Aligning every movement, gesture and expression with the cosmic proportions of the story, Bharatanatyam exponent Anita Ratnam and team transited various yuga avatars before essaying the centrepiece of the show — a multi-dimensional portraiture of Lord Krishna.
The dancer-choreographer, along with her students, was in the city recently to present ‘The Blue Divine - The Shades and Moods of Krishna’, the latest production in her classical-contemporary repertoire, at the ninth Pondicherry Heritage Festival.
‘The Blue Divine’, staged at the Kariappa House, explored the many manifestations of Krishna.
The hour-long show transports the audience across a vast span, from the eighth century of the Common Era to the 16th century, which, according to Anita Ratnam, signified a very important part of social, cultural and spiritual upheaval in India — the bhakti movement which had it roots in Tamil soil and spread all the way to Bengal and Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
As she later said, no other avatar in mythology perhaps has this well-delineated life-arc, from mischievous child with divine purpose, sweetheart of gopikas, the magician on the flute, the one who tamed the snake demon Kaliya, lifted Mount Govardhan to save devotees from drowning, as Arjuna’s charioteer-mentor, architect of the Pandavas’ victory in the Mahabharata and renderer of eternal wisdom through the Bhagavad Gita.
The presentation had the hallmarks of the Anita Ratnam aesthetic — minimalism, experimentation and lyricism.
The show commences with the story of Andal, the most ardent of devotees of Krishna, and her transitioning from Godha (also Kothai) — the child discovered in a tulsi grove — to the worshipper who is convinced that she was his bride and eventually transforming into Andal (the one who ruled the Lord’s heart).
The show featured compositions in several languages, including a Mirabai bhajan ( Kinare Lagaao) and the popular paean by Oothukkadu Venkata Kavi ( Kannan Varugindra Neram) and one that the dancers created taking inspiration from a folk song of Madurai. An exuberant tillana composed in Ratipatipriya raga by Ghatam Karthick capped a memorable night.
For the audience, there was also the early-bird bonus of witnessing a production that had been staged only once before, in Chennai.
“I prefer to cap my productions at around the one-hour mark”, said Anita Ratnam, who, especially in the fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic, has become all the more conscious of the dwindling attention-span of people.
In the spectrum of engagement, the performer and audience seldom meet at around the half-way mark. “These days, it is quite an achievement if the audience stays connected during the entirety of an hour-long performance. In this aspect, I find the patrons in Puducherry to be amongst the most centred audiences”.
After the dancers took a curtain call to a long ovation, PHF coordinators Sunaina Mandeen and Kakoli Banerjee who took the stage were alternating between acclaim for the performance and their deep appreciation for Anita Ratnam’s unfailing association with Puducherry, over successive editions of the heritage festival.