Birds and animals dance in ‘From farm to jungle’
- Vijay Shanker

June 11, 2016

To reach out to a larger audience, the National Centre for Performing Arts (Mumbai) has been presenting thematic programs that are innovative and experimental in nature, hence presented at the Experimental Theatre. On 19th May, NCPA presented two such programs, namely ‘From Farm to Jungle’ presented by Odissi exponent Jhelum Paranjape and the Smitalay dancers and a medley of classical and folk dances by Dr. Tushar Guha and his Nrityanjali troupe.

Jhelum Paranjape said, “I have always been fascinated with animals and birds and with how they move and express themselves. I’ve equally enjoyed translating their movements and expressions through dance. This is the fruition of my desire to create an entire production devoted to this aspect. Getting inside the tiny brains and mighty hearts of our evolutionary ancestors, we interpret universal emotions through their stories. This is a revue; this word is not much known in India, although we’ve been doing it for centuries. A revue is a collection of acts not linked by narrative but with a common theme or genre or purpose. We are using genre-free virgin body movements spiced up with Odissi, danced to traditional folk as new English lyrics, sung to Afro-Cuban percussion.”

With choreography by Jhelum Paranjape and lyrics, music and vocal by Bunkim for 3 tiger songs, the program commenced with “I had a rooster.” The little rooster went cock-a doodle-doo....and then the cat went meow, the duck, pig, cow, lion, etc, extracted from “Man gave names” by Bob Dylan. The next was the “Old grey mule” from an American folk song that portrays the mule that is larger than life and creating mischief by kicking around his master and the train too, performed extremely well by Sumedh. “I know an old lady” who swallowed a fly, and then she swallowed a spider, bird, cat, dog, goat, cow, horse and at last she collapses, the most hilarious act that was well applauded by the audience.

The tiger species were on the decline but has more than doubled in the last ten years. The three   songs were sung by Bunkim and the act of the tiger was enacted well by Ankur Balal, Odissi dancer and teacher at Smitalay. Another very interesting portrayal was the courting: can you imagine a frog falling in love with a mouse and marrying her? Well, this song tells us just that… and what uncle rat ordered for the wedding dinner and how the snake ate up all the wedding cake.  The roles of frog as well as man’s best friend, the dog, were enacted charmingly by Sumedh. The mouse was portrayed beautifully by talented Odissi dancer Rupali Desai.

A cute little song about the cuckoo, sparrow, parrot and peacock was about birds in the neighborhood. ‘Birds arboreal’ was a song of the birds that don’t fly too high like the bat, woodpecker, blue jay and owl. Everyone knows the song ‘Old MacDonald had a farm’ with the addition of a few animals.

The song ‘Fishes of the sea’ tells you about the boat and the fish of the sea…bluefish and eel, porpoise and swordfish, blackfish, mackerel and catfish, and finally the biggest of them all, the whale, all happily swimming in the sea, swaying their fins. ‘Old blue’ was a touching song about a dog and his master, their bond, the doggie’s death and then meeting his master again in heaven.
The performers were Ankur, Rupali, Sumedh (the three teachers of Smitalay) and Nilakshi, Pritika, Apeksha, Sweta, Shaambhavi, Sonal, Tanvi, Nidhi, Swaroop, Bhumika, Naisha, Jenny, Viyati, Ria, Shravya and Inaya. Bunkim (vocal, guitar, music), Prathamesh (rhythm, percussion), Shreyans (keyboard) provided the accompaniment.

The most interesting and exciting part of this presentation was how the dancers portrayed the  “angika abhinaya” pertaining to the typical characteristics and mannerisms of the animals and birds that created a lasting impression on the audience, besides the appropriate and suitable choreography by Jhelum. ‘Farm to Jungle’ is an enjoyable presentation, particularly for children of all ages.

Vijay Shankar is a Kuchipudi and Kathakali exponent, teacher, bilingual journalist, arts critic and actor.