Friday Review

The enigma of subjectivity

MAKING AN IMPACT Geeta Chandran as Ravan  

From the word go, the two- day festival to mark 25th year celebration of Natya Vriksha, an institution of Bharatanatyam exponent Geeta Chandran was a runaway success. Organised at Kamani Auditorium, right from the introduction by Rajeev Chandran to stage design by Manish Kansara, light design by Sharad Kulshrestha, costumes by Sandhya Raman, music led by K.Venkateswaran and accompanists, the complete teamwork of “Anekanta”, conceived and choreographed by Geeta Chandran, had excellence, the hallmark of classical dance. It was inspired by the research on Jaina philosophy by scholar and author Sudhamahi Regunathan.

Ever expanding her artistic horizons in dance, on the first evening, Geeta explored, in a solo, interweaving various strands of Jaina philosophy. The Jaina mool-mantra explains that there are multiple realities to every issue – cultural, political, social, economic and, in fact every aspect of life and living. Geeta examined shades of Anekanta beginning with the relationship of word and meaning of many avataras, bhavas to a single text. Geeta set the mood with Kalidasa’s first shloka from “Kumarasambahavam”, ‘vagarthau iva sampruktau Parvati Parmeswrau’, (the word and the meaning are together like Goddess Parvati and Lord Shiva), recited by a team of musicians with nirgita of Dhrupad elaborating vowels, etc.

As a corollary, the abstract concept as combination of word and sense, resulting in to rasa saw Geeta elaborating upon single line of Dasars’ “Krishna ni begane baro”, (‘O Krishna come quickly’), dwelling upon motherly love of Yashoda, gopis welcoming Krishna for love play and with devotion addressing him as the Lord of the Universe to come quickly to protect one and all. These varieties of the bhavas were expressed with quicksilver expressions to the repetition of one line in an interesting manner.

She used the format of a varnam to illustrate truism from the Rig Veda that there is one truth only, but the wise men see it in various ways: ‘Ekam Sat vipraha bahudha vadanti'’. Interspersed with mnemonic syllables and rendered to melodious singing, five metaphors found a felicitous expression; shared breath; rivers merging into a single ocean; the life cycle where seeds sprout into saplings only to become seeds again; of all religions sharing a single truth, enacting rituals of prayers suggesting Hinduism, Islam, Christianity and so on, concluding with example of sugarcane in different fields sharing the same sweetness. Conceived brilliantly and performed with complete involvement, it spoke volumes for Anekanta philosophy.

The dramatic narrative from Valmiki’s Ramayan, using incident of Ravan decorating himself to woo Sita and how he was wonder struck by the sheer beauty of her eyes, leave alone the total impact different parts of her body would have generated, the Jaina philosophy emphasises that the sum of the parts can never be more than the whole. It was the highlight of the imaginative presentation, giving ample scope to the dancer to impersonate Ravan’s arrogance and his bewilderment at looking at mere Sita's eyes!

Geeta concluded with tillana in Tilang raga ending with a shloka reiterating the cosmic view of interrelatedness of existence, just like the waters of all the rivers fall into the sea, so too Anekanta concept takes us to one truth. The ability to give form to abstract concept in dance was a daunting task, but Geeta through her brilliant performance conveyed it with great success.

Group choreography

If the first day was an elevating experience through solo dance by Geeta, the second day was a joyous celebration by well trained seventeen dancers of Natya Vriskha Dance Company, who shone like chiselled diamonds in group choreography to the recorded music, designed by Geeta in collaboration with K. Venkateswaran, Dr S. Vasudevan, the rhythmic input by K. Sivakumar and Lalgudi Ganesh. Literally, it was a lyrical music-scape. Anekanta was viewed through dramatic dance strategies exploring nritta, pure dance with imagination and stunning visual beauty.

Alarippu presented in three speeds, dancers coming in from the wings seamlessly and with formations of two, three and four, and merging together centrifugally, like petals of lotus, executing movements, at times de-constructing Alarippu, and all coming pat on the sam towards the end, displayed the exquisite formal beauty of Bharatanatyam. It won rounds of applause spontaneously. It was a feast for the eyes, with unusual backdrop carrying designs of ladders, and proper lighting, illuminating the well designed costumes by Sandhya Raman.

In Dikshitar’s composition “Maaye” on Devi, vyakta and avyakta what is seen and unseen, a mirage, were choreographed imaginatively. Geeta's emerging from behind the backdrop and returning back, enhanced the feeling of illusion and prayer for release from Maya.

In Jati Vistar, the juxtaposition of rhythm and silence, using single phrase playing with beats and silence followed by Jati in rhythmic combinations. Geeta as a choreographer, used the same sollus, the mnemonic syllables for harmonious whole indicating what one can do with nritta, pure dance.

What was fascinating was the challenge of exploring Anekanta though music. Using solfa, swara, demonstrating how one note changes the entire tonal quality. To wit, how Sa is pushed to Ri, Ri becoming Sa, with grihabheda, conceiving aural into visual through dance. Dancers some standing, others around them rising like waves and lowering, created eye catching visuals. The melodious music filled the auditorium like fragrance . The entries and exits by the dancers were smooth, faultless, creating patterns of unusual shapes and the configuration of dance and music was heady.

And the highlight was the sequence of Arjuna’s discovering little known Viswaroopa of Lord Vishnu in forests of Odisha in the form of a mythical animal Navagunjara, with head of a rooster, legs of an elephant, a tiger, a deer, back of a hump of bull, waist of a lion, serpent as a tail, peacock for neck and a human hand holding flower, offered interpretation of ‘parts add up to the whole’. Further, whatever a devotee wishes to look for, he shall see Vishnu, Shiva and any other deity he imagines, underlying Anekanta philosophy. It was performed to the singing of Annamacharya’s kriti made popular by MS Subbulakshmi, “Yeta matra muna evaru dalachin”. The backdrop carrying the painting of Navagunjara juxtaposed with dancers enacting various parts of different birds and animals, was just brilliant.

The entire presentation was sophisticated, aesthetic, investing the Bharatanatyam form with newness and reminded one of the saying of Kalidasa, “kshane kshane yam navatamupeta, tadeva rupa ramaniyataha”, which invests itself every moment with newness, that form is beauty. In all departments, the production set a high benchmark. Geeta succeeded in showing how Bharatanatyam has travelled to such height not only in visual terms but also in totality.

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