Dance

Unravelling layers of meaning

Vanashree Rao Photo: Inni Singh   | Photo Credit: 17dfrVanashreeInniSingh

Taking the India International Centre stage in a solo performance after more years than one can remember, in a homage to her gurus Krishna Kumar (Chhau), Vempati Chinna Satyam, Nataraja Ramakrishna, and husband Jayarama Rao, Kuchipudi dancer/teacher Vanashree Rao made the occasion memorable for the audience in a recital of “Veer Bhakti Sringar Rasa”. Harnessing to full effect the dramatic element so natural to a form stemming from the Yakshagana theatre style, Vanashree’s programme was also built on a strong foundation of excellently crafted and organised musical support.

The bhakti start saw Markandeya being saved from the noose of Yama by Shiva, the item based on Mrityunjaya japam from the Shivapuranam, set in a raga/talamalika. Shiva appearing in response to the urgent cry of his devotee with arms clinging for support to the linga being worshipped was dramatic, the visualisation also based on Rudra-chamakam verses sung and recited sonorously by nattuvanar Vasu, and R. Venkatesh. Evoking veera rasa was the natya episode, depicted through Vanashree’s eka patra abhinaya, the solo dancer taking on three roles of Karna, Arjun and Krishna, comprising the controversial episode of Karna’s killing, built on verses from the Mahabharat and Bhasa’s “Karnabharam”. Crafty Indra, disguised as a Brahman, divests Karna of his kundala and kavacha protection, which had bestowed on him invincibility in battle. Facing Arjun in the war at Kurukshetra, Karna, struggling to lift the chariot wheels stuck in mud, preaches “Kshatriya dharma” to Arjun, that a warrior in a chariot cannot attack a grounded opponent. Krishna intervenes, asking where this “dharma” fled when Draupadi was humiliated in the most inhuman fashion. Arjun, reminded of how son Abhimanyu was quartered to death, is provoked into aiming his arrow, killing helpless Karna. Everything orchestrated into very convincing fare: from concept to dancer’s interpretative punch, punctuated with snatches of nritta, with superbly supportive ragamalika music from raga Mohanam to Sindhu Bhairavi, with the rhythmic gait (nadai) constantly changing, and the voices of Vasu and Venkatesh blending in perfect sur — one in bass and another in treble — along with the instrumentation providing moving flute and sarangi interventions of Rajat Prasanna and Yusuf Suhel Khan, with the surprisingly suited cajon and darbuka played by Sarthak Pawa.

Veera rasa was contrasted by tender sringar delineating the mugdha nayika, based on the padam in Mohanam, “Evvade vadu”, which Vanashree learnt from late Nataraj Ramakrishna. The nayika is curious to know about the newcomer with longing eyes, wondering if the one who stealthily indulges in caressing gestures could be the great Parthasarathi himself. “Mashishasuramardini”, with some Chhau movements in the very impactful dance visualisation of the Devi emerging out of the Yagna kund, was inspired by Pandit Jasraj’s singing of the lyric in Hamsanandi, to which a prelude in raga Durga was devised by the two singers.

The “Divinity Series”

If divinity entails spaces beyond everyday human experience, then the Divinity Series mounted at Kamani auditorium could not have dreamt of a better start than what Nrityagram’s Odissi duo, Bijayini Satpathy and Surupa Sen, gave it through their rendition of the love songs of the Gita Govinda. These two dancers when on the stage in a duet have an unbelievable chemistry — and their dance raises the audience to a different world, the performance in every move evoking the ecstatic feel of the sublime the songs of Jayadeva are meant for. Right from when Bijayini portrayed Radha, persuading her friend to fetch the killer of demon Keshi to her, re-living the joy of her first moments of intimacy with Krishna, his honeyed talk conquering her shyness in “Keshi mathanam udaram”, one knew this was going to be a special evening. One almost felt in the dance the balmy scent laden breezes blowing over the Yamuna bank as described in the ashtapadi “Dheera sameere Yamuna teere” with Bijayini as the sakhi, accosting idly brooding Surupa as Radha, persuading her not to make wild flower garlanded Krishna suffer in desertion. As conceived by Surupa, this is one of the most uplifting dance versions this critic has seen. The stage spacing and the uncanny way the two dancers rendering different movements, in one fluid line, seem to forge together doing the same movements, is magical. As for the deliciously coquettish snippets of nritta showing Radha and sakhi skipping together, the audience in one mind applauded. With vocalist Jatin Sahu’s silken voiced singing with sahitya clearly enunciated, and the meticulously rehearsed orchestral support on mardal by Sivashankar Satpathy, Sanjiv Kundu (violin) and Yaar Mohammad (sitar), it was a perfect evening.

In “Yamihe kamiha sharanam” presented by Surupa, Radha’s despair in love with her steps getting more laboured was brought out with controlled intensity. Bijayini in “Priye charusheele” gave another convincing portrayal as Krishna soothing wronged Radha, declaring his love for her — with a reverential feel in the “dehi pada pallavamudaram” surrender. The two dancers came together in “Kishalaya shayana tale”, the Radha/Krishna ecstatic union conveyed tellingly through metaphors. The purely interpretative presentation, with just glimpses of nritta punctuation in passing without ever allowing pure dance to take over the flow of the abhinaya, showed great control to keep away from virtuosity.

Lakshmi Parthasarathy Athreya’s Tiruvalangadu Kali kavutvam on the second evening continued the divinity flavour. Impeccably clean Bharatanatyam movement profile added to the impetus of the choreography, based on the geometry of the yantra representing feminine divinity, with a speedy Khanda chapu rhythm showing Kali’s dance with the audience comprising Patanjali, Vyaghrapada, Nandi and Narada, with Sesha Nag and all the devas.

Lakshmi’s feel for interpretative dance came to the fore in “Anjaneyar Raghu Rama Doota”, the Anjaneya theme seeming to have become particularly the mode today in Bharatanatyam, with several dancers weaving items round this deity. Anjaneya’s contemplation of Ram, aiding him in moments of obstacle as he crosses the sea to enter Lanka to discover Sita to convey to her Ram’s message by handing over the ring given by Ram, the search for the sanjeevini herb when Hanuman uproots the mountain and carries it to the battlefield to save slain Lakshman and the burning of Lanka were scenes which came off well, with bhava soaked singing by Nandini Anand and nattuvangam by Neela Sukhanya. Based on a Swati Tirunal Anjaneya kirtanam set in the varnam structure, the item was largely narrative, the jati punctuation after each episode crisp in movement clarity and rhythm. The dancer also performed Dharmapuri Subbarayar’s “Aduvum solluval” in raga Sowrashtram, wherein the khandita, in a conversation with the sakhi, blames two-timing lover Subrahmanya for all the tall talk emanating from the other woman, for what else could one expect from one who after years of begging for clothes and jewellery was now living in cosseted comfort surrounded by luxury? Lakshmi’s interpretation was too ladylike pertaining to the “uttama nayika”, and some more bite of the jilted woman in the abhinaya would perhaps have been in the fitness of things. Madurai Sri Krishnan Iyangar’s Valaji tillana was rendered with the clean dance lines and articulated araimandi of the dancer, and the concluding note was the well known ‘Krishna homage’, in the words of Raskhan.

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Printable version | Feb 24, 2021 11:22:34 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/dance/unravelling-layers-of-meaning/article6506516.ece

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