SRI KRISHNA GANA SABHA
Stirs the intellect
Photo: M. Vedhan
Anita Ratnam does it, with her holistic approach to choreography, the spoken word, sets, lighting design and costumes.
Thought-provoking: Anita Ratnam
One cannot assess a performance by Anita Ratnam like any other Bharatanatyam recital. If broken into its separate parts — the selected themes, the songs danced to, the use of the Bharatanatyam technique — it might seem no different generically from the kutcheri format. Surely, a deviation in the cut of the costumes alone would not suffice. So what makes her performances different? Perhaps the very fact that they make one think.
Most Bharatanatyam performances taking place today that are worthy of evaluation tend to fall into the category of devotional, spiritual, technically impressive, or plain entertaining. But few stir the intellectual faculties. Anita Ratnam succeeds in doing this, with her holistic approach to choreography, the spoken word, sets, lighting design and costumes.
Another way of categorising those concerns would be angika, vachika and aharya. Is it then, old wine in a new bottle? Yes, but with an honesty not associated with the phrase. Because the wine has been filtered every time. And it is the filter that gives a taste of freshness. So it was with her latest production “Faces – Blessed Unrest,” premiered at the Krishna Gana Sabha this past Friday.
“Faces” is a collection of five of the most well known and beloved compositions from the devotional-classical tradition of Carnatic music. After a poetic introduction that was part of the soundtrack, the dancer began with ‘The Face of Compassion,’ introduced by the hymn to Annapurna, Nityanandakari, Varabhayakari, Soundaryaratnakari. Images of generosity represented by dance postures as well as literal actions like pouring of rice conveyed the spirit.
The dancer did not shy away from performing in complete silence at times — refreshing but all too rare in the contemporary classical dance scenario. The highlight of the piece was the beautifully sung Sama raga kriti “Annapurne Vishalakshi.”
The female voice rendering the Dikshitar composition was all that it should have been in terms of emotion and melody. The only jarring factor was the singer’s repeatedly pronouncing Vishalakshi as “Visalakshi”, which became an irritant, especially in a programme where attention to detail was high.
Another high point of the evening was ‘The Forgotten Face,’ represented by “Asai Mugam,” a Subramania Bharathi composition that melts the heart of the romantic and blurs the line between love and devotion. Here, seated on the floor, the dancer conveyed the wrenching lyrics with almost no mudras. It was a triumph of abhinaya, and of the seamless blending of dance, lighting and music. The English text, here and throughout the programme, by Aparna, was beautiful.
In ‘Timeless Faces’ the dancer told the entire Ramayana (“Tell me the story of infinite faces…”) against a voice alap and no lyrics, in the opposite approach to the previous song. It was a series of allusive images. The finale, ‘The Face of Blissful Surrender,’ was based on a Meera bhajan. The final image of an ecstatic Meera rising from the floor in an attitude of blissful expectation was effective.
Credit for the attractiveness of the package goes also to the soothing music score composed and arranged by pianist Anil Srinivasan, (assisted by associate music director Vedanth Bharadwaj). Srinivasan’s piano chords, fused unobtrusively with Carnatic classical, provided a moving ambience. Vocalists on the soundtrack included O.S.Arun, Sikkil Gurucharan, Revathy Sankkaran, Subhiksha Rangarajan. Light design was by Mithran Devanesan.
Costumes by Sandhya Raman were aesthetic, and, with the exception of the last, which resembled a gown, did credit to the trimmed down Anita. The last costume did not seem to gel with the movement vocabulary, and so neither did justice to the other.
Overall, the production, which could not rely on convention — a cushion available to standard format Bharatanatyam performances — may not have been comprehensible to an audience not at home with the songs. But it created some wonderful sound and light images and engendered a feeling of serenity.
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