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Fine blend of nritta and abhinaya



Lakshmi Viswanathan... Interpretative dance.

AFTER A fairly prolonged awards function conferring the Nrityachoodamani and the Acharya Choodamani distinctions on Bharatanatyam dancer Priyadarshini Govind and Guru Sri Lakshmi Narayana of Udupi, Barghavi Gopal, disciple of K. J. Sarasa took the stage in a recital giving ample proof of integrated potential for both nritta and abhinaya. After the prolonged ragamalika varnam of the Thanjavur Quartet, ``Saami Ninne Kori... " the dancer taking 15 minutes for a costume change (though one must admire her aesthetic feel for colour and simplicity without being overburdened by jewellery), tried the patience of the audience already at a low ebb after over three and a half hours of viewing. The expressional items too were one too many. After the Swati Tirunal Padam, "Itu sahasamulu" with the very young nayika warding off the amorous advances of Krishna, by contrasting her youth with his experience and age, came the Pantuvarali composition "Netru Varen Endru" of Mayuram Viswanath Sastry. Adding another expressional item in the sambhoga-sringar tone in Brindavani ``Chaliye Kunjalamo" was being self-indulgent. While the guru's nattuvangam was spirited, the singing seemed to lose steam in parts of the varnam and was off sruti at times. The sensitively played mridangam was a contrast to the loud veena.

Panorama of emotions

Flying on the wings of soulful music comprising the songs of Tyagaraja, ``Rama Bhakti" conceived and visualised in the Bharatanatyam idiom by Lakshmi Viswanathan translates the simple minimalism of Tyagaraja's impassioned lyrics of devotion into a panorama of emotions and myriad riveting images of nritya based on the life and deeds of the epic hero Rama.

Anything less than the beautifully blended honeyed voices of Bhama Visweswaran and Chitrambari Krishnakumar etched with clarity of sahitya, would not have done justice to Tyagaraja. Never jarringly loud or invasive in attention demanding aggression the undisturbed even flow of melody was also to do with intelligent sound balancing, which established the presence of each instrument without allowing any one to overawe the total musical effort.

Roja Kannan (nattuvangam), Mudikondan Ramesh (veena), Venkatasubramaniam (mridangam) and Muthu Kumar and Sravanam (flute) and Sundar (kanjira and Morsing) all contributed their sensitive bit.

Lakshmi Viswanathan's flair for abhinaya, lives up to its fullest potential (not very evident in the recent past) in this production, which apart form the music rests on the depth and range of her interpretative dance, the elaborations woven round the musical lines speaking of creative imagination, the danced passages flowing more as evoked suggestions than as bald translations from the text.

It is the resonance of the Rama story, felt in flashes in the sahitya, rather than the words as they are, that the dance aims at capturing. The phrase "Bala Kanakamaya" in the Attana Kriti "Ela Nee Daya radu" is spun into fleeting images of child Rama, the vatsalya bhava changing to one of valour with the words "Ra Ra Devaadideva" with a pithy visualisation of the young princes Rama and Lakshmana being reluctantly spared by Dasaratha who accedes to Viswamitra's request for help in destroying Tataka and her tribe who are polluting his Yagna. "Sri Rama Padama" in Amritavahini paying homage to the `sacred feet' of Lord Rama had the dancer present a sensitive rendition of Ahalya's resurrection, her experience of entering the live human domain once again very effectively communicated in the gestures and abhinaya. Nothing however could compare with the abhinaya passages knit into the Mohanam "Nanu Palimpa" in which Tyagaraja imagines his `prananatha' approaching him — which in the dance translates into reactions, human and animal, to the beauty of Rama as he enters Mithila, along with the electrifying chemistry as Rama and Sita have a first glimpse of each other. "Vanaja Nayana Momunu joochuta... " line in the music with dramatic pauses echoes the wonder, the pleasure, the desire and the curiosity of women of all ages, stunned by a vision of Rama.

The expressional felicity covered a range of emotions, as women arresting whatever activity each one of them is engaged in, feast their eyes on the mesmerizing sight of the comely prince. The other passage wherein the best in the dancer came out was in images evoked by the phrase "aajaanubaahu yuga Sri Janaki Pati" from the Kriti "Nadupai" in Madhyamavati in which lyric Tyagaraja pleads for the protection of the Lord. Tagged on to this passage was "Pavanajasthuti" in Chenjurutti visualising in the dance the scene of Rama winning Sita, the enthusiastic enactment by two male dancers as Rama and Lakshmana in the well built up scene ending in a rather tame final breaking of the bow.

Dispelling earlier impressions of Rama Bhakti being more a solo production, with the `group' reduced to a fringe involvement, came the latter half of the presentation with more substantial roles for the other dancers. In a complete rhythmic/interpretative varnam like treatment Vishnu in other manifestations as Krishna being spirited away at birth to Gokul and romancing with the gopis and as Narasimha destroying Hiranyakasipu became fleeting images in the Arabhi Pancharatna Kriti "Sadinchine" rendered by three dancers Madhusoodhan, Mathangi and B. Sudheesh. The episode of the golden deer followed from the Kriti "Vachamako-charamemanasa" in which Rama is evoked as the compassionate being who rescued a deer from the clutches of the greedy hunter. Alas! Fate willed that the same Rama be sent after a golden deer by his innocent wife, an act leading to the abduction of Sita. With Lakshmi having shown the entire sequence as abhinaya, the male dancer stepping in at the last moment to carry away Sita turned out to be a damp squib. Tyagaraja's lament of the worthlessness of a life that cannot constantly glory in the presence of Lord Rama in "Eti Janmam" became the anguish of Sita's pain while incarcerated in Ashokavana. Both singing and Lakshmi's abhinaya were very moving. In "Pahi Rama Dhootha" in Varali in praise of Hanuman, the dance composition spun in a sequence visualising Sita's faith being rekindled by the exchange with Hanuman. The chopped veena sounds and morsing created an evocative sound backdrop for the movements of Hanuman. A Tillana in Bageshri with Tyagaraja's exhortation in Sanskrit at the end of the Lord's grace being showered on all who sing his songs with fervour ushered in the concluding note.

The other amateur dancers who fitted the roles they enacted, performed with involvement though the entire production was sustained by Lakshmi's abhinaya conviction.

LEELA VENKATARAMAN

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