Young dancers at ‘The World of Dance’
- Dr. S. D. Desai
Photo credit: Anahita Sarabhai

April 10, 2015

The dancing couple Viraja Mandhre and Shyamjith Kiran with the Kalakshetra  signature on their distinctive Bharatanatyam performances set a benchmark for the remaining seventeen young dancers of varying classical forms to perform at Darpana Academy’s ‘The World of Dance’  (April 1 to 6) in its 5th year at Natarani (Ahmedabad).  The initial invocation to Lord Gajanan was agreeably in his lithe dancing form. Their ananda tandava with Shiva’s recognizable mridanga, damaru and act of receiving the Ganga in his jataa was a combination of nritta precision and nritya abhinaya intricacy, perfectly in tune with the music.  With a feel of freedom, Viraja remained radiantly expressive and Shyamjith offered a matching performance with control and dignity.

Slide show

Bhakti anchored all three tiny Manipuri performances by Surajit Deb Barma, who at a young age has been pursuing doctoral research studies in his diligently followed art form. Remarkably, in this form, Jayadev’s opening song in ‘Geeta Govinda’, in which he sings of the benevolent power of Lord Krishna in madhura komala kanta padaavali , the Hiranyakashipu-tanubhangam got demonstrated in a couple of seconds with relatively soft action. Surajit visualized Krishna’s rasamaya roopa in ‘Krishna Roopa Varnam’ in the lasya style as in a conversation between two sakhis. One with the delectable music, he combined rhythmic movement, recognizable emotions and an engaging narrative. 

Following Vinayaka Stuti, Tabashmi Pal, currently  Guru Rajendra Gangani’s disciple, moved on to Vilambit and then Drut Teen Tal, where she was at her best. With ebullience lending grace, confidence and composure, her precise traditional Kathak elements like paran, toda and chakkars were pleasing.  Instead of a tarana or thumri, Tabashmi chose Meera Bhajan Hari tum haro... and, prompted by Draupadi’s name, gave it a dramatic twist with building into her performance the Dyuta episode, a couple of characters, including a limping Shakuni, and vastraaharan. She was perfectly in sync with the rhythm but there was more of dramatic than subtle Kathak abhinaya.

Ardhanareeshwar in Hinduism is a concept portraying Shiva, the male energy, as inseparable and indistinguishable from Shakti, the female counterpart of it, as the combined universal force that creates, preserves with change and destroys for a fresh creation. On the second day, Arnab Bandyopadhyay, a versatile dancer, Odissi disciple of Gurus Kelucharan and Ratikant Mohapatra, and director of Darpani Dance Company (Kolkata), brilliantly succeeded in giving through visual images, glimpses of these amoorta divine forces permeating the universe. In this creative exploratory interpretation through tandava and lasya, Odissi with its inbuilt intricate bhangas becomes a convenient vehicle for the gifted handsome dancer well versed in abhinaya.

Some of the young dancers at the Festival every year surprise by other dimensions to their personality. On being told after Bharatanatyam dancer Debaldev Jana’s opening performance that by profession he is a brilliant mathematician, the young audience was quick to applaud the fact. Such is the fascination the generation next has for classical dance. The performance was a rare varnam in which the Virahotkantitha Nayika, played by a male dancer, albeit more with physical action than subtle facial expression, is seen sharing with her sakhi her longing for a union with - not Krishna or any other lover but - the Lord of Creation, Shiva! His tillana was on a Balamuralikrishna composition.

Formerly with Nartan (Ahmedabad) and now with Darpana, in impeccable Kuchipudi aharya, Hemavati Shah with her brisk movement encompassing the stage and endearing herself with sharp facial expression, gave a feel of ripples on the surface of a large river in Bala Gopala Tarangam, locally a popular piece, culminating in a slow dance on the brim of a brass plate with diyas in hands and one on the head. In no small measure did the Darpana vocalist Jayan Nair with ghatam, mridanga and flute in support, all live, enhanced the liveliness of the performance of the persevering petite girl emerging as a vivacious person through the dancing skills she has been learning with devotion and passion!

A unifying force
For our classical nayikas, their sakhis used to be dependable confidantes, who lent their ears, empathy and help even as they teased, not to mention the vicarious pleasure probably they derived! Clad in a striking combination of gold and white with relief in red, Vidya Pradeep (Trivandrum) stood out as a good Mohiniattam dancer in the role of Usha, demon king Banasura’s pretty daughter who sees in her dream a handsome young man, which she confides to sakhi Chitralekha coyly and with dignity. Chitralekha has her draw his picture, which she does with images drawn from nature she first verbally describes to her. It’s Aniruddha, who she brings in sound sleep to Usha. Usha’s love triumphs and they unite in wedlock.

Dance, like any other art, is a unifying force for the nation. From Kerala’s Mohiniattam, the Festival on the third day moved on to Assam’s Sattriya. Anita Sharma, who has also learnt Odissi from Kelubabu, gave a taste of her expressive felicity in Utho re mere laal Gopal as Yashoda waking up Bal Krishna to the lines sung in a slow, mellow richness. Gradually, the whole village is abuzz with sounds of folks carrying milk on shoulders and on the head. Earlier, she did ‘Krishna Vandana’. The style continuing for over five hundred years looks and sounds folksy in its vocal rendering, instrumental music and the wavy regional Ulah and other movements. Words like kandhe, maathe and doodh lo refreshingly have affinity with Gujarati.

Divya Shiva Sundar, from the family of Bharatanatyam gurus the Dhananjayans, entered with ‘Ananda Nartana Ganapati’ portraying the joyously dancing Ganesh. Her central piece was Sakhi hey keshi mathana mudaram, the famous Geeta Govinda song, in which Radha savours to her sakhi the ecstatic time she had spent in revelry with the ‘sublime tormentor’ Krishna. The technically flawless performance by a senior Bharata Kalanjali member, excellently choreographed, gave the impression that when done time and again a good lyrical piece leaves scope for spontaneity. A hurried tillana was followed by Narasimh Mehta’s Vaishnava Jana to tene kahiye... , which gave a literal visual interpretation of the Bhajan.

Nritya and natya
An expressive visage, a dignified demeanour along with clear enunciation of words of the lines on Lord Vakratunda clearly getting visually interpreted held out expectations from Kuchipudi dancer Ananya Khosla (New Delhi), disciple of the Raja, Radha and Kaushalya Reddy. With understanding and grace, she joyfully turned to Balagopala Tarangam with the lyric rendered different from the one heard a day ago and with varying paadabheda. It was when she danced on the brim of a brass plate that her dignified bearing, the symmetrical upper frame with shoulders and expressions on the pretty face grew a bit vulnerable.

When a diminutive Rajashri Praharaj dances, she gradually attains the height of a gifted Odissi dancer. A live wire on stage, with her portrayals of Sita, Ram, Lakshman, Ravana and Jatayu besides birds and deer with their essential traits, emotions and moods in the ‘Ramayana’ with Guru Ratikant Mahapatra’s training and direction so won the hearts of the viewers that, as an exception in all these years of the Festival they gave her a standing ovation. Her quicksilver changes in the portrayals with characteristic gait, flowing curves, mukhabhinaya and hasta mudras of her dance form showed her command of it. Raghunath Panigrahi’s music and a clear rendering of the chopais enhanced the beauty of the visualized dramatic narrative. The initial introduction though need not have been so long.

Having had training in the Banaras Gharana, Nikita Banawalikar (Mumbai) started taking occasional lessons in the Lucknow Gharana of Kathak from Sanjukta Sinha, an accomplished Kadamb dancer. In her ‘Nrityanjali’, interspersed with vibrant aamad (initial entry), toda, tukda (rhythmic 16-beat aavartan), paran (bols to rhythm), chakkars and the like to live music, Nikita demonstrated her endearing skills. The lines (Ay re sakhi...  in Prahar’s voice) came in between. Even with her brilliant footwork, chakkars and all, interestingly while changing over to the courtly Gharana, she is in the process of attaining its characteristic elegance and intricate lyrical abhinaya. Barely twenty, and tenacious, she has the time to learn them from the ‘young guru’ who excels in them!

The body is the medium
On the penultimate day, Kuchipudi came a third time and this time it was performed by a slim but energetic male dancer Avijit Das (Bangalore), who has the distinction of training earlier from Guru Vempati Chinna Satyam and currently Manju Bharggavee - not to mention his Kalakshetra background in Bharatanatyam. Beginning with ‘Ganesha Kautvam’, he turned to Dashavatara on Lord Vishnu’s ten incarnations, for a change, from the Sanskrit scholar and musician Telugu poet Narayana Teertha’s celebrated Shri Krishna Leela Tarangini. The performance was remarkable for its brisk tempo, expressive body language, rhythmic footwork and varying facial expression keyed to the clearly enunciated poetic lines and the music rendered with devotion.

Even within a slow tempo of music, Mohiniattam performer Shruthi K.P. seemed disconcertingly subdued and languorous in her opening invocatory piece. A technical initial problem, she later admitted offstage, had disturbed her. It was in ‘Dundubhi’ choreographed by her, that she gradually got into her element with the evenly flowing movement, in slow motion or accelerated, in tune with delectably varying rhythmic sounds of damaru. Visually offering praises to the sound, ubiquitous like air even in silence, permeating the universe, is no mean endeavour and Shruthi pretty well rose to the expectation. Allusions to Shiva, the source of creative sound, His consort Parvati and the flow of the Ganga helped the viewers get closer to the theme.

Looking a slip of a girl, Debjaya Sarkar gave a strikingly confident Kathak performance sparkling like her eyes. Her brisk ‘Teen Taal’ with the basic elements of the dance form strewn in, set the tone and expectations. In ‘Gatabhaava’, she pleasingly combined movement and emotion. The Meera Bhajan on Draupadi and Krishna, done earlier during the Festival, proved interesting. The playfulness of the dancing girl, now as the nayika taken aback to see Duhshashan at her door, now feeling humiliated, now looking stunned in the Dyut Sabha and in anguish praying to her Sakha Krishna gives glimpses of her capability of abhinaya and the choreographer’s choice to keep theatricality in check.

Fitting finale
For an invocation to Lord Rama, Pratima Rao (Gandhinagar) presented Thodaya Mangalam, which is not commonly seen here. Then she invoked Lord Shiva, the God of Dance. In both, with equipoise and symmetry, in stillness as well as movement, was there a promise of something more meaningful. And, in Devi Shlokam followed by Kirtanam, she fulfilled the promise.  In beautifully choreographed short segments, to soothing strains from stringed and percussion instruments, she conjured up bhagawati, mangalmayi, madhura, shringarpriya,  vatsala, Rajarajeshwari, Tripurari  and Durga images, sometimes flowing, occasionally still. Attired predominantly in red and gold, she joyously performed as it were with the female deity in front.

The Odissi presentation by Rajashree Biswas (Kolkata), who had initial training from Guru Aruna Mohanty, was almost a copybook performance in the dance form. With the bhangas, netrabhinaya, rhythmic footwork and expressive hasta mudras, she gave her Mangalacharan the lyricism and dignity it is famously associated with. The details of Lord Shiva’s aharya she enumerated - for the head, forehead, neck, chest, ears, the whole body - with the dedication of a devotee offering obeisance she conjured up a visual form of the benevolent Lord for her and the viewers to imagine and ended with ‘O Lord! Relieve me from this ocean of bondage!’ Her concluding piece was an elegant Pallavi.

Within a minute Debanjana Roy (Kolkata), with training from Paushali Chatterjee, begins her ‘Sharang Nartan’, composed by Guru Bipin Singh, her felicity in Manipuri gets revealed. Gopis only share Krishna’s fascinating traits and the momentum, both heard and seen, gradually moves from lasya to tandava. When abhinaya is added in Bipin Singh ’s ‘Krishna Vandana’, Debanjana, with her exposure to Manipuri right from early childhood, has an opportunity to be playful and also to emote, in Kaliya Mardana, for example. In Ojha Babu Singh’s ‘Dashavatara’ choreography she learnt from Sruti Banerjee, Debanjana is fully activated and remains gracefully expressive, at times creatively so, all through from Meen to Kalki avatars to exceptionally good music, including the flute in the dark initially.

Nineteen young dancers from across the country, representing seven Indian classical dance forms, Kathakali excluded, participated at the Festival in its fifth consecutive year. More than half of them appeared in their potential to have the capacity to earn greater fame as dancers. It seemed all of them were thrilled to perform on the Natarani amphitheatre stage open to the sky and quite a few viewers at the end made it a point to wait and interact with them for a while every day. Revanta Sarabhai, who in flawless English introduced the dancers, did well in a day or two to have started telling the viewers in simple words major details from the respective text the dancers were to perform on.

Dr. S.D. Desai, a professor of English, has been a Performing Arts Critic for many years. Among the dance journals he has contributed to are Narthaki, Sruti, Nartanam and Attendance. He guest-edited Attendance 2013 Special Issue. His books have been published by Gujarat Sahitya Academy, Oxford University Press and Rupa. After 30 years with a national English daily, he is now a freelance art writer.