- Ashish Mohan
Turning ten means
one has survived struggle, strife and sustained an idea. When an organisation
devoted to dance (and music) achieves that, it means the intentions were
good and even if the going was tough, the tough got going! Two such “toughies”
are Murali Mohan Kalva and Nandini Mehta, Kathak dancers of Bangalore,
who have striven hard for their art. NADAM ( Nartan Academy of Dance and
Music) turned ten and put its best foot forward by mounting a 2-day festival
at the huge Chowdiah Hall (on14th and 15th Nov), that was a feast.
It was a feast
because going beyond their own noses, they presented other artistes from
outside Bangalore. Thus, one got to see the exquisite artistry of Kala
Krishna from Hyderabad in Andhra Natyam and the joy of Jaipur gharana of
Kathak, courtesy Uma Dogra from Mumbai. Locals groups like Nrityagram and
Nadam Ensemble complemented this feast while soloists Mantap Prabhakar
in Yakshagana and Dr Seshadri Iyengar-Preeti Sunderajan added to the occasion.
first: the shows began on time! With no excuses or margins for using Bangalore’s
bad traffic snarls as excuse for starting late, the organizers did well
in doing so, as there were three artistes billed each evening, many chief
guests (some who failed to show up!) and long drawn announcements and audio-visual
compere, looked and sounded every bit sandalwoody, pleasing and perfumed
in her peppered speeches with pontifications and pleasantries! Murali of
course has a deep, resonant voice and for effect, pauses and mulls over
his mostly impromptu lines. He is after all, a kathakaar, story teller!
Both held audience attention, so critical in these days of short attention
spans. Some elders (speakers) (the worst part of functions in south India
are when those plastic chairs come out on stage and all serious looking
folks have to climb on stage and be seated and look at each other and try
and smile while the compere runs to organize for clues!) are so stood in
time, they carry on and on.
The stage itself
was an aesthetic delight; so beautifully mounted and used. Satyanarayana
Raju is of course a permanent fixture in helping with that in Bangalore
and excellent lights and technical inputs by Shirish Mohan, whom Murali
introduced very affectionately.
That the hosts,
Murali and Nandini honoured each input, by calling them on stage
and giving mementos, shows true appreciation of all those who make a show.
Even the photographer Srivatsa Shandalya - “the photographer with passion”
as his byline says! - and the oldish videographer got this honour. Even
because, generally they are very important but never given their due. After
a show is over, only their documentary recording of the event stays etched
in memory, forever.
The starting day
had two jumping dancing beans in the garb of Preeti Sundarajan and Dr.
Sesahdri Iyengar. Both were full of sprightly steps and unbound energy.
Seshadri also duplicates as a homeopathy doctor, so some pills must have
helped them be more energetic, as not for a minute did their energy levels
falter! Preeti is pleasing on stage, almost a Shatabadi version of Malavika
Sarukkai and in her neatness and delivery, impressed. Dr. Seshadri Iyengar
is an old dance horse who gallops everytime he appears. His technique is
impeccable and his pleasing stage smile, just about enough, helps him connect
with his audiences. There is something mischievous in his countenance,
all through. Both set the tone of the two day festival and mindless of
the late comers who strut about senselessly looking for seats, showed the
nearly full hall what good art is made of.
Iyengar, Preeti Sunderajan
next followed by partner-in-crime Nandini Mehta showed some basic Kathak
and their aesthetics were high. Murali has strong footwork and his stamping
is clear, Nandini has the elfin charm of a nayika. Both try as a pair,
although individually they excel better. Their group, comprising
of a motley lot of talents of varying stages of artistry, or its acquisition
thereof, fit in a wholesome offering. The lone boy, Tushar Bhatt, credited
with all costumes and off stage attires too, has the most genuine stage
smile ever seen on a Kathakaar! His delivery is firm and his form is excellent.
the uncelebrated master of Andhra Natyam, was pure delight in the simple
beauty of joy of dancing itself. Andhra Natyam is the ancient Andhra temple
dance revived and promoted by Dr. Nataraja Ramakrishnan, now almost 90
plus. Kala Krishna is his Arjuna, though if his softness both on and off
stage is anything to go by, it is evident why his stree vesham patra is
so convincing. Without making it gimmicky, cheap or undignified, his projection
was so masterful that anyone who did not know he was a male dancer would
have thought of him as a bewitching woman. Beautifully articulated small
steps, no jumping or impressing, his whole being suffused with an ever
flowing art from deep within. Kala Krishna uplifted a true rasika’s mood
and regaled all. The singing by Uma, high pitched as ever, showed complete
mastery in lower octaves too. Sheer bliss that offering was and Kala Krishna
remains a true and great artiste in these times.
Mohan, Nandini Mehta
Next day too,
the festival began on time! Mantap Prabhakar’s Yakshagana showed why in
absence of understanding of language by those viewers who may be outside
coastal kannara belt, is not easily accessible though his depiction of
Surpanakha left no doubt he was Surpanakha. Masterful manipulation of audience
interest and moods by engaging overtures of tongue and dancing talents
made his depiction first rate. Dr S Ganeshan’s scholarly introductions
helped contextualize the presentation and his deep knowledge of the shastras
helped all understand the depths of this traditional dance drama, easily.
ensemble is a well-chiselled stone - a diamond or ruby, as you will. Three
girls, all in excellent physical forms, well-tuned bodies and angashudhi
showed why it continues to be an appealing Orissi dance ensemble that appeals
to all audiences, especially western audiences (as they are mostly abroad,
performing). Surupa Sen has a rather sad face and a stolid countenance,
but her technique is what Malavika Sarukkai's is to Bharatanatyam. There
is no joy in Surupa’s dancing, an almost mechanical rendition. Bijoyini
Satpathy has fortunately cut on all her extra smiling she had gotten used
to of late and is the delight of the pack, and a natural daughter-of-the-soil
artiste. Clearly, Bijoyini ranks as the best Orissi dancer in India today
in her generation. Pavithra Reddy adds to the threesome ensemble
and in all they undertook together there was beauty, geometry and perfection.
The lone solo item ashtapadi, Yahi Madhav, needs more experience and seasoned
artistry, not just a linear translation on stage as Surupa showed.
The music was of high order but then Sanjukta Panigrahi’s best half, Raghunath
Panigrahi composed it.
It was left to
senior Kathak dancer Uma Dogra of Mumbai to bring spontaneity and natural
charm to the festival. She showcased specimens of Jaipur gharana as taught
to her by late Pt. Durga Lal, the star of the form who died young and she
showed that even 20 years after his death, his art continues. Her layakari
and tayari was so firm that not for a minute did it falter. Kathak is the
art of natural delivery. Even when rehearsed (those fake tabla-dancer encounters!)
it ought to look spontaneous and impromptu. The ability to link up with
audiences and engage them is critical for this dialogue of dance. Kathak
is the one form where the dancer sometimes talks more than actually dances!
Uma balanced all aspects well even if, by definition, the Abhinaya items
are lost on a big stage, especially to audiences sitting beyond the tenth
row, though those closer to the stage could savour it and soak in the detailed
depiction of vatsalya rasa of the item shown. Powerful music, live, was
a feast and Bangaloreans enjoyed the two days offering and went home hoping
Nadam lasts another ten years or more, so good artistes come Bangalore's
scholar-critic-historian Ashish Mohan Khokar attends special shows and
shares what he observes.