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Festival of Festivals: 43rd year of Khajuraho Dance Festival-2
Photos: Vijay Rohatgi

March 7, 2017

Part 1:

5th Day
I missed the Kathak solo by Rasmani Raghuvanshi, but saw Manjiri Kiran Mahajani's solo Kathak. Trained by Rohini Bhate, Manjiri has grasped her guru's Kathak style faithfully. Since it was the day of Mahashivaratri, most of the dancers concentrated on Shiva theme. Manjiri also chose story of Daksha Yagna, written by Rohini Bhate as kavit Kathak form. To the recitation of the story through abhinaya she described the humiliation of Sati, and Lord Shiva's Tandava, Lord Vishnu appearing and requesting Lord Shiva to regain peace. Full of natya element it was a memorable number. Another noteworthy presentation was Tirvat in Bihagda. Few dancers present this number which has melodious musical element. Munnalal Bhar (vocal), Nissar Hussain (tabla), Praveen Arya (pakhavaj) and Amala Shekhar for padhant, gave Manjiri musical support with customary finesse.

Manjiri Kiran

Rukmini Vijayakumar

Bharatanatyam exponent Rukmini Vijayakumar from Bangalore, disciple of Padmini Ravi, late Guru Narmada and late Guru Sundari Santhanam from whom she received training in karanas, gave a scintillating performance with her commendable technique and natural gifts. Of the two numbers, she presented Swaraguchha in talamalika, a string of swaras, rhythmic phrases. Rageswaravali was composed by Raghuram and jati composition by Gurumurty.

With her svelte figure and quicksilver execution of Bharatanatyam movements, weaving sequences in a seamless manner, and with commendable command over laya and tala, she succeeded in winning rounds of applause from audience. The sparkle in her dance was enjoyable. She proved that she has worked very hard and acquired present state which is impressive. In terms of jumps, covering stage, or holding in a pose of Lord Shiva rock steady, she was in total control of herself.

In varnam in Nattakuranji and adi tala, Swami naan unthan adimai, she presented perspective of Parvati, recalling her former birth as Sati, then her tapasya as Himavan's daughter, she begged of Lord Shiva to have compassion on her and not to ignore her. The sancharis saw her in role of distinct characters as Sati and as Parvati. The story of Daksha yagna, Shiva's Tandava at immolation of Sati, and as Parvati having glimpses of Lord Shiva's dance, performing a plethora of karanas, and holding poses firmly she was in her element. The image of Ardhanarishwara was suggestive. Rukmini would do well, having established with first number, the speed, poses, excellent nritta, to delineate at a leisurely pace the sections of abhinaya. In two pieces she performed it was obvious that she explores the element of speed, balance and holding moments in stillness.

The team of musicians Nandakumar Unnikrishnan (vocal), Aranya Narayan (nattuvangam), Vivek Krishna (flute), and N.K. Kesavan (mridangam) gave her adequate support to bring out the quintessential qualities of music for dance. Rukmini is going places and one looks forward to her scaling further artistic heights.

Vanashree Rao and group

From Delhi, Kuchipudi exponent Vanashree Rao presented her new choreography on dramatic tales from mythology incorporating three dance forms: Mayurbhanj Chhau, Kuchipudi and Bharatanatyam. I have reviewed it when it was premiered in Delhi earlier. The second viewing helped me watch few more interesting aspects and choreographic skills. In particular, Mayurbhanj Chhau dancers with their vigorous technique, making human pyramids created dramatic impact with backdrop of the temple, performing as demons harassing apsaras. Brahma had given three kingdoms of gold, silver and copper to Tarakasura so they cannot be destroyed. His three sons could only be killed by Lord Shiva when they come together for a second and Lord Shiva killed them aiming one arrow and turned them into ashes. The story of Tripura Samhara in Ragamalika and Talamalika was dramatic and received instant applause from the audience. Ananda Tandavam choreographed by Vempati Chinna Satyam was performed by four apsaras in Kuchipudi and Bharatanatyam dancer Dr. S. Vasudevan as Shiva performed in an arresting manner.

Slaying of Mahishasura was vigorous and the finale with the goddess rising over the demons, being lifted created exciting visual. The Mangalam in praise of Hari Hara by two groups of dancers, one male group of Chhau dancers with Hara and for Hari-Krishna's dance, the female dancers alternated performances of tandava and lasya. Performed by all dancers, it created a stunning visual.

6th Day
Male Odissi dancer Soumya Bose currently being trained by Sujata Mohapatra, showed that he has improved a lot. I had seen him in Delhi few months ago. His stance, body positions, movements have now gained polish. After Ramastuti, in Bilahari pallavi Soumya executed nritta in a flawless manner, evoking Kelubabu's style which looked pleasant on a male figure as Sujata seems to have eschewed the feminine element and Soumya performed in a dignified stance.

Salbeg's janano, "Ahe nila shaila" choreographed by Kelubabu is a gem of a composition. A Muslim devotee, suffering from leprosy, not permitted to have darshan of Lord Jagannath, begs the lord to grant him darshan, recalling how he helped Draupadi when Dushashana tried to humiliate her and he came to rescue her providing endless saris, how Prahlad was saved by the lord revealing his half lion and half man form, how he had saved Gajaraj from crocodile letting Sudarshana chakra release his foot and blessed him. He requests such a compassionate lord to give him darshan. Guruji has used the movements of namaz as performed by Muslims in his choreography. Soumya performed it with deep emotion. He was accompanied by musicians from Odisha, on pakhavaj by Ekalavya Muduli, on vocal by Vinodvihari Panda, on flute by Pritiranjan Swain, and on violin by Ramesh Chandra Das.

Sowmya Bose

Nilakshi Roy
A disciple of Shubha Mudgal, Omprakash Mishra, Yog Raj Pawar and Vedprakash Gangani, Kathak dancer Nilakshi Roy, after Vishnu vandana, in nritta performed chhoti amad, kait, tisrajati compositions, Jhulana and some items of Jaipur gharana. Her Gopuccha tihai was well executed. Tirvat as studied from Roshan Kumari, reminded me of Roshan Kumari's same number performed for Satyajit Ray's Jalsagar.

From Imphal, Guru Tarunkumar Thiyam's granddaughter Manasi Thiyam, daughter of renowned director Ratan Thiyam, presented rare choreographic works of the legendary guru along with senior dancer N. Amusana Devi, disciple of Guru Amubi Singh. She also received training in Manipuri from Guru Tarunkumar Thiyam, Babusingh and Suryamukhi Devi. Their duet presentation was prayer from Gita Govinda, "Shrita kamala kucha mandala" choreographed by Guru Amubi Singh. It was full of devotion. The reference to Lord Rama, killing of demons, Krishna as Munijana manashamsa, with delicate walk of swan were suggestive and gentle. This composition of Guru Amubi Singh is a favourite of majority of Manipuri dancers.

Manasi in her solo Krishna vandana displayed her taiyyari and command over the technique. Dance runs in her blood. Trained by N. Amusana Devi, Manasi brings to her rendering the petal soft footwork and elfin grace. Quite glamorous, Manasi creates in her movements the lyrical quality of the form. Describing Krishna's beauty, the piece employs mukhbol describing Krishna's beauty like kavits of Kathak.

N. Amusana presented in solo, Yashoda's separation from Krishna when he left Braj Vrindavan. Her ears listened to sounds of ankle bells of Krishna as he ran hither thither, playing with other children. The song "Ye sakhi mohana" written by poet Rai Basant is used in the beginning by Guru Tarunkumar Thiyam. Amusana registered through angikabhinaya the deep anguish of her separation from her beloved child. She spoke of how cows, the creepers, the birds and the waters of Yamuna, were all in a state of sadness at Krishna's departure. Amusana had choreographed this number using Tanchap tala of 8 matras and one beat and one off beat. The music is composed by N. Tikensingh. A mature dancer, she rendered the dance with great sensitivity.

The finale was an excerpt from dance drama 'Nongdon' choreographed by Guru Tarunkumar Thiyam. Based on story of love between earth and sun, starting from sunrise to sunset, it is the last part of the plot where the episode emphasises a meeting of romantic couple in their expression of joy and happiness. Abstract in nature minus the libretto, sahitya and text, it dwelt more upon the high degree of aesthetic expression. Both the dancers performed it with graceful movements to the Surfak and Tanchap talas. The accompanying musicians included M. Priyarani Devi (vocal), L. Nelson Sharma (sitar), H. Lalhari Sharma (flute), H. Nisheshwor Singh (violin) and Rajkumar Upendro Singh (pung).

Amusana Devi and Manasi Thiyam

Suchitra Harmalkar and group

As usual, I could not attend in full the last performance by Indore based Kathak exponent Suchitra Harmalkar and her troupe because of late hour. Trained by late Kartikram and Ramlal of Raigarh gharana, Suchitra performs rare bandishes of Raja Chakradhar Singh. They bring to her Kathak recital old world charm and are noteworthy as unusual compositions. She runs an academy in name of her guru Kartikram Maharaj Kathak Akademi.

7th Day

Amit Chowdhury and group

From Bangladesh, Amit Chowdhury, a young bright Bharatanatyam dancer trained by Rajdeep Banerjee (Kolkata) and Kirti Ramgopal (Bangalore) has also taken lessons from Guru C.V. Chandrasekhar. He has acquired proficiency in the form and performs with elan and confidence bringing out the geometrical beauty of the dance form. In Nrityarpan, he and his ensemble of Kalpataru, with female dancers Zuairiyah Mouli, Shammi Akter, Tasneenanha, Shuddha Srimoyi Das and Parisa Omar displayed commendable grasp of Bharatanatyam.

Right from Pushpanjali in ragam Nattai and adi tala, Natesha Kavutvam in praise of Ganesha and Lord Shiva and followed by Lalgudi Jayaraman's varnam "Devaadhideva" in Shanmukhapriya ragam and Talamalika, the dancers displayed uniform technique, neat and clean lines. In the varnam, Amit wove sanchari of Lord Vishnu taking away the jewel from the foot of Bhrigu rishi when he struck a kick on chest of Lord Vishnu and realised that Vishnu is the ultimate god, episode of Gajendra moksha and Dashavatara showing his understanding of the sahitya. His teermanams were perfect. The nritta element embellished the presentation alternating with expressional aspect.

With Adyanjali in Ragamalika and Talamalika, describing forms of Parvati, Lakshmi, Saraswati, Katyayini, Kalyani, Bhavani by female dancers, followed by tillana in Purvi the ensemble showed how well they have imbibed the spirit of Bharatanatyam. As a choreographer Amit also showed his imaginative approach and division of space and also groupings. It hardly mattered that the practitioners are Bangladeshi Muslims. Their performance transcended the barriers.

The dynamic dancing duo from Delhi, Abhimanyu and Vidha Lal took to the stage presenting their vigorous Kathak. Trained by Geetanjali Lal, both have mastered the form and project the salient features of Jaipur gharana. Prayer in praise of Hari and Hara, describing their iconographic forms, in nritta, Abhimanyu displayed in druta laya the aroha and avaroha, with authority, executing footwork in ascending and descending order, in an astounding manner. He and Vidha performed nritta aspect complementing each other and with their scintillating footwork, graceful movements and recitation won rounds of applause from audience establishing a rapport. Their angasanchalan was neat.

Vidha's abhinaya number "Gagari mori nahi bharan det," Krishna's pranks, not allowing Gopi to fill her pitcher, stealing her clothes when she is bathing, breaking pots and holding her arm were performed with suggestive gestures and appropriate bhavas. The finale inviting audience to participate in keeping tala, together saat and saath saath, they won over the audience with their polished performance. The team of musicians gave them excellent support. Yogesh Gangani (tabla), Imran Khan (vocal), Salman Khan (pakhavaj) and Salim Khan (sitar) enhanced the appeal of performance.

Vidha Lal and Abhimanyu Lal

Jyotsna Jagannathan

Trained by gifted guru A. Lakshman, Jyotsna Jagannathan from Bangalore gave a delectable Bharatanatyam performance. Currently she is receiving guidance from Malavika Sarukkai and is exploring fresh sense of expression. In abhinaya she has received lessons from Bragha Bessell. From the young generation of Bharatanatyam dancers, Jyotsna has been receiving acclaim for her dancing. Opening with Mallari in Gambhiranattai and adi tala, choreographed by Malavika Sarukkai, Jyotsna performed this ritual number which used to be performed in temples with clear lines which looked aesthetically pleasing. Earlier it was from the Nadaswaram parampara. The playing of drums, receiving the lord in palanquin images were created artistically.

In "Theruvil Varano" in ragam Khamas and tala adi, Jyotsna registered the various bhavas of expectancy, delay in arrival of procession. Her desire to have glimpse of the lord found felicitous expression. Decorating herself, preparing, watching from window, waiting at the gate et al were reflective of her inner emotions. When the procession moved and she had the glimpse of the lord astride Nandi she was full of joy. Jyotsna enacted the feelings in a telling manner.

Like other dancers, Jyotsna too presented Ardhanarishwara to the music composed by K. Hari Prasad in Ragamalika and adi tala. Sankaracharya's description of Lord Shiva and Parvati with Sanskrit poetry "Champey Gaurardhra" for Parvati and Shiva's body smeared with ash, Parvati having golden anklets, Shiva's serpents as anklets all were performed with skill and imagination. Jyotsna often placed two palms together near her face suggesting the ardhanarishwara form. Jyotsna has good sense of space and her nritta is chiselled. Her Bharatanatyam performance was brief and enjoyable. Like her contemporaries she is going places and carving her own niche in Bharatanatyam arena. The musical accompaniment had nattuvangam by S. Srilatha, vocal by Raghavan Manian, mridangam by Ramesh Babu and flute by G. Raghuraman. They all are versatile accompanists and their accompaniment embellished Jyotsna's performance.

Gaurie Dwivedi

The last performer was Odissi dancer Gaurie Dwivedi from Delhi. Disciple of Guru Ipsita Behoora, she studied Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra's style at Pratidhwani institute in Delhi. Currently she is studying under Sujata Mohapatra. I could watch only the first number which included Mahakali stuti. The iconic images of Goddess Kali with discus, mace, trident, bow etc., were depicted clearly. The chanting of Jayati Mangalkali, Bhadra Kali, Kapali, evoked devotional mood. Gauri's nritta is chiselled and movements clean. With guidance from Sujata she seems to be imbibing Kelubabu's style well. She was ably supported by Sukanta Kundu (vocal), Ramchandra (pakhavaj), Ramesh Chandra Das (violin), and flute by Pritiranjan Swain.

Dr. Sunil Kothari is a dance historian, scholar, author and critic. He is honored with Padma Shri, Sangeet Natak Akademi award and Senior Critic Award from Dance Critics Association, NYC.


Thank you so much for your precious review about Amit Chowdhury and Kolpotoru. We were highly touched by your writing. Please make a trip to Bangladesh and let us all welcome you.
- Taskin, Kolpotoru (March 8, 2017)

Thank you so much, Sunil Sir, for your kind words. Your words are token of inspiration for us.
- Zuairiyah Mouli, Kolpotoru, Dhaka, Bangladesh (March 8, 2017)

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