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Of classical pursuits

The Swarn Nritya Prathibha festival, held recently in the city, brought together little-known dances from as far as the North-Eastern States.

Photos S. Mahinsha

AT A time when strange melange of dances and raunchy remixes seem to be the order of the day, an entire week devoted to classical dance came as a breath of fresh air to folks in the city. The `Swarn Nritya Prathibha' festival, organised by the Kendra Sangeet Natak Akademi and Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Akademi this past week, showcased new talent, a generation worthy of carrying forward our rich artistic traditions.

Although the event focussed on dances from south India, there were a few exotic dance forms from other parts of the country too. Other than Mohiniyattam, Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi and Nangiarkoothu, dance lovers in the city were regaled by Odissi, Kathak, Mayurbhanj Chau, Manipuri Raas, Pung Cholom and Sattriya.

Barring stray attempts to play to the gallery such as the one involving `Vande Mataram' choreographed in Bharatanatyam style, by and large, the artistes strove to retain the distinct traditional characteristics of their individual dance forms. The Kshatriya and Chakravyuha (war strategy) dances, which are part of the vibrant Mayurbhanj Chau repertoire from Orissa, bore evidence of the martial tradition of this art form - a very energetic performance accompanied by quick movements and lively drum beats. Unlike the Seraikala and Purulia styles, Mayurbhanj Chau is performed without masks and has a wide range of intricate movements and acrobatic stunts. The dance form enjoyed the patronage of the Maharajahs of Mayurbhanj for over a century and its annual ceremonial presentation formed an essential part of the Chaitra Parva festival. The festival also introduced the novel dance forms of Pung Cholom (mridanga dance) and Manipuri Basanta Raas by the Progressive Artiste Laboratory, Imphal. Gayan Bayan was performed by the Natun Bhogpur Sattra and the Sattriya dance by Pallavi Khaund and Anjali Borbora. Kathak, derived from katha, which literally means a story, is today more of an abstract exploration of rhythm and movement. In the Kathak presentations, talented artistes such as Vandana Kaul, Sandeep K. Mahavir, Praveen Gangani and Gauri Diwakar charmed the audience with their performances. Thaat, a blend of rhythm, graceful movements, sweeping pirouettes that end in an abrupt standstill posture, was delightful. The Kathak dance teams demonstrated that good orchestra and vocal support raised the whole dance experience to sublime heights.

The poetic quality of the performances of the Odissi dancers, Yudhisthir Naik and Lipsha Das, brought to life the magnificent sculptures of Konark. The other young Odissi dancers were Swetaleena Swain and Smaranika Jena.

Even though Jayanth Kastuar, secretary, Sangeeth Natak Academy, New Delhi, did not wish that "popularity lead to dilution of traditional art forms and the artiste create a potpourri to be performed in half an hour", time constraints often forced the dancers to create condensed performances with an accelerated pace, solely for the stage. This often deprived the viewer of the ethereal experience of a classical dance performance. About the problems caused by such time constraints, Vandana Kaul said "a few minutes is too short a time span to bring forth a whole range of bhavas (emotions)."

However, these short programmes, which suit the pace of today, are a mixed blessing; they not only provide tantalising glimpses of the rich classical art forms of our country, but also leave one longing for more. There were many promising young artistes of Mohiniyattam as well. Many adaptations are being carried out to make the dance more appealing to audiences. As an experiment, Vindhuja Menon tried to incorporate the tonal effect of the asura vadya thimila with the lasya bhava of Mohiniyattam. Other notable performances were by J. L. Saritha in the Sopanam style, Eva Pavithran and Sini Thankappan from Thrissur, Sangeetha Gopi and Salini S. from Ernakulam, and the students of Kerala Kalamandalam, Cheruthuruthy.

"Chakiars are created under social compulsions and it is sad that a new generation of artistes is not emerging," lamented Kavalam Narayana Panicker, Chairman, Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Akademi. Under the circumstances, it was heartening to see Margi Usha's Nangiarkoothu performance. Nangiarkoothu, an integral part of the ancient Sanskrit theatre form of Koodiyattom, is an extremely stylised and exacting art form that calls for rigorous discipline.

Kuchipudi dancers Geetha Madhuri, P. B. Pallavi and A. Saraswathy Purnima, from Hyderabad, and Chinta Ravi Balakrishnan, from Kuchipudi village, performed dances that reflect the richness of this classical dance from Andhra Pradesh. One sees a wide range of Bharatanatyam performances that vary from sloppily choreographed numbers to ones in which all the finer aspects of the dance combine, resulting in superior recitals. Dancers Kirti Ramgopal from Bangalore and N. Sreekanth and Divya Ramachandran from Chennai showed great promise.

Lavanya Ananth from Chennai, Aswati V. Nair from Kozhikode, and Unni Krishnan and Uma Namboodiripad from Chennai were the other young artistes who performed in this classical style.

As part of the grand finale, there was a special evening of Kathakali. The `Nalacharitam' (Onnam Divasam) and `Dakshayagam' performances were presented by Kalamandalam Mukundan, Vishnu Nelliyode, Kalamandalam Shanmughan, Kalabharathi Vasudevan, Kalamandalam Anil Kumar, Kalamandalam Prashanth, Kalamandalam Hari R. Nair, Kalamandalam Harish Namboodiri, Kalanilayam Rajeevan, Kalamandalam Ajesh, Kalamandalam Srikanth, Kalamandalam Thampi, Margi Ratnakaran, and Kalabharathi Rajeev.

"In the field of dance, the great variety of Indian styles has attracted the notice of all students of arts and culture... what is most remarkable is the continuity of the traditions and the vigour they display to this day," said Maulana Abul Kalam Azad at the inauguration of the Sangeet Natak Academy on January 28, 1953.

The recent festival was reassuring as one saw many talented young artistes who were enthusiastic about our classical dance traditions.

Glimpses of a hidden art

Photo: C. Ratheesh Kumar

FOR NEARLY 500 years, the magnificent dance form of Sattriya was confined to the Sattras (Vaishnava monasteries) in Assam. It was part of the initiative by Shrimanta Shankaradeva, a saint, philosopher, scholar and social reformer of the 15th century, to bring harmony to the land through religion, dance-dramas, music, painting and collective prayer.

Sattriya remained hidden from the outside world for ages and was recognised as a classical dance only in recent years. "Even this late recognition is welcome," feels Pallavi Khaund, a Sattriya exponent. "Through various exchange programmes, our artistes are now able to take this dance to the outside world," she says.

Today, girls too perform the Sattriya, hitherto the domain of celibate monks. Sattriya is essentially a devotional dance form and its costumes consist of intricate traditional motifs and designs woven on the exquisite traditional Assam silks, in a base colour of white.

Every Sattriya dance begins with the gayan bayan or nambhajan, an invocatory item featuring a combination of khol (drum) and taal (cymbals). Against a background of cymbals, the dancer-musicians move in unusual formations.

The Shudh Nritya item, `Raja Goria Chali', was interesting; a combination of tandav and lasya bhavas, this aristocratic number was originally performed in the courts of the Ahom kingdom. Now, with time, a few changes have been made to suit stage and audience preferences. The rhythm is accelerated; steps are repeated fewer times and more mudras are introduced in a performance.

From the rich repertoire of Manipuri dances was the `Pung Cholom', also known as the `drummers dance', `mridanga dance' or `Dhumel'. This invocatory dance item, which is also part of the Vaishnava tradition of worship, is usually performed before all ceremonies. It is closely linked to the life cycle of the people of the State.

"Traditionally, the rang manch was very significant. The dance was created to last the whole night and there were many rituals associated with the performances," says N. Tiken Singh, director, Progressive Artiste Laboratory. "Condensing them to their present day stage adaptations is painful, yet necessary owing to time constraints. We hope we can present the items in all their glory sometime."

But, for the connoisseurs of dance, even these compact presentations were welcome as introductions to classical dance forms not common in this city.


Graphics: S. Santhosh Kumar

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