Unbound Beats of India 2009 
- Dr. Sunil Kothari 
e-mail: sunilkothari1933@gmail.com 

 June 19, 2009 

Utsav Cultural Society, an institution run for the past twenty years by Odissi exponent, Sangeet Natak Akademi award winner and Padma Shri awardee, Ranjana Gauhar, has added two annual festivals to the crowded calendar of the Capital. In May, ‘Unbounded Beats of India’ featuring young generation of dancers and in August under the title ‘Sare Jahan se Achha,’ choreographic works based on the theme of India’s independence. 
The second edition of Unbound Beats featured on 25th May at the Habitat Centre, Yamini Reddy (Kuchipudi-Delhi), Masako Ono (Odissi-Japan)), Disciples of Gopika Varma (Mohiniattam- Chennai), Disciple of Chitra Visweswaran (Bharatanatyam-Chennai) and disciples of Shovana Narayan (Kathak-Delhi)  and on 26th May, Kavita Dwivedi (Odissi-Delhi), Nikolina Nikoleski (Croatia), Jayaprabha Menon (Mohiniattam-Delhi), Ragini Krishnan (Bharatanatyam-Delhi) and Disciples of Ratikant Mahapatra (Odissi-Bhubaneswar). There were solos and group performances. Each evening five presentations were made, which exceeded the time limit. Instead four presentations would give relief to dancers and audiences. 

Yamini Reddy, daughter and disciple of Raja and Radha Reddy has now emerged as the bright star on the Kuchipudi firmament. Her thorough training under her parents’ careful gaze has helped her a lot as from her very childhood she has been brought up in an atmosphere where she has watched dance continuously. Presenting Dashavatara in raga Mohana and tala Tisra Triputa, as one dance number only, she cast a spell on the audience by her powerful rendering. This composition is different from the one from Gita Govinda. The poses struck by Yamini and the silence for a few seconds were extremely impressive. She unleashes energy reminding all those who have seen Raja’s similar way of performing. She enters the stage with a majestic gait and engages audience’s attention from the word go. Each incarnation was enacted with appropriate emotions evoking the rasa. She received thunderous applause. With just one number she created the magic of dance. Kaushalya’s nattuvangam was equally powerful and full of dynamism. Yamini did her parents proud. 

Masako Ono, the Japanese dancer has studied Odissi from several gurus and has received training in modern dance from several Western exponents, including Martha Graham. In Odissi she received training from inmates of Nrityagram of Protima Bedi, Gurus Ramani Ranjan Jena, Naba Kishore Mishra and Kelucharan Mahapatra. She uses her body as an instrument which can express various shades of emotions and also dance techniques. She presented Kasturi Pattanaik’s pure dance number. The yoga element in her dance looked interesting. Her Odissi to the taped music included a number based on Tantric theme. The first number invoked Shakti in the form of Kundalini. Coiling like a snake, a metaphor for the spiralling energies of consciousness, is more experiential than visual. The exposition of the second number in praise of Durga also dwelt on the powerful female energy. Masako’s frame falls into various shapes. Using red colour she heightened the impact of Shakti.  This, it looked was an exploration in other areas of Odissi. 

From Chennai, Gopika Varma brought her well trained bevy of beautiful students Vipina Ramachandran, Deepa Chakravarthy, Ambili Menon, Sarmishtha Ashok, Parvathi Pradeep, Ramya and Malavika. The cholkettu choreographed by Gopika was a music composition of Sudev Warrier in raga Nalinakanthi and Adi tala. The typical swaying movements of the torso to the stylized rhythmic syllables in tune with appropriate dance movements created pleasing patterns. Then followed Swati Tirunal’s bhajan in Hindi ‘Aaj aye Shyam Mohana’ describing the world of Vrindavan where Lord Krishna with Radha and sakhis plays the love game and the eternal Rasalila. When playing with Krishna, the gopis become conceited and start feeling like Krishna is owned by them and Lord Krishna disappears. In separation they recall various episodes of Krishna’s lilas. Gopika used the space for enactment without cluttering it and visually it created a favourable impression. Her overall guidance and careful training was evident in her presentation. Aesthetic and dignified.  

Senior dancer Chitra Visweswaran is a name to reckon with in Bharatanayam. Her disciples Ashmita Raghavan, Arupa Lahiri and Jai Quehaeni from Chennai, with a team of musicians Sukanya Ravindhar (nattuvangam), B Umashankar (vocal), Adyar Gopinath (mridangam) and Sunil Bhaskar (violin) presented a neat and impressive Navarasa Varnam of Lalgudi Jayaraman, the renowned violin maestro. Chitra had approached the great musician when she was inspired by Adi Shankara Bhagavathapada’s Saundarya Lahari and had requested him to compose a Padavarnam on Shakti set in Ragamalika in Adi tala. The composition is exquisite delineating valour with incident of Princess Meenakshi’s love for Lord Shiva, Sundaresvara, symbolizing the cosmic union of the male and female principles. Wonder - Shiva reducing Manmatha to ashes, Laughter -seeing ignorant world’s reaction to Lord’s lilas, Disgust - Daksha’s disrespect to Lord Shiva, Anger - while slaying demons, Fear - at Lord drinking poison and Ravana shaking mount Kailasa, Compassion – as the Universal mother, and Peace as Lalitha at the very Bindu of Shri Chakra. Such a beautiful concept was well choreographed and executed by the dancers with confidence and authority, derived from the sound training from Chitra. 
Sukanya conducted the nattuvangam with flair and the other musicians did full justice to the presentation. 

The finale on the first evening came with Shovana Narayan’s choreography of Om in Kathak. Dressed in black costumes the male dancers Dharmendra Guatam, Mahesh Pawar and Sunil Lal performed with zest. The male dancers were quite a foil visually to the delicate female dancers Shivani and Jyoti Manral. Though the vocal for Om namo Shivaya was too loud at times, the energy exuded by the dancers was captivating. With their back to the audience, they danced in various patterns, also doing padhant, reciting mnemonic syllables they charged the atmosphere with excitement. The tandava, forceful, vigorous element was appropriate. Ravan stotra ‘Jata kata sambhramam’ added further impact to the spirited dance. ‘Om’ was followed by ‘Chaturanga’ with all aspects of Kathak, nritta, thumri - Mohe Chhedo na Nanda ke - shloka and tarannum. The dancers brought down the house winning heartwarming applause. 

On 26th May, next day, Kavita Dwivedi, daughter of Guru Harekrishna Behara opened   her Odissi recital with a prayer to Sun God with blowing of  the conch, creating quite an auspicious atmosphere. ‘Grishma Vilas’  in Oriya chhanda tradition of music taken from the 17th century poet Dinkar Krishna Das’s Rasa-Kallol, in which svara is repetitive, slow, soothing and melodious, and each line starts with the syllable ‘Ka’ and is based on the theme of Radha, Krishna and Gopis. The music composition was by Rama Hari Das. 
Of the numbers she presented, the Upendra Bhanja’s composition ‘Malli mala Shyama ku dibi’ left an indelible impression. With her expressive face she evoked gopi’s feelings of love for Krishna, saying, ‘If he prides himself and does not look at me, I shall please him by offering betel leaf - paan - and win him over.’ Kavita with her natural abhinaya impressed the audience.  The singing was of ‘bhavanga’ style of Odissi in raga Chhayanat set to Yati tala. The interlude music was composed by Prashant Behera. These old Oriya songs have instant appeal and they bring back happy memories of the revival of Odissi dance. The accompanists including Prafull Kumar Mangaraj (mardala), Suresh Sethi (vocal), Balram Chand (violin), Kiran Kumar (flute) and Kalyani Behera (manjira) gave her excellent support. 

Saroja Vaidyanathan’s disciple from Croatia, Nikolino Nikoleski has studied from her under ICCR’s scheme of foreign students studying under a recognized guru.  Nikolina Nikoleski has also studied Western dance under Pina Bausch, the legendary German contemporary dancer, and also has training in classical ballet. Her Bharatanatyam had all the salient features of sound training of Saroja. The lines were clean, perfect, utplvanas - jumps - clear and impressive and striking of the sculpturesque poses in the first number of  Swami Dayananda Saraswati’s ‘Bho Shambho Swayambho’ was also impressive. As a Westerner, she has adapted remarkably well to the ethos of India. Her movements have been moulded to suit Bharatanatyam. She reflected emotions competently in Neeraja padam in which Krishna’s lotus eyed beauty is described along with his personality which outshines that of Cupid. And his playing upon the divine flute has the entire universe at his feet! She concluded with Desh tillana. In nritta, she is at ease. Her dedication and love for Bharatanatyam came through. 

One would like to congratulate Jayaprabha Menon for her innovation in the thematic content of Mohiniattam. This gifted dancer is exploring various facets of Mohiniattam and in particular the one she presented as ‘unbound rhythms,’ a droplet from the heights beginning reverie, gaining momentum in its meandering, acquired many dimensions. A droplet’s journey conceived through musical instruments, relying mainly on sitar was fascinating. Abstract and yet riveting. The use of maddalam, thavil (Mahesh Somasundaram),  chenda, edakka (Satish Poduval), vocal (Sudha Raghuraman) and sitar (Ritesh) wove a web of magic and along with the dancer, the audience also enjoyed the concept, movements and music. Bravo Jayaprabha for venturing into this experimental mode through the medium of Mohiniattam! Mohiniattam does offer scope for innovations and Jayaprabha succeeded in a large measure. Assisted by Kavalam Padmanabhan for script and music composition, Jayaprabha presented a memorable choreographic work. 

Jamuna Krishnan is another name to reckon with in Bharatanatyam. Her study of Surdas is an envy of many a scholar. Her musical knowledge is vast and adherence to traditional Margam and bani of Bharatanatyam is praiseworthy. Her daughter Ragini Chandersekar is a ‘chip off the old block.’ A brilliant dancer, her nritta is sparkling and abhinaya captivating. Rarely one sees, of late, Alarippu performed the way Ragini does. In Misra Chapu tala, a cycle of seven beats, and in Nattai raga, she dazzled and made old timers want to see more of such numbers. The clarity of the movements, the perfect lines, the symmetry, the various levels, the energy and the speed, all coalesced in a perfect blend.  
Shiva Tandavam with Natanam Adinar, the time-tested number, wore a novel look. Shiva’s dance, a glimpse of it by the devotee made the devotee to enact it with great beauty. Ragini scored in this number. 

But when she as a gopi dismissed Krishna in a Javali like Suradas’ pada , she not only brought humour but also showed how Radha was a confident woman and not to be cowed down by Krishna. She tells him: ‘We are not your slaves. The other cowherds are as good as you. Your father is not our Lord.  We belong to the same clan. So what you have, is two cows more than me. Please separate your cows from mine. Yes, I know from the time you have mingled with these gopis, you have become absolutely useless.’ And she walks away with her cows. Set to raga Shankara composed by Jamuna, it is a delightful pada and offers dancers scope to bring in various shades of humour and playfulness. Ragini was in her element performing this pada. 

The finale came with Ratikant Mahapatra’s two group choreographic compositions. Son of Guru Kelucharan Mahapatra, he is also choreographing imaginatively group numbers with well trained Odissi dancers studying under him. Two years ago, during the 3rd  International Odissi Conference and Festival at Bhubaneswar, I had an opportunity to witness his choreography to Aruna Sairam’s brilliant rendering of great Tamil litterateur Subramanya Bharati’s composition. The presence of Allah in poet’s life made experience unlimited with devotional fervour. And his song inspired dedication at the feet of the supreme being Allah. Ratikant has taken great care in fusing Odissi movements with Carnatic music in the depiction of Muslim consciousness. The integration of these three elements is indeed a pioneering effort on Ratikant’s part and a departure from the usual traditional Hindu mythology. It tries to bridge culturally and spiritually, the Muslim as well as the Hindu religious identity. The dancers showed the movements of praying namaz, bending on the floor, and it looked interesting. Aruna’s soulful singing indeed is the highlight giving an extra dimension to Ratikant’s choreography and his dancers execute essentially Odissi movements.  

In ‘Om’ group number, with simple movements Ratikant has attempted the impact of the sound OM. Beginning with birth of Universe,  in all its multitude, out of primordial sound emerges the first light of the cosmos and the elements of sound and light are seen in life around us. Om is a point of confluence, where all knowledge meets with the essence of consciousness, the motive spring by which the mind and soul move in consonance in a glorious passage to super consciousness. It is an abstract concept and through Odissi movements, Ratikant has tried to express it to evocative music. In terms of concepts both the numbers are complimentary. However one would have preferred for a contrast expressional number with flavour of traditional Odissi. 

The festival was a huge success with crowds filling the hall and responding to the young generation of dancers. The corporate and other support Ranjana Gauhar, the spirit behind the festival, received shows her capacity to garner resources for a laudable cause.  One wishes success to her efforts. For, one cannot expect the autonomous bodies to organize all the time, similar festivals in Delhi. 

Dr. Sunil Kothari, dance historian, scholar, author, is a renowned dance critic, having written for The Times of India group of publications for more than 40 years. He is a regular contributor to Dance Magazine, New York. Dr. Kothari is a globetrotter, attending several national, international dance conferences and dance festivals. He has to his credit more than 14 definitive works on Indian classical dance forms. Kothari was a Fulbright Professor and has taught at the Dance Department, New York University; has lectured at several Universities in USA, UK, France, Australia, Indonesia and Japan. He has been Vice President of World Dance Alliance Asia Pacific (2000-2008) and is Vice President of World Dance Alliance Asia Pacific India chapter, based in New Delhi. A regular contributor to www.narthaki.com, Dr Kothari is honored by the President of India with the civil honor of Padma Shri and Sangeet Natak Akademi award.