In Letter Spirit and form - The Hindu 26.09.2014 By Leela Venkataraman

Recent festivals exemplified the evolution taking place in the various classical dance forms.
Art Vision’s Sangam festival, the brainchild of Ileana Citaristi, for the 10th consecutive year’s celebration mounted at Rabindra Bhavan of Bhubaneswar, presented “Siddhartha” based on Hermann Hesse’s book written in 1922. Ileana with her Chhau/Odissi involvement, braving the local criticism heavily weighing in favour of preserving the guru-designed Odissi mode, has ventured into innovative productions, with mixed results. The story of the young Brahmin in search of self-realisation sees phases of self-denial, meditation and self-indulgence — till an accidental encounter with a boatman urges him to observe and listen to the moods of the flowing river mingling with the ocean, which will lead him to search within himself for answers he seeks on the secret of life. Odiya poetry, easily understandable, courtesy Devadas Chhotray, set to Annada Prasanna Patnaik’s equally unpretentious music evoking folk and boatman’s song tunes, with Sachidananda Das’ rhythmic contributions, provide the dance base. What made the production was the use of images as metaphor, like the empty cages and leafless stark tree stump as empty as the hero’s heart, with excellent lighting devised by Lalatendu Panigrahi. A confluence of interacting forms, it featured the supremely proficient Mallakhamb artists of Puri whose balancing acts on the pole — while astonishing — served as a metaphor with the high reach showing aspiring for higher truth. One encounter saw the emoting hero Shaswat doing Odissi, interacting with the Mallakhamb artists scaling the heights of the pole offering to raise him from the ground levels of utter despondency to the metaphysical heights, visualised through rhythmic play on the mardal and tikara (also by Sachidananda), very creatively.

The scene portraying Siddhartha falling prey to evils of the flesh was simple and communicative as was the rest of the dance, with no showcase virtuosity. As for the subdued lighting images showing the river, its flow and the waves, and Siddhartha in sheer agony of failure, jumping into the waters, all were very artistic. Ileana in the role of the boatman communicated through a minimal language. The artistic costumes were simply designed evoking purist murmurs of being “hopelessly inadequate”.

The one thoughtless act by the host organisation was in opening with their own production, leaving Mohiniattam dancer Sreerangam, coming all the way from Kerala with her disciples, with a very scanty audience.
A disciple of Guru Kalamandalam Kshemavathy, Sreerangam with her finished students, began with the Ganesha stuti followed by the uniquely choreographed mukhachalam nritta, the music set to Kavalam Narayana Panikar’s musical in ragas Punnagavarali, Chakravakam, Reetigowla and Mohanam. Selections of Tagore poetry portrayed the Jeevatma/Paramatma sringar idea using known images and abstraction, with music composed by Kottakkal Madhu in Usseni, Suratti, Hamsadhwani and Brindavana Saranga. The concluding Samanta malahari peacock dance Kekiyattam, based on Kavalam Narayana Panikar’s poem, had fine co-ordination, with mangalam ushered in by the edakka rhythms.
Bharatanatyam in Pune

It was years ago that one had watched Sucheta Chapekar, the Bharatanatyam dancer trained under Acharya Parvati Kumar and later Kittappa Pillai, perform to Hindustani music. Her “Nritya Ganga” was a conscious effort at reaching out to Pune’s Marathi audience well versed in Hindustani music. That she has succeeded beyond her wildest dreams could be gauged by the warm applause greeting any appearance by her in every Pune performance space. From the days performing to the compositions of the Maratha rulers who ruled over the Thanjavur region, like Shahaji, with Bharatanatyam adavus accommodating the Hindustani music like to the manner born, to what one saw in the recent festival Parikrama, there was a slight shift one noticed — the accent on non-South Indian language sahitya sung to Hindustani music, giving the dance a different tone to the madhya laya presentation best suited to the Bharatanatyam technique.

After watching Vrushali Chitaley in Shiva stuti in raga Bairagi from Natya Geet, sonorously sung by Hrishikesh Badave, followed by the raga-talamalika, with its breathless non-stop movements, with pakhawaj bols and bandishes set to very Kathak-oriented Roopak, Tritaal, Ashtamanga and Jhap tala, the viewer had the impression of a blur of dance images — leaving no lingering images in the mind.

Similar was Kalavardhini Sankul’s presentation the next evening, exploring Shiva as Yogaraj and as celestial Dancer. Sucheta’s daughter Arundhati Patwardhan’s choreography, based on music by Satish Krishnamurthy, understandably eschewed mandi adavu, sarukkal and veeshara or kudittumettu movements, anchored to a narrow movement vocabulary, because the ardhamandali posture with speedy movement, tended to shrink hand and leg-spread kept closer to the body, instead of fanning out fully. While the dancers performed with involvement, greater repose contrasting the fast sequences would have made for greater impact. One would be happy if a slower pace could be worked out involving the fine vocalist too. The fast Hindustani gamakas do not allow for stillness to have a say and in the Shiva imagery, one can have a profusion of frozen moments. Also, three or four dancers doing the same movements in solo group can be changed with stage space covered more effectively. Just a slower pace will make everything fall into place. Music dictating the dance gait, when different from the regional music of the dance, can pose challenges.

Sucheta herself, with winsome stage presence, has a sensitive abhinaya feel, her neatly put together programme starting with Durga stuti in raga Durga, followed by a composite choreography of selected slokas from four Jayadeva ashtapadis, where more elaborations perhaps could have been woven into chosen lines. Yashoda’s vatsalya narrating the story of Rama to little Krishna in “Rama Babhoova” was very moving, the young child’s urgent cry for a bow and arrow when the part of Sita’s abduction was told, very dramatic. With Hrishikesh Badave’s smooth voiced singing, the tarana in Natabhairavi and the concluding Meera bhajan in Bhairavi made for a proper end.
Suresh Talwalkar’s unbelievable padhant with the array of pakhawaj players demonstrated the musicality of this percussion instrument.

Pavitra Bhatt is evolving into a much sought after dancer with a vibrant presence and arresting movement vigour. The melaprapti in Gambhira Nattai and the “Sri Vighnarajam Bhaje” with its rhythmic gait in khanda jati saw the dancer in fine fettle. Gopalakrishnan’s lyric “Vazhi Maraikude” with the bhakta pleading with Nandi blocking his view of the temple’s dancing Nataraj, was given a lot of feeling. But the dancer needs to polish the Hanuman chalisa verses set in the varnam format. The music, not well sung with poor sound balancing with the cymbals sounding too loud, needs to be better worked out, the too wordy stanzas sitting oddly on each raga. And while Pavitra has worked at making the charanam half more reverential, the plethora of ragas tends to make for a kind of restlessness taking away from mood evocation.

Darshana Jhaveri with Latasana Devi and Meera Unadkat gave a bird’s eye view of Manipuri: Darshana’s “Kaliyamardana” in the Krishna stuti, with a Krisha/Radha abridged scene from Raslila by Latasena and Meera, and sringar rasa touching upon all the nayikas, followed by Brijen Singha giving a brief portrayal of pung and dhol choloms. Latasena and Brojen playing the pung was very well coordinated.

Even better than the performance was the lecture demonstration the next morning in the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan auditorium, featuring crisp demonstrations of tala — particularly the many variations of seven with different stresses — most vividly shown. And how the body movements expressed rhythm without the foot contact sounds, with the unarticulated moments of rhythm-in-the-air, were beautifully brought out. Equally interesting were the video clippings screened by Bhanumathi giving a wonderful idea of how orthodox Bhatatanayam movement could be harnessed for group imagery.

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