There is so much happening in the classical dance field now across India that one often sees performances falling into one of two categories. Sometimes it looks as if the recital is a product off the assembly line, with stock movements and stock expressions, stock stories and stock costume designs. At the other extreme, the effort to stand out in the crowd is palpable, with unending rhythmical passages, mind-boggling mathematical calculations in the jatis, experimental colours in the costumes, playful lights and large orchestra, not to mention movements designed to show the dancer’s gymnastic prowess rather than the choreographic aesthetics of the dance form. Both kinds have a tendency to leave a serious spectator dissatisfied.
In this respect, Yamini Muthanna’s Bharatanatyam recital at New Delhi’s India International Centre began on a promising note. A disciple of Vasundara Doraswamy, Yamini began with an invocation that included verses on Ganesh and a traditional mallari. Though it has been performed innumerable times before, the sheer concentration, energy and interest of Yamini along with her orchestra made it a vibrant presentation.
S. Vasudevan on the nattuvangam, occasionally ringing a resonant bell, with Keshavan’s spirited mridangam, K. Venkateswaran’s open-hearted singing and Rajat Prasanna’s intense flute effects, conjured the hustle-bustle of a temple atmosphere. The flutist, incidentally, deserves a special mention. Trained in Hindustani music, Rajat has become a popular accompanist for classical dancers of the Capital and his Carnatic touches are as pleasing as they are remarkable.
Another beautifully executed piece was the daru varnam, Harikesanallur Muthiah Bhagavathar’s “Mathe malaydhwaja Pandya Sanjathe” in raga Khamas, Adi tala. The melodic and lyrical beauty of the composition, along with its potential for elaboration, makes this an evergreen piece. It tells the story of Goddess Meenakshi, born to the Pandya King. Born from the sacrificial fire, she learns the martial arts and conquers the world, until in the austere environs of Mount Kailasa, Shiva, to whom her marriage is pre-ordained, conquers her heart. Yamini sustained the nritta and abhinaya aspects of the piece with aplomb, conveying the story with economy and without exaggerated expressions.
Her new composition, “Manas”, was stronger in the description that preceded it than the actual execution. This was because the theme — the Universal Mind, with verses from the Gita, the Upanishads and the Vedas — was somewhat abstract. While some introduction to any new theme is usually required, the dance presentation itself should be able to stand alone. The music once again, was well executed by the four musicians, but the different dance compositions did not seem to fall together into a harmonious whole conveying a message, tone, or storyline. And while the yoga asanas by the dancer were impressive — it can’t be easy to do shirshasana in the middle of the stage in front of an audience and stand up again without missing a beat — they did not all come together with other elements to form a unit. For the effect to be greater than the sum of its parts, perhaps some more contemplation is required.