of colourful dances
- A Seshan,
of the National Centre for the Performing Arts
May 8, 2010
Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA) in Mumbai observed the International
Dance Day (IDD) falling on April 29, 2010 in a five-day programme called
'Mudra,' April 26 through 30. It was the second year of such celebration
of the IDD and, going by its previous experience, the NCPA tweaked it by
having a theme this time which was 'Stree' (Woman). It was presented through
five major classical dances of India, viz., Manipuri, Nangiar Koothu (NK),
Bharatanatyam (BN), Mohiniattam (MA) and Kathak reflecting the diversity
of styles and the rich cultural heritage of different parts of the country.
This writer was able to attend all the programmes with the exception of
the one relating to Kathak.
(April 26, 2010)Bimbavati Devi
presented Nrityamalika incorporating Shivastuti, Kaliadaman, Dashavatar
and Matrika. As a rasika, this reviewer had been exposed to Manipuri only
once at a dance symposium on choreography in Sri Shanmukhananda Fine Arts
and Sangeetha Sabha on November 8, 2003 when Darshana Jhaveri presented
an interesting lecture-demonstration on rhythm patterns in Manipuri. The
occasion under review was thus his first exposure to a full-fledged Manipuri
artiste presenting the programme was Bimbavati Devi, daughter and disciple
of the legendary Guru Bipin Singh and Guru Kalavati Devi. As she said in
an interview, "Manipuri dance has always been viewed as a very slow and
monotonous form. But the style of Guru Bipin Singh is different. It is
the result of his in-depth research, his vast knowledge of the shastras
and the other performing art forms of Manipuri, especially the Natyasankirtana... Following
my guru's footsteps, I try to create newer elements without deviating from
the form. I'm keen on showing how tradition can be revised and made relevant
to present times without endangering the essence." Darshana Jhaveri,
the doyenne of Manipuri, gave an informative introduction to the programme
and also offered commentaries before each item. She pointed out how the
art form was 2000 years old and had gone through three stages in its evolution,
viz., animism, tantric and martial arts and, in the last 300 years, Gaudiya
Vaishnavism, inspired by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. The art has been taken from
temples to theatres.
impression was one of admiration for the lyricism of the dance form. Even
though both lasya and tandava formed part of the repertoire, it was the
former that was predominant so much so that he felt that even the latter
was suffused with softness unlike what one sees in Bharatanatyam or Kuchipudi.
There was no fire and fury in those movements of Nataraja. This is
not meant to be a criticism. By nature, the people of Manipur are soft
and there is no place for any hardness or harshness in their lives or culture.
The footsteps were gentle. There was no hard stamping on the floor that
one observes in some other styles of dance. This writer feels that when
there is footwork of the artiste, only the sound of the ghungroos should
be heard and not the thud of the foot hitting the floor. The dance style
is such that there is a minimalist approach to hastamudras and abhinaya.
The latter is done through the movement of the whole body (sarvangabhinaya)
that conveys the sentiments as well as any mukhajabhinaya would do. It
is subdued in tune with the restrained and lyrical nature of the style
and facial expressions of rasas are not pronounced as in, say, BN. Chali
(the equivalent of chari in BN) involves the entire body. Jayadev's
Dashavatar was interesting. This writer found the Narasimha avatar of absorbing
interest; even the ferocity of the lion-man was subdued! Keeping in tune
with the theme of the dance festival, Matrika was designed to be an impassioned
invocation to the mother, the main Shakti. It certainly 'resonated' with
the rasikas, as expected by her.
dispelled the popular image of Manipuri artistes dancing with billowing
dresses. It is so only in Ras Leela. The programme under review incorporated
costumes appropriate for the theme and they were colourful. For the aficionados
of Carnatic music, who take pride in the complexity of tala in their system,
the programme was an eye opener. In theory, the time measures range from
4 to 68 beats consisting of shuddha (pure), shalag (combination of two
talas in the basic time cycle) and sankirna (combination of more than two
talas in the basic time cycle). These rhythmic varieties were seen in abundance
in the programme. To give one example, there was a tala with 20 beats and
congratulate the NCPA for bringing Manipuri to Mumbai and giving it a pride
of place in the dance week by making it the inaugural programme. Mumbaikars
rarely, if ever, get to see this rich dance style. After seeing it, one
could realise how much has been missed by not giving Manipuri its due place
in the cultural life of the city. In fact Manipuri was discovered for the
rest of the country by Rabindranath Tagore when he saw it for the first
time in Tripura. So much was he impressed that he started training classes
for it in Visva-Bharati. To date, only Manipuri and Kathakali are taught
Koothu (April 27, 2010)The artiste
started the programme in a half-sitting position. It was fifty per cent
similar to the araimandi of BN though not meant to be so; the position
of the feet was not a la BN. But unlike the fleeting glances one
has of araimandi in BN, Kapila maintained that position for a few minutes.
This writer thought she was sitting on a chair. She was not. She repeated
the position several times. It must have been quite taxing. It also indicated
the intense training she must have undergone in the art form. It
was Ekaharya (mono acting) at its best. Kapila portrayed the various
roles and moods effortlessly. Of particular fascination to the reviewer
was the manner in which she got up from a seated or squatted position effortlessly
and stylistically in a split second without the support of the hand on
the floor, something he cannot do! It was thoroughly professional. "Entranced"
is the word to describe the response of the audience that sat through the
90-minute programme with absolute silence (no cell phone sounds!) and intense
concentration on the stage. It was remarkable because there was no music
and no words spoken except for a short time on two occasions. Netrabhinaya
communicated more than what spoken words could have. There was only the
sound of the two mizhavus, the percussion instruments, in the background.
the famous artiste from Kerala, presented an enchanting programme of NK,
a branch of Koodiyattam, the only Sanskrit drama in the world. She
narrated the story of Sita Parityagam (The Abandoning of Sita) based on
Kalidasa's Raghuvamsa and following Attaprakaram (Acting Manual).
Those who are familiar with the Ramayana know the story of Rama heartlessly
asking a pregnant Sita to leave him after the Pattabhisheka (coronation)
just because he had overheard some dhobi making derogatory remarks about
her being in Lanka under Ravana's custody thus implicitly questioning her
modesty. In the version seen, Rama sends her to the forest with Lakshmana
with the ostensible purpose of enabling her to visit it as she loves nature.
But he advises Lakshmana confidentially to abandon her there. Man's inhumanity
to woman! She is shattered to know the reason for her being in the forest.
Sage Valmiki takes her to his ashram and she delivers her twins there.
A few years later, Rama sees the two boys singing the Ramayana story at
his Ashwamedha Yaga. Out of curiosity he follows them to Valmiki's ashram
where he comes to know who the children are. He pleads with Valmiki to
ask Sita to go through the ordeal of entering the fire once again to prove
her chastity and return to Ayodhya with him. Probably for Lord Rama, walking
through fire is like taking a shower bath. Sita says 'enough is enough'
and refuses to comply with Rama's desire having proven her
virtue already. At her request, mother earth absorbs her and Rama returns
to Ayodhya with his sons.
discussion session following the programme was well attended unlike in
many other instances in the past, indicative of audience interest. Kapila
described her early training and the subtle implications of various movements.
The percussionists were sitting in the back and had no opportunity to see
her face. Still they modulated the sound with loud and light strokes on
the mizhavus to portray the various moods thanks to their knowledge of
the movements, training and experience in synchronisation. It was
of particular interest to the audience. The nadais of percussion
were so varied that there was no feeling of monotony. The cosmopolitan
audience could appreciate the subtleties of the dance form thanks to the
excellent choreography by G Venu and Kapila and its effective delivery
by the latter. The maestros of mizhavu, Kalamandalam Rajeev and Kalamandalam
Hariharan, deserve kudos for their thorough and tireless professionalism.
(April 28, 2010)The stories
of Andal and Meera were recounted in six scenes in quick succession. There
was not a dull moment. Lata was ingenious enough to incorporate the elements
of Margam in a limited way in the dance drama. Thus there was varnam in
Valaji and there was a tillana too. The sancharis and the utplavanas by
Lata were well done but with restraint. The choreography provided plenty
of scope for abhinaya, rati being the dominant stayibhava rubbing off bhakti
shringara on the audience. The singing of Meera bhajans in the Carnatic
ragas was a novelty. Meera belongs to the entire country and each region
has its own melodic version of her bhajans – Gujarati, Purabi, Rajasthani
and even a Dhrupad one! So it was in order to have Carnatic music also
in that list as long as the sahitya bhava was conveyed. In some scenes
there was an alternate singing of Hindi and Tamil songs that was a new
experience perfectly in tune with the development of the story. "Varanamayiram,"
one of the poems of Andal in Nachchiyar Tirumozhi, describes the dream
in which she goes through the rituals of a Hindu wedding, which was enacted
realistically. The climax of the programme was the marriage of Andal to
Lord Ranganatha with a lot of sprinkling of akshadai (rice particles) on
the divine couple by the dancers on the stage by way of blessing them.
The make-up man doubled up as Perialwar, father of the poetess! He really
had the personality of a Vaishnavite Brahmin. On the whole it was
an enjoyable experience. The quality of the presentation was enhanced by
the professional support of the orchestra comprising Shivaprasad (vocal),
Chandran (mridangam), Balasubramaniam (violin), Alka Gulzar (sitar), Narayanan
(flute), and Nambeesan (Edakka). Nagaswaram music recorded by E Sakthivel
was played during the wedding ceremony. While music was composed by Shivaprasad,
nattuvangam was by Lata and guru S P Srinivasan. Nandalal Rele, Suresh
Pednekar and Ramanlal Darji provided sound effects, lights and costume.
For future renditions of the same programme, this reviewer would
like to make the following comments as a rasika.
one of the top artistes of Mumbai and student of T S Kadirvelu Pillai,
presented Amrutam (Nectar) in the BN format along with her group of students.
It was an Andal-Meera combo that was blended seamlessly. The theme was
well conceived and efficiently executed. It was appropriate given the common
bond that united them to Lord Vishnu. Incidentally, while Meera and her
bhajans are well known in the South thanks to the late M S Subbulakshmi,
people even in the South outside Tamil Nadu have hardly heard of Andal.
The one exception is the classic prabandhamu ("Amuktamalyada") in Telugu
written by Krishna Deva Raya on the saint poetess where Andal is called
Godadevi. Lata thus rendered a signal service by juxtaposing Meera and
Andal and making the latter known to the cosmopolitan audience of South
In the first
place, the small stage in the Godrej auditorium was somewhat crowded with
the live orchestra and 17 dancers (including children) at one stage. Although
each member of the team moved well without coming in the way of anyone
else, it created a problem in the coordination of the movements, especially
of the arms, that could be seen by the audience (unlike footwork). It is
always an aesthetic experience to see the arms moving in a uniform and
synchronised way. This reviewer believes it comes under the criterion of
hastakshetra, an important constituent of anga shuddha (or purity) of adavus.
It was disconcerting to see the arms of the various artistes flailing in
different positions or directions at any point of time. I have seen this
perfection achieved in the case of some other dance dramas. Also the hastamudras
of some of the children left much to be desired. Probably Lata wanted to
give an exposure to the young members of the team in a prestigious auditorium.
Secondly, the introductory commentaries were somewhat long. There was an
excellent programme sheet which gave full details of each scene. There
was thus no need for a further lengthy elaboration by way of an oral commentary.
There is one last suggestion that is seriously made. To facilitate audience
participation, perhaps the akshadai could be distributed among the spectators,
if the auditorium is small as was the case with the venue, so that they
could also go near the stage and bless the couple in the last wedding scene
by sprinkling it on them!
(April 29, 2010)"Amrapali"
had a bagful of evocative Carnatic ragas like Hamsadhwani, Mukhari, Nattaikurinji,
Bilahari, Todi, Madhyamavati, Saveri, Andholika, Revati and Desh. The selection
of ragas was done carefully to suit the scenes. For example, the scene
depicting Amrapali treating a wounded and unknown warrior (Ajatashatru)
at her home had Mukhari for background music. The courtesan becoming a
Buddhist nun was symbolically portrayed by Neena putting on a saffron shawl
and moving to the exit on the stage to the chants of "Buddham Saranam Gacchami,
Dhammam Saranam Gacchami, Sangam Saranam Gacchami" with the Doppler
Effect of the singer (fading of the sound of music as its source
goes further and further away). It was good choreography. The orchestra
was excellent with Madhavan Namboodiri (vocal), Mangalam Vaidyanathan (violin),
Satish (mridangam) and Nambeesan (edakka). Madhavan has a resonant voice
and can articulate the sahityas well. Mangalam gave good alapanas for some
of the ragas.
From the lyricism
of the north-east to that of the south-west of India, was a smooth transition.
Neena Prasad, a name to reckon with in MA, presented her recital on the
story of Amrapali, the courtesan and patriot of Vaisali, who turned to
Buddhism for peace and solace after her bitter experience with war.
She was in love with prince Ajatashatru of Magadha, but was disillusioned
after seeing the aftermath of the armed conflict between the two countries
mentioned above and became a Buddhist nun. Prior to the main story, Neena
presented an invocation followed by "Mahadeva Sambho" in Revati that had
a reference to Markandeya Purana. It was characterised by good sancharis
on the line "Sahasrakoti." Clad in the traditional costume of kasavu in
white with a gold border, Neena fascinated the audience with her ati bhanga
or the swaying circular movement of the torso from side to side ('chuzhipu')
that is the hallmark of the dance form. This as well as the quivering of
the eyebrows reminded one of the swaying of the coconut trees and the palm
leaves in the breeze. The fluidity of her movements and quicksilver
changes of facial expressions were noteworthy. Although shringara is the
dominant rasa in MA, there were opportunities in the story for other rasas
like bhayanaka and karuna. Like in Manipuri, there was no heavy stamping
of the feet on the floor - only gentle tapping with the toes in contrast
to the heel in BN. This all goes well with the utterly graceful spirit
of the dance form. The role of hastamudras is limited unlike in BN as the
emphasis is on the torso in movements. The hand movements were rounded
and semi-circular. Like other Kerala dances, MA follows the Hastalakshana
Deepika, and not Bharata's Natya Sastra, in mudras. The continuity of adavus
with one dissolving into another was a highlight of the presentation.
there was no prior consultation among the artistes, it seems that instinctively
they all hit on a common theme of the New Indian Woman – self-assured,
confident, proud and fearless to throw away the shackles of the past -
though couched in ancient stories and mythologies. It was a case of the
empowerment of Stree. There was Shakti, the mother goddess presiding over
the destinies of men and women, a Sita who could say "enough is enough"
to Lord Rama and prefer to go to her mother's home rather than return to
his palace and wait for another humiliating experience, an Andal and a
Meera who aspired for higher values in life and did not believe in the
convention of a housewife condemned to kitchen and bearing children and
an Amrapali who could realise that there was an alternative to matrimony
and a single woman could survive in this world on the strength of her will
power. NCPA should be congratulated for selecting a theme in tune with
the spirit of the 21st century.
an Economic Consultant in Mumbai, is a music and dance buff.