Feast for the eye and intellect

Koothambalam, the traditional theatre hall in Kerala, where the Mudra Fest and Seminar was recently held.  

SITUATED IN a serene setting, amidst a lush green surrounding, is the beautiful Koothambalam, the traditional Kerala theatre hall, wherein the Multi-Purpose Cultural Centre of the Department of Culture, Government of Kerala, functions. The Mudra Fest and Seminar, a first attempt of such kind by this Centre created an impact, especially on the enthusiastic, devoted students of dance, who had gathered in large numbers thanks to the efforts of R. Sarath, secretary, and Neena Prasad, Mohiniyattom exponent and coordinator for the event. ``The centre has plans to propagate our artistic heritage, through its multi dimensional activities with ample Government support. Courses in music and dance will soon begin in the specially designed spaces. We also plan to equip the Centre with a library and instruments, essential for the students to improve their skills in both theory and practice of art forms," said Sarath.

Oommen Chandy, Chief Minister of Kerala, who inaugurated the national festival and seminar, welcomed the new venture of the MPC centre and offered the Government's full support to the centre's plan to make it an annual feature. A. P. Anil Kumar, Minister for Culture, and other dignitaries participated in the inaugural function.

Sonal Mansingh , Odissi exponent and Chairman, Central Sangeet Natak Akademi, New Delhi, who presided over the valediction, also commended the sincere efforts of the MPC Centre. The four-day event included performances by reputed artists representing different dance disciplines and lecture demonstrations by senior teachers and dancers.

On the inaugural evening, one of the outstanding Mohiniyattom artistes, Kalamandalam Kshemavati performed to a packed hall. This was followed by a Manipuri recital by Preeti Patel from New Delhi.

Venkatachalapati... `Bhama Kalapam' beautifully interpreted.

Venkatachalapati... `Bhama Kalapam' beautifully interpreted.  

The opening lecture was given by Pappu Venugopala Rao, scholar, writer, and Regional Director, AIIS, Chennai, on the repertoire of Kuchipudi solo dance performance, as evolved from the Bhagavata Mela Natakam, Yaksha Gana and allied dance theatre forms. The evolution, existence, and the development of the solo Kuchipudi format was skilfully brought out in a compact presentation by Rao, who was ably supported by the talented dancer, Venkatachalapati from Kuchipudi village and Neena Prasad.

At the outset the speaker drew a parallel between the two traditions (Bhagavata Mela and Kuchipudi), and explained the similarities in both. Different items of the repertoire incorporated into the Kuchipudi style, were discussed. While elaborating on the Pravesika Darus, their content, language, the ragas used, composers and other salient features were highlighted. Apart from Venkatachalapati, Neena Prasad presented excerpts from Pravesika Daru of Srutakeerti.

While describing the uniqueness of Bhama Kalapam in the Kuchipudi repertoire, the speaker mentioned that it is an all-encompassing piece which gives scope for the dancer to employ every aspect of poetic expression. Venkatachalapati's demonstration of the Lekha (the Letter) of Bhama, was a beautiful interpretation at this point. Venugopala Rao, while quoting the different types of Rupakas, pointed out to the Bhagavata Mela Natakas and the Kuchipudi tradition that are referred to as Maarda Natakas. He also referred to the varieties of Yaksha Gana tradition (Kalapam, Prabandham, Bommalattam, etc.), which have Srngara as the dominant Rasa. The features of Yaksha Gana that are employed in the Kuchipudi and Bhagavata Mela rendition were also cited. The speaker also threw light on the varied thematic ballets choreographed by Vempati Chinna Satyam, veteran Kuchipudi artiste.

Musician, dancer, teacher, choreographer, and nattuvangam exponent, M. V. Narasimhachari, spoke on the aspects of nattuvangam, music and the underlying rhythm principles of Bharatanatyam, with suitable demonstration by his disciples Vijayakumar and Venugopalan. Narasimhachari, at the commencement of his lecture, gave definition of Tala, as the binding factor of all rhythmical orientation within the prescribed format, encompassing within itself the combinations of the five Jatis and their permutations. Example for the structure of a Korvai, the arudi patterns, and rhythmical innovations, within the parameters of the given base, were explained, although there was hardly enough details pertaining to the art of nattuvangam with focus on the handling technique, or the actual composing of a rhythmical pattern which would have helped the students of dance, to have a better understanding of this important subject. Similarly, the inter-relation between music, dance and nattuvangam was not fully covered, and the time allotted could have been best utilised still by the speaker.

A very neat, crisp presentation, rich in content and quality, was offered by the renowned V. P. Dhananjayan on Choreography of Modern Themes in Bharatanatyam. ``Sareeram Aadyam Khalu Dharma Saadhanam," quoted the speaker, at the outset, to emphasise that the goal of the individual body is to achieve the good and the higher values of life. While speaking of the glory of Bharatanatyam as that which can extend its territories, to adapt, and to adopt, he explained the need for interpreting new themes in the same idiom. As part of the demonstration, Dhananjayan presented a padam on traditional lines, composed by Sujatha Vijayaragahavan (``Neelakantare Vaarum") wherein the dancer could include contemporary ideas i to suit the content.

For the well-known text of ``Jungle Book" of Rudyard Kipling, a video clipping of Dhananjayan-Santha's choreography on traditional approach, was taken up for illustration. Using different forms of Indian dance, with the focus on Bharatanatyam, employing martial arts, and ballet all set to excellent music by Pandit Vijayaragahva Rao and his ensemble of varied Indian instruments, it came as a fitting finale to the lively lec-dem of Dhanajayan.



In an elevating session, Usha Nangiar, Kudiyattom exponent, spoke on the Chaturvidha Abhinayam. The speaker explained with illustrations the four-fold aspects of the Sanskrit dramatic tradition, the Aangika, Vacika, Aaharya and Satvika Abhinaya. The aesthetic appeal of the traditional format in Bharatanatyam, by this writer, and Padams and Javalis by Lakshmi Viswanathan, were the other presentations.

Among the evening recitals, Shylaja (Kuchipudi), gave a remarkable performance of ``Siva Siva Bhava Bhava." Equally powerful was her portrayal of the Pravesika Daru of Rukmini. While Deepti Omcherry Bhalla (Mohiniyattom) made an impact with her presentation of the Nritya Prabandha, Neena Prasad (Mohiniyattam), gave a striking depiction of Amrapali.

The Mohiniyattom recital of Bharati Shivaji brought in a note of leisure and composure. The invocatory number, and the others that followed aptly fitted the stature of this senior dancer. However, the performance exceeded the allotted time and pushed the Odissi recital of Sonal Mansingh beyond schedule. The recital comprised three pieces — a stuti on Devi, a folk song of the gopis, and Mary Magdalene, a Hindi version of Vallathol's song — all of which were beautifully explored by the veteran artiste. The series had Alarmel Valli performing on the second day. A Kathak performance by Manjari was also part of the Mudra Fest.