KARTIK FINE ARTS
Well beyond proficiency
"Navagraha Ula"... educative experience.
IT IS difficult to segregate the physical and the metaphysical within the stillness of Priyadarsini Govind's Bharatanatyam dance style. Her every studied gesture and nuance feels like an extension of a thought process that comes from deep within, unobtrusively drawing the viewer into a spell of contemplation. This is a journey that includes both the dancer and the viewer; here the benchmarks extend well beyond mere proficiency.
A lilting Mallari in Gambhiranattai ragam, Misra triputa talam followed by a crisp tisra Alarippu performed along with a rendition of Bhoo Stuthi, set an introspective mood for the programme. There were many surprises in store in the varnam ``Saami naan undan adimai," a Papanasam Sivan composition in Nattakurinji ragam, Adi talam. Priyadarsini's interpretation of the lines added a new dimension with the inclusion of nayaka bhava in addition to the customary focus on the heroine's sentiments. The Lord is seen dallying with the heroine's patience in the phrase ``Thaamadam seiyyadu vandarul" throwing new light on the heroine's plea not to delay.
The visual of Siva deep in meditation watched in awe by the heroine was another fine idea, but its impact would have been more had it not been enacted at the back of the stage. In large auditoriums there is always this possibility of these delicate wisps getting lost in space. The theermanams composed by mridangist Vijayaraghavan stood out for their unusual use of syllables and rhythm. Especially notable was the first theermanam that used the seed-mantra of Lord Nataraja ``Om Nama Sivaaya." Priyadarsini and her nattuvanar Shajilal relished the rhythmic complexities creating precise, razor-sharp moments in time filled with movement presenting the dancer's skilful blend of structure and fluidity, agility and weightiness. Hariprasad's baritone voice, Shivaram 's melody on the violin and Vijayaraghavan's expert percussion provided an extra fillip to the sophistication of the presentation. The dancer's sensitivity to the plight of a disillusioned woman who is reliving good times in the past yet remaining unwilling for her long absent-lover to see her in her current state, came to the fore in Kshetrayya 's ``Vadaraka pove" in Kambhoji ragam. Such unhurried pieces are a rarity these days, when the dancer and the audience are willing to give time to savour the beauty of subtlety. ``Vanda vazhiyai paarum" in Begada ragam, penned by Vijayaraghavan and composed by Hariprasad, was in a lighter vein with the angry heroine ticking off Krishna for his scheming ways. The thillana in Kadanakuduhalam ragam, Adi talam, composed by M. Balamuralikrishna, was a kaleidoscope of picturesque poses and appealing sequences, culminating in the Desh ``Vande Mataram" leaving the viewer to savour the rich melody and words of patriotism.
An agile and graceful dancer, Meenakshi Srinivasan's approach to Bharatanatyam essentially is made up of energy and confidence. Having been a long time disciple of Alarmel Valli, Meenakshi's style and vitality is reminiscent of her Guru's. The dancer is currently guided by Girish Kumar Panicker at the Singapore Indian Fine Arts Society.
Dandayuthapani Pillai's Karaharapriya varnam, ``Moham aaginaen" in Adi talam, with its long theermanams, fast footwork and rapid movement across the stage, was executed well by the dancer. The theermanams could have done with more variation and tidier timekeeping. The heroine's passion for the deity of Chidambaram, kindled by everything around her, was conveyed through Meenakshi's delicate declarations of love and longing, while awake and in her daydreams.
The most arresting moments of the programme happened to be during the Shanmugapriya padam, set in Rupaka talam, ``Yaaradi inda vaasalil," a composition of Dandayuthapani Pillai, where the heroine is disturbed during her bath by someone at the door. She asks for the visitor to be identified, all the while wondering who it could be. Finally consumed by curiosity she peeps through the window, and gladdened by what she has seen, hastens to welcome the man. Though the several repetitions of the first line could have been avoided, Meenakshi was at her expressive best in this role. The epilogue about the heroine promising to reveal the identity of the visitor later was also charmingly tongue-in-cheek.
The thillana in Tilangm, Adi talam, a composition of Madurai R. Muralidharan, was a fitting finale full of rhythm and melody. Vanathi Raghuraman (vocal), Girish Kumar Panicker (nattuvangam), Jagadish (mridangam), Kalairasan (violin) and Manoj (morsing) made up the orchestral ensemble.
On the nine planets
``Navagraha Ula," a mammoth multi-media production presented by Guru Krishnakumari Narendran's Abinaya Natyalaya starring 82 students was primarily an educative experience packaged cleverly into interesting capsules. The two and a half hour presentation was a well researched effort of scientific facts and stories from the Hindu mythology relating to the nine planets, the latter based on K. V. Jagannathan's text and S. Rajam's illustrations from which the nine deities and their attributes as regards dress, physical characteristics, personality traits, as well as the description of the processions, were taken. The music composed by Kunnkkudi Vaidyanathan and K. Subramaniam, was pre-recorded with commentary by Krishnakumari Narendran.
There was continual action onstage augmented by visuals about the planets and glimpses of the gods from temples around Kumbakonam. Each planet and its related deity were dealt with separately, commencing and ending each segment with the grand procession, with the stories enacted in between. The gigantic backdrop of the galaxy would open and the children would file through in perfect order, with the smoke machine providing a sense of the otherworldly. The little children as horses guided the processions, while the body of twenty narrators introduced the gods and maintained the pace with theermanam passages. The dancers' co-ordination was faultless, and their discipline admirable.
The students ranging from five to twenty five enacted the stories with clarity. Young Srinidhi as Sage Agastya imparting the Aditya Hrdaya mantra to Rama, and the story of how Aruna, the half developed son of Kasyapa, came to be charioteer of the Surya are some examples. The circumstances of Mangalam or Sevvai's birth was enacted with sensitivity, as was the incident of Kacha, Sukracharya and the Sanjeevani mantra.
Aparna, Poornapushkala, Kayalvizhi, Nritya Jagannathan, Sharmishta, Archana Viswanathan, Sangeetha Kapilan, Raji and Nandini performed as the gods, and their three-dimensional Navagraha tableau with the nine deities in their appointed positions created an apt conclusion.
Sponsored by the South Zone Cultural Centre, a group of Kuchipudi dancers lead by Dr. Chinta Ramanadham, Principal, Siddhendra Kalakshetra, affiliated to the Potti Sreeramulu Telugu University, performed ``Bhamakalapam" in the Kuchipudi Yakshagana tradition. This Kalapam is a dance-drama based on classical music, an abridged version of the original, whose script is attributed to Siddhendra Yogi, saint-composer who lived before the end of the 15th century. It is interesting to note in a purely academic sense, that in Andhra Pradesh importance is given to Satyabama, not Radha while speaking of Krishna's romance.
In the Yakshagana practice, the songs and the spoken word are dominant. The same holds true for Kalapams too, except that these operas are written solely for dance. Hence the mukhaja abhinaya and the footwork stand out, with hand gestures almost non-existent. Another speciality of this tradition is the role of the Sutradar or the narrator. In the Bhamakalapam, the same character assumes the role of Madhavi in the company of the heroine, and Madhava when with the male protagonist.
This treatise is essentially a love story between Satyabhama and Krishna, where the ego of the former drives away her husband. She suffers in his absence, finally realising that she would have to give up her ego to win back her beloved. The musical and the dance portions of the love story complemented each other with the ease that comes with mastery over technique.
The dialogue was mostly a light-hearted banter between Satyabhama and the sutradar, the latter played by Dr. Chinta Ramanadham who alternated between his role on stage and conducting the programme off-stage. Yamini Yasoda Naidu as Satyabhama was arresting in her role as a beautiful, proud woman who learns a painful lesson. The rich orchestral backing was led by the expert vocalist K. Suryanarayana. His melodious Arabhi and Mukhari punctuated with sobs, reflecting the heroine's misery on stage will remain etched for long in memory. Sadly all this excellence was wasted on a near-empty hall. Where were the patrons of good music, dance and ancient-culture?
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