Rich fare at festival
The Sangeet Natak Akademi 2004 awards ceremony and festival took centrestage this past week.
PRIME DISCIPLE Saswati Sen performing at the Sangeet Natak Academi's award festival. Photo: Sangeet Natak Akademi
The Sangeet Natak Akademi's 2004 awards ceremony and festival, after initial hiccups, finally took off. On a sultry evening at open-air Meghdoot Theatre, John Lalhlune demonstrated rare folk instruments of Mizoram - percussion Darabu and Darabang, and metal, string and wind instruments - more a rhythm/sound arrangement than melody. Sikkim's Naren Gurung, folk and contemporary singer, with his co-singer and harmonium accompanist Uttam Pradhan, rendered the music of the wandering minstrels, the melodious and popular Jhyaurey and the Chutka Lok Nritya songs, the Malasri Navaratri Stuti to the Devi and the Maruni Nritya revolving round the Ramayana, with grace filled dancers moving to the one line refrain "Sitaram Lachumana Neelahai Chauda Barsa" and performing in a group. Tripura's Satyaram Reang's non-stop 40-minute one-line singing, a feat in stamina and breath control, had fluidly hip-rotating dancers portraying agricultural activity from sowing to reaping, the concluding rejoicing note revelling in balancing feats rather overplayed, though immaculately rendered.
The Kathakali play Keechaka Vadham enacted at Meghdoot II had awardee Kalamandalam Vasu Pisharody in the main role as Keechaka with other characters played by dancers from the International Centre for Kathakali. Despite his movements being hampered by poor health, Pisharody still impressed in the tira-nokku (lowering the tirasila, with the actor manipulating the curtain to expose a partial view of the vesham). He also came into his own in the final scene, demanding a special breathing technique conveying the gradual ebbing out of life and breath, as Valala (Bhima disguised as a cook) squeezes the life out of Keechaka. Evoor Rajendran Pillai as Valala turned in a creditable supporting performance.
Sashadhar Acharya's Seraikella Chhau comprised the known repertoire with compositions like Ratri, Chandrabhaga, Peacock Dance - all evocatively rendered to Sanjeev Shankare's mellifluous shehnai refrain, with nagada by Sapan Kumar Acharya and dhol by Gashi Nath Bhol. Costumes were tasteful as were the masks by Kanhaiyalal Maharana. Loud and devoid of lyricism was Flag Dance for all its being part of tradition, the tricolour on the partially covered torso tacky, unflatteringly exposing Sashadhar's stomach flab.
Sattriya Guru Jatin Goswami himself danced the invocation. Interpretative dance extolling Madhur bhakti in Geetar Naach and nritta in a variety of talas in Jhoomar, Ramdani and Melar Naach saw two students Provakar Goswami and Anita Sarma combine well. In terms of dance profile and equipoise, Anita impressed.
Kathak veteran Saswati Sen may regret the belated award though she alone commanded the privilege of a whole evening to herself - converted into a mehfil than a formal programme. With a fine tablist in Debashish Mukherjee and superb vocalist in Debashish Sarkar, it was Saswati in full cry, in her familiar identity as Pandit Birju Maharaj's prime disciple. Thaat in Teen tala was conceived in the mood of anticipation. The nine-matra Basant tala revelled in ginti tihais - perhaps one too many, though superb - in the ascending, descending order and as addition and subtraction arithmetic for children as visualised by Birju Maharaj. "Kin beran kaan bhare, mor piya mose bolat nahi" saw Saswati's abhinaya skill. Interpreting verses from Gitanjali could have made for a lyrical end instead of the anticlimactic moving back to Teen tala.
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