A journey of discovery

An attempt at internationalising a folk tradition. — Pic. by M. Moorthy.

An attempt at internationalising a folk tradition. — Pic. by M. Moorthy.  

NANDLAL NAYAK is a third generation Jharkhandi folk musician settled in Boston who nurtured a dream of bringing international musicians to India; to make this happen he decided to finance the venture himself. On the first leg of Nayak's `dream' tour, his production group `Akhra' comprising musicians and dancers from around the world, including his choreographer-dancer wife Wendy Jehlen, presented ``Safar," a music and dance show in Chennai.

Nayak's `world' music is an earnest attempt to internationalise his folk tradition. Unusual sounds blended smoothly and the musicians seemed to take pride in the harmony. The sounds were predominantly percussive and it did lead to near cacophony occasionally, but pardonable in the larger scheme of things.

Nayak led with his Nagpuri songs, supported by Chieko Mori whose adaptability to folk tunes with her Japanese string instruments, koto and jushchigen, was remarkable. Rich Stein, with an impressive range of percussive instruments from the Djembe, the African drum, the Cajon, the South American drum to the Nagara, the Nagpuri drum just showed the world how universal rhythm is.

The dance choreography was by Jehlen who is currently in Chennai with the American Institute of Indian Studies. She has trained extensively in Bharatanatyam, and her movements included adaptations from Capoeira (Brazilian Martial Arts), American Sign Language poetry, Butho (Japanese contemporary dance), African dances, etc.

Her dance style is contemporary without its customary abstractness. The movements had an inbuilt rhythm and mood, often accompanied by symbolic gestures in sign language. The costumes bordered on the austere without any embellishments and this helped keep the focus on the well choreographed, tightly knit movements that were executed with discipline and professionalism. Besides Jehlen, the dancers were Tara Murphy, Andrea Jacob, Gunasekhar, M. Palani and Denver Nicholas.

``Midnight" was perhaps one of the best pieces of the evening where music and dance shared equal honours. Based on a poem about the loneliness of a man sitting by a stormy sea on a dark night, the plaintive notes on the violin and Nayak's rendering, ``Kiki kahoon ke suni" evoked sombre images that were reflected in the body language of the dancers.

Other musical compositions that captivated were: the Rajasthani folk tune based on Desh raag, the romantic `Prem Kahani' with the baritone voice of the violinist T. S. Seshadri delineating raag Vrindavan, and `River and Path' that was a mixture of Nagpuri folk, American gospel and an energetic African drum beat.

``Crane," a 25-minute dance presentation that premiered that evening was based on a Japanese poem about the bird that lives in the marshes, its journeys and struggles likened to those faced by man. The movements here were symbolic and the graceful dancers performed complicated movements that demanded breathe control, concentration and suppleness. The alaap by Seshadri and the mridangist K. P. Srinivasan in raag Maal Kauns drenched in melody was superb. Nayak and Jehlen revelled in mixing diverse ideas, a good example of which was the last item. It was an adaptation of the practice of the Turkish Sufi saints, better known as the `whirling dervishes' who meditate and develop a religious fervour while pirouetting. Computer generated music augmented by a high-pitched Buddhist chant by Mori made up the eclectic mix. And surprisingly, it was coherent.

However, the most endearing was the spirit that united the 19 artistes on stage. It was unfortunate that this programme had a thin attendance with only a handful braving the incessant rain to make it to the show.


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