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Nritya Dhara's two day festival of Indian classical dances
- Dr. Sunil Kothari

April 13, 2012

Vani Madhav, an Odissi exponent and a disciple of Guru Sudhakar Sahoo, mounted a two day festival of Indian classical dances titled Nritya Bibhabari under her institution banner Nritya Dhara, at Azad Bhavan Auditorium of Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) on 7th and 8th April 2012.

This was the second edition of the festival, since Vani Madhav moved from Bangalore to Delhi. She has been active on the scene for more than two decades and has started training young students at Gurgaon, where she is based.

Inaugurating the festival, former Ambassador to USA and former Director General of ICCR, Mr. Lalit Mansingh paid compliments to Vani Madhav for her initiative in the changing scenario of classical dances. The collaborative efforts on the part of dancers to come together and support each other are most welcome. The young generation respecting the senior artistes and presenting young dancers along with them augurs well under present circumstances when one notices the audiences dwindling for classical dances. Not fazed by that, the young dancers have taken up the challenges to bring to the next generation relevance and importance of Indian classical dances as a precious cultural heritage.

Besides the official institutions like Sangeet Natak Akademi, Dept of Culture, ICCR, the initiative taken by private agencies has helped the dance scene. The corporate sector is also providing support, even when they would like to have in place of classical dances, more entertaining performances. In such a scenario, Mr. Mansingh observed that though India is called in lighter vein a country of festivals, one would welcome festivals of classical dances and support the initiatives of young exponents.
Vani Madhav has an impressive stage presence with large eyes and a mobile visage. Opening the festival she presented choice numbers evoking the Pancha bhutas, the five elements vayu, air, bhumi, earth, akash, ether, jala, water and agni, fire. Each element's essential qualities were described. In Kalyan Pallavi choreographed by her guru Sudhakar Sahoo, the dhyana shloka of Kalyan raga was choreographed imaginatively and with hastas, (mudras) for solfa-svaras. "Kripanapani, bala tilakam lalate" goes the refrain describing the raga svarupa so say the munijanaha, the sages who are cognoscenti. Vani performed it in a graceful and relaxed manner.

In Shivashtakam, set to Bhairavi raga, the iconic images, offering scope for sculptural representation were explored. Pannagabhushanagunadhara, adorned with serpents, Pashumanpati, the Lord of the animals, et al interwoven with Sabdaswarapata, a salient feature of the Debaprasad Das school of Odissi, was rendered with vigorous movements. The vrishchika karana with formation of a scorpion bent leg was choreographed emphasizing Shiva's various forms. The Shivashtakam was replete with devotional fervour.

The musical accompaniment was provided by Nimakant Rautray (vocal), on mardala was Prafulla Mangaraj, Balaramchand on violin, Preetaranjan Swain on flute and Prashant Mangaraj on manjira. Vani Madhav's Odissi has an old world charm. She would benefit by expanding her repertoire and style to keep pace with the present Odissi scene, which has moved ahead as have other classical dance forms.

Vani Madhav

Priya Venkataraman

Priya Venkataraman, a former disciple of Saroja Vaidyanathan and S Kanaka is currently studying under A Lakshman, a disciple of Sarasa. Since I saw her last in her own group choreography at Ananya Festival, she has made a remarkable progress in her solo presentation. Tall, vivcious and with a svelte figure, from the word go she captured the attention of the audience with her sparkling nritta.

She was in her element in Tanjore Quartet's Varnam in Anandabhairavi in praise of Rajagopala, requesting her confidante to go unto her beloved Lord and bring him as the time was apt for union of lovers. In nritta, Priya displayed straight lines, the diagonals were a delight to watch and her utplavanas, jumps for concluding teermanams were perfect. The geometry of Bharatanatyam form when performed in a flawless manner engages attention of the audience and in quick succession Priya proved that what she has imbibed from her mentor is exquisite. She would do well to engage more with mukhajabhinaya, in terms of expressions on face for the text of the sahitya. In finale the panchabana, the five flowery arrows and its effect on the nayika, were performed with adequate intensity.

Gita Govinda ashtapadi "Pashyati dishi dishi" was rendered with involvement and abhinaya was quite suggestive. Sakhi requesting Krishna to go unto Radha, who is looking for him everywhere in all directions, seeing him in various objects, was well enacted. In the musical support, vocal by Sudha Raghunathan was excellent. G Elango's nattuvangam, violin by VSK Chakrapani and mridangam by Kalamandalam Sriranka, were complimentary.

Mohiniattam by Jayaprabha Menon was graceful, charming and in terms of abhinaya quite communicative. Though Shankaracharya's Bhaja Govindam had abstract concepts, it was in rendering of a Malayalam padam, depicting Lakshmana's wife Urmila that Jaya scored. Her face wore expressions in a trice and she impersonates characters on the stage with ease of a seasoned artiste. The recall of events when Rama was banished to the forest and along with Rama went Sita and Lakshmana and she remained in Ayodhya waiting for Lakshmana to return to her had poignancy and telling viraha agony. Except that Jayaprabha extended the well known story in a rather lengthy manner. When I asked her that I could not follow the end when Lakshmana is received by her but he soon leaves her, she said that Urmila understood the devotion to Rama through Lakshmana only, as after being received by Urmila, he soon went to Rama to serve. It is an interesting padam and Jayaprabha would do well to edit it for its proper impact and restrict elaboration. The musical accompaniment was by Kottakal Jayan (vocal), Kalamandalam Sriranka (mridangam ), Satish Poduval (edakka) and Shyamala Bhaskar (veena).

Jayaprabha Menon

Madhavi Mudgal

On the second day, Madhavi Mudgal began with a composition in praise of Lord Shiva from a 13th century sangita text Sangita Makaranda. The suggestive quick references to Lord Shiva's adornments, opening of third eye and turning Kamadev into ashes, trinayana, taking poses of Shiva as seen in sculpture etc., were enjoyable. A mature artist, Madhavi breathes life into her choreographic approach.

Banamali's Oriya pada, "Dine na dakibo" admonishing the flute, was rendered playfully. Krishna calls her through flute, says Radha and wants to punish her. She mocks at her saying that ultimately she is a piece of a bamboo. She tries to bury it in sand, cover it with a cloth, but the flute only succeeds in making her listen to the notes and call of Krishna. Performed with complete involvement Madhavi's abhinaya left an indelible impression.

Guru Kelucharan Mahapatra's choreography of Pallavi to the magical music of late Bhubaneswar Mishra in raga Bihag was a sheer delight to watch. Madhavi's body has an amazing memory of movements and the nuances as choreographed by Kelubabu were executed with finesse and beauty. I think Madhavi breathes dance round the clock. There is that unity in her dance with movement and music which makes one want to watch it again and again. The musical accompaniment by her team of musicians Gandhi Malik (pakhavaj), Manikuntala and Purnachandra Majhi (vocal), Yar Mohammad (sitar) and Diwan Singh (tanpura) had all the customary finesse, except that vocalist Purnachandra Majhi needs to render the text of the Odiya song clearly. Lighting was by Milind Srivastav.

Shovana Narayan followed Madhavi in a spirited Kathak recital with captivating chakkars, pirouettes. Shiva stuti rendered melodiously by Madhav Prasad, son of Jwala Prasad, was danced with suggestive poses of Lord Shiva. Shovana rendered enhancing the mood of Lord Shiva's dance with Shiva Parans. The imageries of serpents as ornaments and the syllables naga naga naga were enjoyable. Hari Har paran had alternate images of Lord Shiva and Krishna, with their instruments drum and flute and graceful postures. The jhula paran saw the nayika on a swing spreading joy.

Shovana enacted for abhinaya story of Buddha, dovetailing tribal maiden Sujata's devotion to an unknown stranger practicing penance. When her offerings were untouched, she questioned Lord Buddha about why he had not accepted her offerings. Was it because she was a young maiden from a low caste, and also because she was a woman? Lord Buddha dispels her doubts and accepts her offerings, making Sujata happy. With Buddham saranam gacchami, Shovana concluded the performance. Her team of musicians including Madhav Prasad (vocal), Shakil Ahmed Khan (tabla), Mahavir Gangani (pakhavaj) and Vijay Sharma (sitar) gave her as usual perfect support that matched with Shovana's exuberance.

Shovana Narayan

Pandit Gopal Prasad Dubey

Pandit Gopal Prasad Dubey is a well known Seraikella Chhau exponent and was recently honoured with Padma Shri. With his troupe of musicians Ganesh Mohanty (mahuri), Tarun Kumar and Vinod Pradhan (dhol) and dancers Ravindra Modak, Amit Kumar Sahoo and Sanjay Karamakar, he presented masked dances of Seraikella which have a dream quality. The masks are a thing of beauty and they almost wear human expressions when dancers tilt little or move gracefully. In duet of Krishna Radha, the dancers performed their coming together charmingly, holding flute and moving forward as if it were on a swing. The costumes were gorgeous, as traditionally the masked Chhau dances were patronized by the royal family and princes of Seraikella.

Sagar saw the dancer in blue costumes and blue mask. The wave like movements were interesting. The topka, ufli and bhangis, locomotions of body, the vocabulary movements by dancers in this school of dancing, are peculiar. The theme also has allegorical meanings. Sagar stands for ocean of life, which a human being has to negotiate with.

The tragic tale of legend of Chandrabhaga, the beautiful princess, when she was bathing in river, and was seen by Suryadevata, the Sun God, who was smitten by her beauty and wanted to possess her, had all the charm of Seraikella Chhau dance kinetics. She spurns advances of Suryadeva and commits suicide by jumping into the river and the Sun god is devastated. Both the dancers performed within the vocabulary of Chhau.

Unfortunately the mahuri, shehnai like wind instrument, appeared out of tune and created discordant notes. The drums were played well and dancers kept their steps to the beats reproduced. Seraikella Chhau dances are rarely seen. Vani Madhav deserves compliments to mount such an interesting festival of classical dances of India.

Dr. Sunil Kothari
Dr. Sunil Kothari is a dance historian, scholar, author and a renowned dance critic. He is Vice President of World Dance Alliance Asia Pacific India chapter, based in New Delhi. He is honored by the President of India with Padma Shri, Sangeet Natak Akademi award and Senior Critic Award from Dance Critics Association, NYC. He is a regular contributor to, the roving critic for monthly magazine Sruti and is a contributing editor of Nartanam for the past 11 years.

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