Natyarangam Friday Review

The abstract turns absorbing

Revathi Ramachandran performing during Natyarangam's Upanishad bharatham at Narada Gana Sabha. Photo: K.V.Srinivasan

Revathi Ramachandran performing during Natyarangam's Upanishad bharatham at Narada Gana Sabha. Photo: K.V.Srinivasan   | Photo Credit: K_V_Srinivasan

Dancers interpreted the Upanishads in different ways

Six dancers embarked on a journey. They charted their individual paths towards the same destination, seeking the ultimate truth, in this year’s annual dance festival of Natyarangam, the dance wing of Narada Gana Sabha, with Dr. Sudha Seshayyan as their guiding light.

On the inaugural day, Vaibhav Arekar rose to the challenge with a dynamic performance, bringing out the philosophical content in an intense, internalised journey.

The soulful sound of Yaman sung in Dhrupad style wafted on to the dimly lit stage, and a lone figure walked in, restless, searching, probably for solutions. The figure soon crouched and turned into an embryotic form under a spotlight and slowly rose, capturing the process of evolution. Without going into elaborate explorations, the dancer moved from bee to bird, deer to elephant, day to night, human to almighty with suggestive mudras in an act of veneration.

The presentation throughout was a synthesis of abstract images and narrative structure. The experience of working gives Vaibhav an added advantage.

The most vivid sequence was his portrayal of the three Awasthas of a man’s life. There were certain movements that were repetitive and a little harsh, but the overall experience overshadowed them.

Music plays an important role, and Vaibhav shone in this area. The brilliant sound scape was designed so sensitively that even if the audience listened to it with eyes shut, it would still have been an intense experience.

Prof C.V. Chandrasekhar had composed the basic framework using Hindustani ragas such as Yaman and Durbari.

The dancer needs to be complimented for the jathi korvais, which were musical in nature and attuned to the mood. The deep voice of Dhrupad singer Chintan Upadhyay was complemented by the soft, mellifluous one of Manoj Desai. Kaleesharan Pillai (cymbals) uttered the bols, and Dakshinamurthy Pillai kept pace on the mridangam. Sarang Veslekar (sitar) excelled with his musical flourishes at appropriate moments.

Seema was the narrator and the script was by Pradnya Agasti.

Exquisite bhava

In a festival where the subject gave scope for intense expressions, the format of jathi, kriti and thillana was a restricting factor in the performances of two mature dancers.

Titled ‘Brahmopanishad Param,’ Roja Kannan began with Anjali before moving on to a narrative path, depicting a story highlighting the requisite qualities of self control, compassion and generosity that the devas, asuras and manushya respectively need to emulate.

The lines from the song, ‘Maitreem Bhajatha’ blended seamlessly here.

Searching for the ultimate truth, Roja, a refined dancer, sailed through the depiction of various facets of life, the evolutionary cycle of organism, the luminous light of the Sun and knowledge gained from a spiritual guide, with her exquisite bhava and gestural language communicating the ideas but the impact was diluted by the interplay of jathis and frequent inclusion of one line taken from various popular compositions as an additive feature.

The performance, instead of being an emotional experience of abstract thought, became more of a cerebral effort with the dancer’s literal visualisation – Padartha Abhinaya. The enactment of Yama and Nachiketa, with dialogue in Sanskrit and Tamil, was also stilted, alternating between the two characters with static poses.

The melodious voice of Hariprasad, who had also composed the musical score, was complemented by Eshwar Ramakrishnan (violin), Devarajan (flute), Nellai Kannan (mridangam) and Sharanya (cymbals). The compering was by Dr. Asha Gopalakrishnan. Revathi Ramachandran, guided by Swami Paramarthananda and Dr. Sudha Seshayyan as the resource person, chose ‘Svetasvatara Upanishad’ with its emphasis on upaasana. The dancer attired in a white and gold costume, aesthetically designed by her daughter Manasvini, took us on a philosophical quest. The highlight of the show was the imagery of Brahman as a cosmic wheel.

The music composed in a tanam, pallavi format in Kharaharapriya and a complex tala Rangapradeepa by vidushi Suguna Purushottaman, was sung evocatively by K. Gayatri Prasanna in chowka kaalam and Revathi responded to it fully comprehending the nuances of the slow tempo. Depicting the cycle of evolution, her picturisation of the growth of a seed to a tree with fruits and returning back to the seed, and ending each cycle of sequences with an anjali mudra facing the single prop on the stage, a circular backlit frame with Aum, was an aesthetic touch.

The latter half of the show dealt with the marga to be followed to seek the ultimate truth through the guidance of a guru, by various means such as chanting, Surya namaskar and other exercises to discipline the body and mind with the musical score using swarajathi format and Rudram chanting too.

Revathi was able to communicate the bhava of devotion convincingly, but the intermittent jathis and a thillana in the end were really out of place, disturbing the mood.

The musical score was exemplary using chaste Carnatic ragas, but it was again a flow of kritis, swaras and jathis.

The contribution of K.Gayatri Prasanna to the performance’s success cannot be overstressed. Vedakrishnan (mridangam), K.P. Nandini (violin), Sruthi Sagar (flute) and Manasvini doing the nattuvangam enhanced the impact with their sensitive support.

The subject is such that the audience needs to concentrate to experience the philosophy, and there was no need for the long-winded, highbrow introductions.

A letter from the Editor


Dear reader,

We have been keeping you up-to-date with information on the developments in India and the world that have a bearing on our health and wellbeing, our lives and livelihoods, during these difficult times. To enable wide dissemination of news that is in public interest, we have increased the number of articles that can be read free, and extended free trial periods. However, we have a request for those who can afford to subscribe: please do. As we fight disinformation and misinformation, and keep apace with the happenings, we need to commit greater resources to news gathering operations. We promise to deliver quality journalism that stays away from vested interest and political propaganda.

Support Quality Journalism
Related Topics
Recommended for you
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | May 29, 2020 12:14:31 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/dancers-interpret-upanishads-in-different-ways/article6317511.ece

Next Story