Dance on the glory of Muruga


Thematic presentation on "Om Saravana Bhava" by Revathi Ramachandran.

Thematic presentation on "Om Saravana Bhava" by Revathi Ramachandran.  

THE DANCE production, ``Om Saravana Bhava" centred round the theme of Muruga, was performed by Revathi Ramachandran and her students for Nungambakkam Cultural Academy.

Verses from diverse sources such as Tiruppugazh, Adi Sankara, Kanda Purana had been strung together on an unbroken thread of imaginative music, using the creative energies of many eminent scholars and musicians.

The music had been recorded in a studio. There are many advantages in doing that, but having the musicians performing live creates an entirely different atmosphere. They also provide a sense of continuity, especially in a production with many scenes, as they remain on stage.

When the dancers entered, the stage seemed bare and dull, as the music played from the speakers. Perhaps the solution then is to have very good sets that completely transform the stage.

At the back of the stage, the white screen was stained and there was an intriguing bundle covered in yellow, near the platform, that was never used during the show.

No detail is too small to be overlooked in any presentation on stage, as it can diminish the results of a dancer's hard work. Muruga, in the guise of an old man, presented a strange sight with a white beard and moustache and an unruly mop of black hair. Long yellow pyjamas extended well below the costume of the second Siva. Disparate pieces of scotch-tape secured the peacock feathers at the sides of the kavadis.

Certainly, a lot of thought and effort had gone into selecting the verses, setting them to music and then dancing to them. The birth of Muruga, the six babies that merged into a body with six heads, Shanmuga, the teaching of the mantra Om to Siva, the vanquishing of various demons, and the winning over of Valli were the main scenes.

However, because of the number of episodes chosen, they were outlined with great speed. Also, the order seemed arbitrary: after the young Muruga was shown to have grown-up and fallen in love, he returned much later in the shudda nrittam sequence, once again a child, dancing with Siva and Parvati.

One was left with the impression of having watched a series of animated tableaux on the life of Subramanya, rather than having felt His presence evoked. Perhaps this was because the communicative power of abhinaya was mainly used in ``Sollavallayo kiliye," performed by Revathi as Valli.

Among the students, Divya Subramaniam impressed one with the exuberance and dexterity she displayed in her dancing.

Mathura Viswanathan

Mathura Viswanathan  

Gayathri Rajasekar has an attractive stage presence and an expressive face. She covers space on the stage as she performs, and application and focus are apparent in her dance. This dancer has the potential to develop further. However, in her execution of adavus, the clean lines of the Kalakshetra style are lost by unnecessarily adding extra movements. The tendency to embroider her nritta with inappropriate facial expressions should be checked.

Gayathri attempted the Vinayaka varnam composed by T. V. Gopalakrishnan, ``Vaarana Mukhava."

This is a difficult varnam, choreographed by V. P. Dhananjayan at an advanced, elevated stage in his art, and it was beyond Gayathri's ken.

In her performance, the rounded, deliberate movements in the nritta, meant to visually evoke the sense of a ponderous, happy Ganesha, were replaced by a flatter version. Thus, the three dimensional beauty of the varnam was presented in a bewildering uni-dimensional way.

Gayathri needs to work on creating the sthayi bhava and expressing bhakti, apart from understanding how to present a male deity such as Ganesha in dance.

Mathura Viswanathan wore a nice costume, the small border of green with gold paisleys providing a contrast within the pleated red fan. Watching her perform Nityakalyani, describing the Goddess in various ways, it was evident that she has learnt well the grammar and vocabulary of dance.

Her nritta was neat and abhinaya restrained. If she were to use the language of dance as a form of personal expression, it would take her far.

While holding poses, there is a certain slackness in the body, which can be corrected easily. She covered the stage adroitly, in the course of her dance.

Mathura was accompanied by a fine set of musicians. A. S. Murali sang with feeling.

Nellai Kannan's expertise on the mridangam is an asset for any young dancer in a performance. Guru A. Lakshman enunciated the sollukattus with clarity and strength while doing the nattuvangam.

Violinist Sikamani provided excellent support. Sometimes, the unintended consequence of such enjoyable music is that, if not balanced by the dancer, one is drawn more towards it than the dance.

In a dance drama, aharya abhinaya assumes an even greater significance.

Dr. A. Rangacharya, in his translation of the Natyashastra, suggests that in being external to the actor, and therefore not always within his control, it differs from the other forms of abhinaya.

Also, refinement in taste is not easily acquired. When the Kuchipudi Arts Academy presented "Kiratarjuneeyam," the question of aharya came into focus. Siva's costume was made of a greyish-white shiny material that took away from the dignity of the character.

Suryanarayana Murthy was so well-disguised by the wig and moustache though, it took a while to recognise him as Siva, complete with a neat smear of blue paint on his throat. While the male dancers generally wore similar costumes, the ornaments and costumes used by the female dancers were not the same. While costumes do not have to be exactly identical, great attention to detail is required so that a symmetry of colour and jewellery is maintained on stage. Otherwise, it can distract the viewer. For men particularly, it is preferable not to use a bright red shade of lip colour. The seats used as props were not covered properly.

The story of Arjuna's pride being humbled by Siva in the form of a hunter is a well-known one, explored in the Vana Parva of the Mahabharata and Bharavi's Sanskrit maha-kavya.

The dance-drama began with the scene of Siva and Parvati seated together, their praises sung with Adi Shankara's famous Panchakshara stotram, Nagendra Haraya.

Suryanarayana Murthy held one's attention as the majestic Siva, especially during the long nritta sequence that introduced his character. It earned him a round of applause. However, he seemed distracted at times.

Vempatti Ravi Shankar was persuasive as the virile, manly Arjuna, again excelling in a nritta passage. Hari Ramamurthy as Indra, and Priyanka as Parvati were good in their roles.

In the group sequences, the dancers lacked co-ordination especially when crossing the stage in two lines or turning. This could easily have been overcome during rehearsals.

The duel between Arjuna and the kirata, the main part, one would think, of a dance drama called `Kiratarjuneeyam,' was not developed enough.

It was over in a brief sequence and skipped over the desperate use of weapon after weapon in the fight until Arjuna, in a touching gesture of faith, builds a Sivalinga of clay.

The humbling of Arjuna's pride in successive stages, during the course of that fight, could have been portrayed in a compelling way through abhinaya, had the sequence been longer.

Guru Vempatti Chinna Satyam brought an austere dignity to the performance, seated as he was with a folding book-rest in front of him, doing the nattuvangam. D. V. Shastri sang with confidence and ease.


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