Winds of exchange

From Fragments of a Dream   | Photo Credit: 28dfrFragmentsKathak

A two-day festival at the Shri Ram Centre titled ‘Connections’ began with an excellent Classical to the Contemporary Ballet programme involving trained dancers from Opera of Paris. Some press information to substantiate the very sketchy announcements, would have given a better idea of the productions from which excerpts were rendered and names of the participants. The start of a three-minute solo sequence from an original Petipa choreography, recreated by Rudolf Nureyev, did not create much impression. From the next extremely graceful dancing but not on pointed toes followed by a pas de deux sequence which was sheer poetry of movement to the encounter between two men in the next scene, one could see the changes in movement tone and towards the end, the dancing had a quality of assertive aggression. But the excellence of the dancers was beyond a shadow of doubt.

The Kathak/western Contemporary dance encounter titled “Fragments of a Dream”, conceptualised by Indo-French choreographer Rukmini Chatterjee, created mixed feelings with too many elements West and East coming together in a manner not merging into an integrated whole. The scene, a throwback into past memories, begins on a romantic exchange between a man (Contemporary Spanish dancer Fernando Carrion) and his female partner (Kathak dancer Sanjukta Sinha, a disciple of Kumudini Lakhia). Sanjukta was the more animated and convincing of the couple. The woman’s attraction for another male entering the scene (Kathak dancer Anuj Misra,) with in-your-face high flying virtuosity, aggressive sans softer touches, complicates matters. The dance encounter with two strong performers through Kathak intra-forms and abstract bols evoking a kind of wordless interaction, had its moments, though the music (very confused on the whole with a plethora of genres East and West), with the Khayal raga singing in Keerwani, could have been of better quality. The lovers part, with the heroine, after this passionate interlude, getting back to the original love, slumped on the rocking chair, during the jilted period. Lack of choreographic ideas found the girl slowly throwing her arms round him with rejection shown through her collapsing on the ground to thumping sound. Three such attempts makes the hero give in, but to a muddled situation with the other lover reappearing to the words “Tore bina mohe chain na pare” (again needed better singing). Confusion worse confounded was seeing all the dancers from the Royal opera moving on to the stage to pose with a closing Sanskrit hymn to Siva! An anticlimax ending, totally at odds with the rest of the production! Classical/non-classical, East/West exchanges need not become mishmash.

This was proved by the exquisite recital next evening by Spanish Dance Company with Flamenco presented by Karen Lugo’s group, with the dancers interacting with Rajasthan Langa Zakir Khan’s khartal. It was rhythmic expertise at its best, the tap dancing of the Flamenco and the Castanets literally speaking rhythmic permutations with fluent ease, coming together on equal terms. The guitar singing and music was interpreted by the two Flamenco artists through body movement and rhythm with aplomb. The senior dancer in particular in the pauses and freezes and delicate torso genuflexions, and the younger performer deftly handling the trailing frills of her gown in a manner which created its own geometry along with the dancer’s movements, and the khartal and Khan’s singing made for a special evening.

Impassioned Eleni

The parallels with Mahabharata’s Draupadi are all too evident in the Greek epic story of Helen of Troy with “the face that launched a thousand ships”. Both heroines fated to have more than one husband were endowed with beauty of a type that sparked terrible violence in men through blood curdling wars. Neither woman had female confidantes. Intelligent and given to strong feelings, both were also compassionate — though reduced to being looked upon mainly as symbols of sexual beauty in patriarchal societies. Inspired by Homer’s powerful epic Iliad, the tumultuous story of Helen of Troy (alias Eleni of Sparta) triggered Rajika Puri’s innovative narration blurring cultural boundaries through its languages East and West with comparisons between strong women of two cultures, India and Greece, and women’s treatment in misogynist/patriarchal societies as prevailed at the time. After an embryonic lack-lustre premiere for Anita’s Ratnam’s Arangham Trust’s Epic Women Conference, “Eleni of Sparta” has evolved into a highly researched, compelling, layered narrative with strong images. While both Draupadi and Helen (Eleni) were blamed for the blood thirsty wars confronting them, contrarily both have been deified by history — enshrined in their respective countries as symbols of Shakti or female power.

Beginning with ‘Infant’, where Eleni is conceived by Leda through Zeus himself as a swan and Nemesis, as a maiden dancing at the temple of Artemis, she is abducted by Theseus and rescued. The swayamvara scene visualises suitors vying for her and she finally weds Menelaus of Sparta. She loses her heart to comely Paris, Prince of Troy, (son of Priam) who with the help of Aphrodite carries her off and marries her, leading to the terrible Greek/Trojan war. Back in Sparta after the Greeks have destroyed Troy, Eleni’s mind relives the war scenes. On death she is enshrined as Mother Goddess. The best part of Rajika’s narrative with skeletal dancing (derived from her Odissi training) used as a tool for substantiating the story telling, was in the joint participation of the talented Suchet Malhotra whose world percussion accompaniment provided the narrative with excellent punctuation and side effects, along with recorded bansuri (Eric Fraser) and harp (Bridget Kibbey).

Music conceived with folkloric rhythms had Indian ragas from Hindustani thaats like Kalyani, Desh, Durga, etc., very close to Greek melodic modes. Rajika as singer of Greek passages from Homer and Sappho was dramatically communicative, and with a change in intonation, the story telling alternated between scenes from Eleni’s story from one culture to that of the Sutradhar from another culture citing parallels from Mahabharata. Eleni back in Sparta remembers myriad past images.aA veil as prop suggests many images, becoming the mangled body of Hector carried by a heartbroken father Priam (whose throat is later slit at an altar of Zeus) — a synergy of elation, gore and sadness. While this was Kri’s evening, the visuals, with Arshiya Sethi’s explanations of its laudable activities, needed to be tighte.

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Printable version | Jan 25, 2021 8:32:25 PM |

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