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Some charming colors and cadences

Photos courtesy: Alokparna Guha

August 11, 2019

It was very refreshing to find half a dozen reputed and well-respected gurus of classical dance in the Eastern metropolis join hands and produce a well conceived item each, with well trained disciples, many of whom were recipients of national scholarship or junior fellowship awards from Ministry of Culture. Indeed, it was quite thoughtful of Pushpak and their director Alokparna Guha to organize their annual dance festival on July 31 in a properly thought out format, reducing traditional mythology for Sahitya to a large extent.

The evening began with Shibpur Omkar under Dr. Malabika Mitra presenting Chhanda Parikrama. Malabika is a veteran Kathak dancer, whom this critic had seen performing in Delhi as early as 1984 and who has not looked back since. According to an ancient Indian concept, dance is the source of creation and everything owes its origin to the rhythmic movement of dance of Mahashakti (Supreme Energy). We find different rhythmic patterns in every movement around us. There are also different rhythmic patterns in north Indian music: Aarh, Kuaarh, Biaarh and Barabar. The four dancers on stage played with pure dance patterns through footwork and traditional mnemonics like toda, parimelu and padhants set to different chhanda (rhythmic patterns). What emerged was quite an invigorating nritta that delights the heart.

Shibpur Omkar

Kalamandalam Kolkata

The second guru was Dr Thankamani Kutty directing Kalamandalam Kolkata active in this part of the world for the last fifty years and virtually claiming mentorship of anyone who wished to learn dance in their early age in the city. Her seven senior students presented Trahi (prayer for protection), a composition by Dayanand Saraswati and sung by Maharajapuram Santhanam, set to Ragamalika and Talamalika. It was a mystical ditty around Srishti (creation), Sthiti (existence) and Samhara (destruction). The dancers made many innovative circular, tangential and linear patterns on stage, while seeking salvation: O Lord, I plead with you to release me from the bondage of Karma (action) and the wheel of life, granting me Moksha (salvation) from the trials of existence....

The third item was by Shinjini Nrityalaya under eminent Odissi dancer Aloka Kanungo. After a brief Ganesha Vandana, Kharbam sthulatanu Gajendra vadanam by four dancers, a fifth one joined to execute the well-known Vasant Pallavi, with beautiful movements and nritta elaborations and catching the spring mood of flowers and foliage that bedeck Mother Earth. Lasya and tandava were both manifest in abundant measure.

Shinjini Nrityalaya

Sonarpur Nadam

The fourth guru was Sandeep Mullik directing Sonarpur Nadam. Sandeep has been the lead Kathak dancer for Padatik in Kolkata for several years, with many successful national and international tours to his credit. With great vigour and verve, the dance depicted the celebrated opening hymn of Abhinava Gupta's Abhinaya Darpana: Angikam bhuvanam yasya, Vachikam sarva vangmayam, Aharyam chandra taradi, Twam vande Sattvikam Shivam. The nine dancers - with Sandeep entering and exiting to weave an intricate web -- created many captivating movement patterns in fast flowing Kathak with tatkars, chakradhars, sthanakas and charis.

The penultimate presentation by Manipuri Nartanalaya under the petite Bimbavati Devi was among the best witnessed in the evening. Known for her fresh approach and innovative choreography, Bimbavati let seven well-groomed male and female dancers re-create on stage, Jaya Jaya Deva Hare, the colorful community participation every evening during Manipur's Rathayatra festival right up to the Ulta Rath (the reverse chariot) festivities. With traditional lyrics composed in Manipur's Meitei language, these dances, Thuba Khubak and Haibu Eshei, were built around a eulogy of Krishna and his ten incarnations. Jayadeva (locally known as Chaydev) and his Dashavatara hymn was cited: Whenever sin overtakes earth, you come to rid us of vice... Predominantly lasya in form with profuse hand clapping and undulating torso movements, they were executed with great Úlan.

Manipuri Nartanalaya

Pushpak Dance Academy

The grand finale was Ehi Madhava - Ek Kathak Katha by Pushpak Dance Academy under Alokparna Guha. The latter has been both a skilled Kathak artiste and theatre person, who used her skills on theatre-stage as well as dance platform to the hilt. A large ensemble of participants - both highly trained and not quite well turned out - gathered as dancers-cum-singers, were led by Alokparna with a gripping narrative about a journey of the dance form through a long history. Starting on Mandir Prangan (temple premises) of yore, the essentially storytelling art form grew gradually in substance, but its technical and expressional elements got really enriched after Islam's intervention, especially during the period of Emperor Akbar at Agra and Nawab Wajid Ali Shah at Ayodhya. Essentially, it was a long socio-political sojourn lying behind the stage presentations of today. Quite a brave attempt on the director's part, the narrative most commendably used the medium of Hindustani. Some pruning of the large, uneven team and some more preparatory rehearsals were, however, direly needed, before it could be - and should definitely be - nationally presented as a worthwhile dance-theatre.

Dr. Utpal K Banerjee is a scholar-commentator on performing arts over last four decades. He has authored 23 books on Indian art and culture, and 10 on Tagore studies. He served IGNCA as National Project Director, was a Tagore Research Scholar and is recipient of Padma Shri.

It was a pleasure to perform and a greater pleasure to read your well detailed article. I can only thank you for coming and writing with all your precise observations that you do in your articles.
- Kalamandalam Calcutta  (Aug 12, 2019)

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