It is unusual, that a story in a Kathak performance takes the foreground. Normally, the Kathak dancers cannot but help bring in the famed virtuosity of spins, and power play of technical footwork and haphazard pure dance compositions.
For example, in one place, Sangita used long red cloth and swirled. Yet, the use of the cloth enhanced the dominance of blood, heightened the idea of churning and simultaneously brought out the essence of Yagyaseni – one who rose from the fire and was born to offer the ultimate oblation.
It was admirable that the dancer stayed and held the attention of the audience throughout the 75-minute production.
However, a bit of editing was required to tighten the dance theatre as the third section dragged a bit. But as the production proceeded towards the end, Sangita built the external, internal growth of the protagonist magically.
The emotive image-type rose amidst dramatic lighting, fitting music and lyrics and expressional subtleties. Yagyaseni fought the battle to justify her existence and she won the ritualistic battle to assert and splendidly own herself. It was Sangita Chatterjee’s day!