Art on the ramparts
Ananya, the annual festival at Delhi's Old Fort, was a triumph of aesthetic ability melded with Government support to the arts
COLOURFUL: Guru Jayarama Rao and troupe performing at Ananya. Photo: Deepak Mudgal .
Designed by Sanjeev Bhargava of Seher and mounted jointly by the Ministry of Tourism, Ministry of Culture, Delhi Tourism, Seher and the Food Corporation of India, Ananya stands out as a fine example of what good taste with organising ability can achieve when melded with the right support and propaganda. Played out at the Purana Qila against the exotic backdrop of the ruins of the 16th Century monument built by Humayun and completed by Sher Shah Suri, the foremost achievement of the five-day festival, now on its fourth consecutive year, lay in attracting disciplined audiences of 3000 and above every single day. Given the half empty auditoriums with a 300-700 seating capacity for dance events in the capital, what Ananya has managed, even given its historic ambience, is no mean feat.
Clashing events unavoidably meant forgoing the opening evening's Kathak presentation by Pandit Birju Maharaj and troupe. Conceived by Maitreyee Pahari, `Dashanam' was visualised as an Indo-Sri Lankan interaction between Kandyan dance and India's Chhau (both Mayurbhanj and the vigorous Purulia strains) plus the folk form of Raibense. The theme revolved round the Sri Lankan version of Ravan as the epitome of power and wisdom - wife Mandodari lamenting on why and how such greatness could be felled. The beginning was a delightful salutation by taut-bodied Sri Lankan Kandyan dancers, their minimalism in body language, against the synchronised athletic agility of leaps and twirls by the Indian dancers (the Purulia Chhau masked dancer executing phirkitee-s excelled) making for a kind of ice and fire contrast. Maitreyee's group patterns notwithstanding, what jarred was the compulsive electronic twang and pulse of the music, enmeshing the classical in a modern garb making even a fine tarana sound mongrelised. And the frenetic jumping and gyrating seemed to have little relationship with the plot, with the shrill voice on tape "Where did it all go wrong?"
The Kuchipudi presentation led by Guru Jayarama Rao and Vanashree Rao had some eye catching group arrangements in the Dashavatar. The Vamanavatar with accented treatment had a narrative with Vedantam Venkatachalapathi and Jayarama Rao as Bali and Vaman respectively, with Venkateswaran providing tuneful vocal support, Tanjavur Kesavan spirited nattuvangam and competent percussion accompaniment by Sridhar Acharya. Selected verses from Kalidasa's Ritu-samhara, the Geetagovinda ashtapadi "Lalita-lavanga-lata", and dance depicting Hori play with Vanashree and Jayarama Rao as Radha and Krishna was colourful, though expressional fervour was lacking in Ramarao.
Vedantam Venkatachalapathi, whose participation enhanced the evening, excelled as the roused Shiva in the `Kumara-sambhavam' scene presented with his troupe of three dancers from Andhra Pradesh. Special introduction of the guest artiste (inadvertently omitted) would have been graceful. The spirited tillana in Hamsanandi elaborately arranged, needed greater group symmetry.
Priti Patel's `Fire', an amalgam of Thangta, Nat Sankirtan Cholams, and minimal Manipuri, with all its group discipline, became more spectacle sans the inward-looking introspective Manipuri quality, despite verses from the Rig Veda and chants invoking Agni as the supreme purifier, destroyer of evil and greatest energiser. Gongs, drums, music on the penang, jumping through fire wheels, cart-wheeling drummer/dancers - it had all been expressed with the final 15 minutes becoming a repetitive anti-climax.
Rama Vaidyanathan's group Bharatanatyam was on the theme of Aangikam Bhuvanam - the body as the universe and temple of the Divine and instrument for the dance - ever seeking its cosmic identity. Rama's take-off advantage was the disciplined, synchronised dancer troupe of Ganesa Natyalaya. The curtain-raiser exploring the primal sound Om, despite involved dancers, took long to gel into palpable movement energy, the meditative silence too, eluding. Choreography was also tailored by Rajan's music which veered away from the usual - even a Kalyani or a Sahana sounding different. Good old Mohanam invested with both Dhaivats, sounded exotic. The concluding Jeeva/Shiva repetitive refrain in Charukesi did not quite work out - neither did Rama's choreography, which became indeterminate with each dancer on an individualistic ecstatic spiritual journey.
The choreographer's best attempt was in the Shiva/Shakti chakra, Rama partnered by a male dancer circling in the centre, the energy radiating as movement patterns of groups in various directions. Still exploring her group choreographic self, Rama in an excessively participatory approach made her own virtuoso identity thin in substance. Group visual imagery also needs emotional fibre.
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