Dazzling show at Buddhist monument
- Jyothi Raghuram
e-mail: jyothi.r.ram@gmail.com

December 25, 2016

This was one show unparalleled in its beautifully lit fairytale setting and pulsating folk dances. The venue was beyond of nowhere—a remote Buddhist monument near a nondescript village, Anupu, on the Andhra Pradesh-Telangana border; inaccessible to both the public and artistes. One has attended several  festivals held against the backdrop of ancient temples and monuments across India; rarely has one been transported to a magical land where spectacular lighting created a stunning backdrop for a music and dance festival that echoed as much in one’s memory as it did in one’s ears.

The Infosys Foundation Anupu Festival 2016 (Dec 9 – 11, 2016) at that far away place seemed more of a mad misadventure when one heard of it. Imagine holding a three-day art festival at a venue where even a drop of water is unavailable, and far-removed from civilization. Anupu is a good three hours’ drive from Hyderabad, its closest city. But it was literally in the lap of a proud civilizational history that Anupu celebrated its past, revisiting a glory that was once its lot.

The Anupu festival, ambitious in variety, was a mix of classical dance and music, folk dances, dance dramas and even a fine arts camp. Artistes are eager adventurists; stage outings don’t come easy. It is the audience turnout that matters, wherever or whatever the show. Else, any event is a dud. With the efforts expended and money spent, the monument could gain in footfalls. The question was: who would come to the show, given its location.

Perhaps the most gratifying aspect of the festival was that artistes performed to an overflowing and appreciative audience, the 2500 seating capacity filled to brim. The purpose of the festival had been met with this response alone. Folk from nearby villages, perhaps impelled by curiosity, came in large numbers on the inaugural day. The crowd swelled progressively, school and college goers, comprising a major chunk, adding liveliness to the festival; distant Anupu bringing to youth some of the best of traditional performing arts was an   achievement in itself.

Folk dances, by definition, are celebratory, their robustness complementing their raw appeal. Stylised classical forms such as Kuchipudi and Bharatanatyam provided the necessary contrast and variety at the event, integral to which was the vibrant, authentic, and colourful dance and fashion show of the employees of Infosys, Hyderabad, contemporary in the beat of its music but completely ethnic in content. The pure rhythm background score for the ethnic fashion show, displaying the costumes of India, had a huge popular appeal, expectedly drawing audience response.
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The festival, drawing only from arts and artistes of the Telugu region, was appreciable for its encouragement of local forms and talent. At least nine different folk and tribal dances being presented was a clear attempt to protect   an ethnicity that is gradually disappearing from villages and Lambadi tandas, as youngsters move to cities; an exodus that will wipe out a significant part of the real identity of India.
Certainly the toast of the three-day cultural outing was Oggukatha, the spirited dance of the young, all-male troupe worthy of a standing ovation. Presented by Oggudolu Vinyasam troupe, the Oggukatha made for a meaningful study of how folk dances can be contoured to suit modern audience tastes and easily overtake its urban counterparts.

Experimentation and innovation in its music, movements, rhythm and costuming were the hallmarks of the show, their vigour and enthusiasm infusing zest even among the audience. Oggukatha finds its origin among the Yadavas or shepherds. The dance, centred round the deities Yellamma and Mallikarjuna, is replete with ritualistic features, its religious and spiritual nucleus visible in the passionate involvement of the dancers. The full-toned, distinct slaps and tones of the dollu, jaggu (damaruka) and taalam, and the agile and gravity-defying acrobatics of the 15 sprightly dancers reached out to the audience in a primordial way, the rhythm and movement completing a cycle of ritualistic dramatization.

The Oggudolu Vinyasam dancers are no doubt devoted to the art form which is a way of worship to them, even while they continue to lead a pastoral life in villages. Yet what is of deep concern is that unless an art has a commercial angle in terms of earnings, it dies a natural death. All folk and tribal arts thus face extinction.

Ravi Kumar Chowdarapally, who is doing his PhD in folk dance, is training youth in Oggukatha in different parts of Telangana with a missionary zeal. Yet he admits that “financially it is very difficult for the dancers to survive because the dance is traditional and not commercial.” Oggukatha has the potential of establishing itself as one of the world’s premiere performing art if it is patronized and given due exposure, he says. The Oggudolu Vinyasam recital certainly vouched for this.

Tappeta Gullu, Garagalu, Bonalu, Gussadi, Veera Natyam, Dappu, Mathuri and Lambadi were the other earthy forms presented, giving a glimpse of the rich folk and tribal performing arts traditions of the Telugu region. Deepa Tarangini, the signature dance number of Sri Rama Nataka Niketan, Secunderabad, was high on popularity, brightly painted earthen pots and lit candles being the main props of the agile dancers. The other dances that followed were mundane in conception and denouement, the overtly lokadharmi portrayal rendering them inane.
Bhama Kalapam, synonymous with Siddhendra Yogi, projects the many facets of the charming yet haughty Satyabhama. Vedantam Radheshyam donning the   role brought back to memory how easily he could transform into the ultra-feminine, coy Satyabhama, vestiges of which were still visible.
Another noteworthy concert was that of vainika D. Srinivas whose intelligent choice of crisp, racy compositions was apt for the audience profile. Komanduri Venkata Krishna (violin), Parupalli Ramakrishnaiah Pantulu (mridangam) and R. Srikanth (khanjira) were equal contributors to the racy outing.
A special word about the Infosys Hyderabad artistes; proving to be as adept on stage, the Infosys team put up a professional show, be it in costuming, music or the dance, blurring the line between trained artistes and amateurs. Their outing was certainly one of the highlights of the festival.
Anupu valley is a re-located Buddhist archaeological site dating back to the 3rd century, on the banks of the Krishna River near Nagarjunasagar dam. Its large amphitheatre with the graded columns is the central attraction, its picturesque setting enhanced by golden hues at dawn and sunset, against the backdrop of the Nagarjuna hills.

Lighting by Srinivasa Prabhath of Prabhath Sound System shone in brilliance, both in its aesthetics and contouring of the graded backdrop of the monument. Sparkling lights twinkled like gems all around the venue, right from the far flung entrance, transforming the environs into a rainbow-hued fantasyland. The dazzling work of Prabhath was undoubtedly a major contributor to the success of the festival.
The art camp, themed Landscapes of Anupu, saw the participation of some 16 artists, picked up from the Jawaharlal National Architecture and Fine Arts University, Hyderabad. Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Bengaluru Kendra, supported the event.

Jyothi Raghuram is an art critic and freelance writer based in Bangalore.