Text & pics: Lalitha Venkat
e-mail: lalvenkat@yahoo.com

January 20, 2015

The Music Academy auditorium was full and overflowing with rasikas. There was high expectancy as people eagerly awaited the dance of Alarmel Valli to be accompanied in the second half by Bombay Jayashri. It was a mixed crowd of dance and music rasikas. Strangers made friendly enquiries as to whether we were present there for Valli or Jayashri. The one on my left was rooting for Valli and the rasika on my right gave a hiss of excitement as soon as Jayashri took over the vocals from Nandini Anand! Most of the Academy programs were well attended with even house full shows for a few artistes. Even if some of the Academy programs were none too inspiring, the dramatic eye makeup of one artiste and the pale ghostly eye makeup of another, the blingy costume of one and the colorless costume of another, made for animated discussion in the break time.

Over the week, rasikas become sabha friends exchanging valuable feedback. Many were none too happy with the lineup of performers, especially the repetitions of many artistes of previous years as well as the quality of performances. One Indian gentleman from the US was clear about what performances he classified as a lemon, lemonier and lemoniest of the Academy festival! Others were sure that if the lineup for next year was not inspiring, they would give the Academy festival a miss.

Of late, there is a fashion among artistes to announce one person as a guru and another as a ‘mentor.’ A mentor is one who teaches, guides, advises… So this well established guru is having an identity crisis. He is confused as to whether he is a guru, or a mentor, or both guru and mentor or neither! It is also a trend to hear announcements of a dancer being a student of one guru but getting ‘advanced training’ in some aspect like abhinaya from another. On hearing one such announcement of his disciple’s bio at a recent performance, a very senior guru commented to me with a laugh, “They make it seem as if we did not teach them any abhinaya and they had to go to someone else to learn abhinaya!” Perhaps dancers need to word their bios a bit more diplomatically!

Many male dancers seemed rather resigned to the fact that it is rare for them to get a season slot. If it is a struggle for local dancers, it is doubly worse for male dancers from outside India. They do not sound irritated or indignant…just resigned. For some, the only opportunity they got was to conduct recitals of their students or be a part of group productions.  So, it came as a pleasant surprise to see Sujit Vaidya (Jai Govinda’s student and a talent from Canada currently training under A Lakshmanaswamy) present a sincere, from the heart performance at Pethachi auditorium. Between sabha hopping, a host of artistes turned up to support Sujit with their presence.

Slide show
Photos: Lalitha Venkat

Apart from mainstream programs, there were other events taking place across the city. The organization Poorvi from Kerala presented Pakarnattam with afternoon lectures and evening performances at Spaces, a very popular venue for compact number of rasikas. Sooraj Nambiar’s lec-dem on concept of pakarnattam in Koodiyattam was followed by an engaging talk by guru CV Chandrasekar on the etymology and technique of narration employed in Bharatanatyam. Sooraj’s riveting Koodiyattam performance of ‘Panadroopam’ held the audience spellbound as each of Ravana’s faces registers different reactions to Sita’s rejection. Then Ravana tells his heads not to quarrel and gives each of his ten heads a part of Sita to enjoy – her lips, eyes, hair, neck, eyebrows etc. There are no lyrics, only the perfectly synched non-stop beats of varying speed on the mizhavu by the two maestros seated behind the artiste. The performer is seated and does not move around the stage. All action is centred on the facial muscles, eyes and hands. Yet the 90 minute performance was riveting in its minimalism. In his lec-dem Sooraj had already explained what he would present in the evening, so it was easier for us to understand what was being portrayed. Bharatanatyam by the popular Renjith Babu and Vijna Vasudevan was conducted by Guru CV Chandrasekhar. Though the event was fairly well attended, it is a bit of an uphill task to attract rasikas who are already juggling sabha hopping during the season.

‘Sundara Kandam’ by Lakshmi Ramaswamy and group of almost 40 dancers was marked by defined artistic formations by dancers of various age groups. Fortunately, at no time were there too many on stage. Lakshmi herself played the role of Sita, with long hair cascading over her shoulders almost to her knee. (Long hair seems to be a trend this season! We had Draupadi with natural long hair in ‘Vana Virata Vijayam.’). Some of the young dancers trying to emote were very cute to watch! The monotony was in the costumes as they were all of same design with only a change of color in skirt for the characters.

More than solos, group productions seem to draw big crowds. The more in a group, the more number of family and friends and the halls are actually full to capacity! Almost 70 of Sheela Unnikrishnan’s well trained students featured in ‘Sivamayam,’ replete with curly ringlets and elaborate hair styles, jeweled crowns, flashy jewellery, and bodies covered in blue, green and black hues. In well disciplined groups, they merged and divided in precise artistic formations. There was never a dull moment in the choreography as mythological characters entered and exited in the back centre of the stage through an opening that also served to frame the central character of the scene. Not only the hall, but even the balcony was full at the Pethachi auditorium! This mega dance drama was indeed a visual spectacle in all ways.  

Waiting for another group production ‘Ardhanari’ to start, there was a rasika sitting in the row behind declaring that she likes ‘dance ballets’ better than solos (and she had thoroughly enjoyed Anita Guha’s ‘Vana Virata Vijayam’ and Sheela Unnikrishnan’s ‘Sivamayam.’) And the dancers, especially the main artiste Parvathi Ravi Ghantasala, also danced like in a ballet, not striking the floor with their feet, treading softly, their ankle bells making hardly a jingle sound. Were they trying to safeguard their feet? The dramatic appearance of Srikanth as Ardhanari heralded some firm footwork and one finally heard the ankle bells which were but mere accessories on the feet of the female dancers. His alternating between tandava and lasya, his face divided by a thin veil to differentiate the male and female makeup brought in some interest in the production.

Brahma Gana Sabha presented some interesting performances of mother-daughter duos for a week and dance dramas the next week. What came across at programs in Pethachi auditorium was artists of the second slot exceeding the time limits with very little time for the stage to be prepared for the big productions. As it is, artistes don’t get tech time and coupled with uncooperative tech people (‘the tech mafia’ as artistes refer to them) of respective auditoriums towards guest tech directors, one saw lights going off even as dancers were freezing into sculpturesque poses or finishing off a particular scene as in ‘Ardhanari,’ not to forget the curtains still open when the stage was being set for ‘Sivamayam.’

The number of dancers far exceeds the number of musicians for dance. This is the time to make hay while the sun shines. So the musicians run from one program to another, some even feigning illness if the other offer is more lucrative, leaving many artistes high and dry at the last minute. So where is the time for rehearsals? Simple solution. The orchestra dictates to the dancer to perform known items so rehearsal is not necessary! As the season draws to a close, the musicians are an overworked and tired lot. And it shows through lackluster accompaniment!  

Slide show
ENVIRONMENTAL DANCE - A Photography Exhibition by Sam Kumar
Photos courtesy Sam Kumar

Environmental Dance was a photography exhibition combining dance and nature by Sam Kumar at Art Houz Gallery where one saw Indian and international dancers posing among architectural splendors like Konark Sun Temple, rockscapes like Mahabalipuram monuments, on the waterfronts, verdant landscapes of Kerala, as well as in striking settings in Pondicherry, Bali and Singapore. Mio Ikeda is the most featured dancer. The most striking among the 30 photos are the ones with the dancer posing in front of the precariously balanced ‘butter rock’ in Mahabalipuram and another where the dancer is framed by lace like foliage of a sprawling tree in the Konark Sun Temple complex. “Away from the comfort zone of the dance stage, the dancer was asked to react to the natural outdoor environment. Interestingly, all the dancers of this project confided that dancing in nature was an amazing and deeply satisfying experience,” says Sam. 

Lalitha Venkat is the content editor of www.narthaki.com