on their minds!
Curtains opened up for Nritya Sanrachna, festival of choreographic works on Sankhya, with Mohiniattam by Bharati Shivaji who decorated the stage to establish the divine Ten- on the Sankhya concept. Interestingly, the show strung to a number theme flowed one into the other, as though each dancer/ choreographer featured in the festival, contributing to the single, ultimate goal of Shoonya- symbolizing a meditative merge of frenzied dance into the mystic nothingness! The classical themes symbolizing the theoretical codes of numbers from ten to zero in descending order - Dashavataram for ten, Navarasa for nine, Ashta Nayika for eight, Saptaavarta for seven, Shadrutu for six, Panchabhoota for five, Chaturveda - four, Trimurti - three, Dvaita - two, Advaita for one and Shoonya or zero... actually depicted the numbers and their mythical significance- and what a best illustration of the same through varied classical dance forms of the country. Mohiniattam to Manipuri, Kuchipudi and Kathak, Bharatanatyam to Bharata Nrityam and Vilasini Natyam, and Chhau to Contemporary, the festival was also a mélange of dance forms set on a numbered journey!
The time honoured
Mohiniattam depicted the traditional choreography of Bharati
Shivaji, with a host of her disciples performing Dashavataram.
Bharati extended the Vaishnava theme for Ten to a subtle and graceful
number in Shiva thought titled "Dasha Pushpam," where dancers in twilight
dance for lord Siva, "Chandramaule..." - offering him floral eulogies.
Singh's Ashta Nayika in Manipuri was again a traditional
beauty with the lead danseuse Charu, accompanied by a host of dancers and
drummers made a picture perfect presence on stage. For the south Indian
audience, watching Manipuri was a sheer cross cultural experience. Gentle,
restrained and graceful movements... ideal for sketching the moods and
imageries of the classical heroines, Eight in number. Ashtapadis
of Jayadeva made an apt theme for exploring these feminine graces. In fact
the stage itself seemed like a huge painting with colorfully clad dancers
forming groves and gesturally becoming doorways, temples, and even trees
and foliage to enhance the surroundings and moods of the heroine in love.
Using veils or changing the upper frills or even the jackets of the dancers' costume in quick successions for different numbers seems to have become a trend for newer choreographies in the country (nothing wrong, but seemed rather filmy to me). Well, classical dance is all about expression, gesture and movement - backed by rhythm, poetry and aesthetics. Simple! If this happens in right proportions, no monumental props or elaborate lighting stunts can add or mar a performance. For it's just about dance and a thin line that defines in using of extra embellishments (I request - fulfill your love for superfluities in Nritya Natikas or theatrical productions, if that matters). Simply because, your beautiful dance and choreography sometimes (and most of the times) gets submerged by these over powered props, electronic extra effects and even lengthy intermittent dialogue intros from the sound boxes.
Swapna Sundari's Shadrutu. Her intimate and individualistic
style of Vilasini Natyam was so enchanting... but she over crowded
the stage space with painted pots and then, pulled veils out of them like
a magician! And not to mention the slide show depicting a messy collage
of mediocre paintings of nayikas, and also of clouds, flowers, abstract
designs, and a mix of many elements competing with her own photographs
projected big and wide on the backdrop! To decode Six, Swapna, in
fact came up with an interesting mythical...where she visualizes Shadrutu
as an allegory - "The cycle of seasons serves as a metaphor for
tracing three relationships between the earth - woman and sun- man; the
devadasi and god; the nayika and nayaka. The vigorous energy of the cosmos-
brahmanda is released through the heat generating sun- purusha into the
atmosphere. It is received by the earth- kumbha and causes volatile climatic
changes in nature- prakriti. These changes manifest as the seasons rutu.
Agamic worship in a temple provides a symbolic extension to the above idea.
Here, the devadasi represents prakriti which pulsates amidst the brahmanda
(the temple), the sanctum of which is occupied by purusha. Kumharthy, an
essential ritual offered by the devadasi in a temple illustrates this concept.
At the human level, the cyclical nature of the relationship between the
traditional nayika and nayaka also conveys this basic motif..." Fascinating!
Swapna could carry this theme with her powered grace in just a solo performance.
Does she require these accentuations or for that matter, that male dancer
at the rear end of the stage who entered and exited like a leather puppet!?
Naa! I remember watching Swapna (over a couple of years ago) do a complete
number just by sitting on the stage floor, singing with her lilting voice
and dancing with her wide expressive eyes!!
A spell binding
performance came from Rajashree Shirke who reigned on the stage
with her dancing force (literally) of sixteen Kathakar dancers to encompass
the concept of Chaturveda. She came on to the fore with dialogue,
song and dance followed in chorus by her students. The dancers wove a magical
visual of dance theatre, which retained the earthiness of Kathakar tradition
of Kathak, at the same time unfurled into a dazzling dance of precision
and grace. Of the sacred texts, Four in number, the choreographer
delves further deep into the four vrutti-s of Bharata Natya Shastra. And
what best than the ancient epic of Mahabharata as an inspiration to explore
the concept. The choreography of the war of Kurukshetra was especially
commendable for the perfectionism of pure dance and an expression of fearlessness
and valour on the dancers' faces... literally encasing a battle field (for
arbhatti vrutti) that culminated with a heart rending song and dance
for the loss of lives.
The much awaited last evening of the festival featured Radha - Raja Reddy, Padma Subrahmanyam and Sonal Mansingh. "It's always challenging and rejuvenating to research and choreograph hitherto untouched themes in dance... I appreciate Ananda Shankar Jayant for conceptualizing the idea and putting forth the challenge for us- to rethink, recreate and come together..." said Sonal Mansingh who went into a research to give shape to Zero or Shoonya through dance.
Raja Reddy's Kuchipudi aptly stood for Dvaita,
to represent the number Two. It's a pleasure to watch this couple
who are credited to have taken Kuchipudi dance to newer heights. With their
established aesthetics, Radha matched her lyrical graces of lasya with
Raja's masculine tandava depicting the eternal symbols of love and union
of prakruti and purusha. The duo extended the theme to yet another dance
to draw the number Two for jeevaatma - paramaatma bond (the human- almighty
relationship) with a stunning sanchari bhava illustrating the Geethopadesam.
by Sonal Mansingh, indeed took the festival to an upsurge. In her
lyrical Odissi dance, she embodied the process of emanation of forms
from the formless void... a nothingness that pulsates to create the world...
Sonal too, used flash slide projections on the backdrop showing the stars
and nebula like forms in a balanced proportion to go with her dance (however
this (again) seemed superfluous). For, her mystic dance in twilight, where
a nocturnal yogini yearns to merge with the numinous white light... was
sound enough to shape up the sense of Shoonya and its enigmatic energies.
A classic representation, where the dancer delves deep into Mahayana Buddhist
philosophy and brings out related folktales and poetry that portray the
yogini in a gentle trance of creation from nothingness. Perfect!
Pratima Sagar is a cultural commentator and critic based in Hyderabad.