It was indeed a rare treat for IIT Bombay residents, to watch Leela Samson perform during the Golden Jubilee Foundation Day celebrations. Her choice of items, poise, controlled abhinaya - where not a glance was out of place or exaggerated, endearing smile, balance and the crisp finish of the adavus were awe-inspiring. There was no unwanted showmanship, no overwhelming desire to please and clearly the dance and the dancer merged seamlessly taking the rasika along happily.
Leela commenced her performance with the evergreen Shankara Sri Giri of Swati Tirunal. Her poses interspersed with crisp nritta, was excellent. It was refreshing to watch a leading senior dancer perform the traditional adavus, which has unfortunately become quite a rarity in today's dance scenario, where the young dancers, in their zeal to innovate, are omitting the traditional vocabulary entirely so that the dance looks more like acrobatics with some abhinaya thrown in the middle. In the entire presentation, the only place where the nritta slightly slacked up was during the execution of the "tei ha tei hi" adavus where the feet went apart slightly.
Her next piece was the Tanjore Quartet varnam in Raagamaalika "Swamiye azaithodi vaadi." This is a very intelligent composition where the name of the ragam is interspersed in the lyrics. The abhinaya and the nritta sequences again merged seamlessly, one complementing the other without taking the attention away from the sthaayi bhava. The varnam was a beautiful garland of Thodi (it was announced that it started with Shankarabharanam, though) followed by Mohanam, Vasantam, Devi manohari, Kaanada, Arabhi and Shankarabharanam in the charanam.
The abhinaya items chosen by Leela were "Indendu vachchitivira" in Suruti and "Rase hari," an ashtapadi of Jayadeva. In the former, Leela depicted a khandita nayika with controlled sarcasm and anger. I wonder why dancers leave out the last two paragraphs of this Kshetrayya padam. This padam is an outright sambhoga shringara padam and a mature dancer like Leela could lift the lyrics to a new level if she ever attempts it. In the original padam, the refrain "po po ra" begins with caustic sarcasm, turns into anger, climaxes with coyness and ends in a gentle coaxing where the nayika, after spending the night with Krishna asks him to leave since it is morning. The changing emotions of the refrain when depicted by a mature dancer of Leela's calibre would be a real treat to watch. The Ashtapadi depicted the pain and anguish of Radha on seeing Krishna with the other gopis. The music in Misra Pilu by Madhup Mudgal was serene and deep. Leela concluded the performance with a Tillana in Hindolam.
orchestra was outstanding throughout the performance. Hariprasad's mellifluous
voice added to the rasaanbhava. His alapanas in Hamsadhwani in the beginning
and Thodi before the varnam were superb. The authoritative as well as supportive
nattuvangam from Sheejit Krishna, nuanced mridangam playing by Vedakrishnan
and melodious rendering on the violin and veena by Anantha Raman and Anantha
Krishnan complemented and supported the dancer. All in all it was a night
that we IITians will not forget, for a very long time to come.