Meera by Urmila Sathyanarayanan, Shankar Kandasamy and team
- Priya Das
May 8, 2015
Urmila Sathyanarayanan, with Shankar Kandasamy as artistic director and co-performer, and team presented Meera at the Cubberley Auditorium, Palo Alto, California on May 1, 2015. The production was a fusion of Bharatanatyam (with some deliberate Kathak influences), theater, English commentary, and multi-lingual songs.
It would have been appreciated if Urmila or Shankar had addressed the audience with opening or closing remarks. One looks forward to getting a glimpse into the production, the how and why of it, or inspirational moments, to personally connect us to the theme.
Meera began strong on the audio-visual aesthetic, with a commentary preceding four of the company dancers beautifully costumed in North Indian style celebrating bhakti to Lord Vishnu. The introductory dance had pleasing formations, consistent symmetry, and lively gyrations but the transition from bhakti to shringara-bhakti was a bit abrupt; one minute the dancers were praying to Vishnu, the next they were intertwining hands as Krishna and gopis.
However, a big distraction was the fact that the idol was always placed on stage-left corner, thus making it possible to only see Meera’s face in profile as she conversed with it. This can be easily corrected by placing the idol (actual or imaginary) on stagefront-center, so the audience can partake of the full experience.
Shankar played the characters of Meera’s father Rana, Akbar, and the snake charmer. The last was wonderfully and comically represented in a lokadharmi style. The dancer playing the sister-in-law overdid it a tad but successfully convinced the audience that her allegiance lay with her brother and Meera was of no consequence.
With respect to the audio component of the production, a discordant note in the portrayal was the voiceover for Meera; the tonal quality was evocative of a scheming nayika rather than a wonderstruck one. The attempt at a child-like voice for young Meera came off as an exaggeration. Indeed, the need for any dialog is debatable, since the commentary provides a good gist of what is to follow. The female singer was excellent, not only in terms of high quality of singing and bhava, but also in terms of Hindi diction, an essential ingredient in this production.
In summary, the storyline, music (featuring Meera bhajans and Tamil poetry), Meera’s portrayal, and group choreography stood out. Meera will appeal to a wide swath of English speaking populace with an interest in the Performing Arts.
Priya Das is a writer based in San Francisco Bay Area, USA, covering extraordinary nuances of everyday life with a focus on the performing arts. She is a regular contributor to India Currents, a magazine reaching more than 170K readers on - and offline. Some of her writing is at www.priyafeatures.com