Evocative expression to the fore at the Sydney Dance Festival
- Mohan Ayyar
Photos: Binuphotography 

April 14, 2017

The Madhuram Sydney Dance Festival of classical Indian dance has established itself as an important event in the Sydney multicultural arts calendar. Featuring an array of varied dance styles from India, the festival features well known, as well as emerging dancers. In its fourth iteration on April 1, 2017, this year’s festival returned to the intimate Bryan Brown Theatre in South West Sydney and featured four dance performances of around 75 minutes each.

Bharatanatyam, from Tamil Nadu, which is probably the most well known of India’s classical dance forms, was presented by Dr. Divya Sriram, a disciple of Chitra Visweswaran. She is a co-director of the Madhuram Academy of Performing Arts as well as a Sydney based orthodontist by profession. She presented items from the traditional Bharatanatyam repertoire commencing with the physically demanding alarippu. In her main item, Divya depicted tales of Lord Nataraja in Papanasam Ṣivan’s pada varna “Swami naan undan” in Natakurinji raga. The neat jatis of the first half and the expressiveness in the moving tale of Kannappa Nayanar’s devotion were clearly the highlights of this evocative piece. Also worthy of note was Divya’s depiction of a mother’s love for her child in the Purandaradasa padam “Ammanimma” and her deft footwork in the Ranjani tillana.

Odissi, the classical dance from Orissa, was represented by Pravat Kumar Swain. A disciple of acclaimed teachers such as Gangadhar Pradhan and Aruna Mohanty, Pravat opened with the pure dance form of Pallavi where he exhibited his skill with graceful movements of the eyes to the feet, slowly increasing in tempo. In ‘Madhurashtaka’, Vallabhacharya’s Sanskrit masterpiece came to life with Pravat describing the sweetness of Lord Krishna. Clearly the highlight of Pravat’s performance was his retelling of the classic tale of Ekalavya from the Mahabharata. In this piece, Pravat could movingly convey the guru bhakti of Ekalavya, culminating with the sorrow and anguish experienced when he cuts off his own thumb as payment to his guru.

Divya Sriram

T. Reddi Lakshmi

Pravat Kumar Swain

Abhimanyu and Vidha Lal

The key goal of an Indian classical dancer is to make a connection between herself and the audience. This was strikingly evident in the performance of T. Reddi Lakshmi in the Kuchipudi style of Andhra. A Delhi based dancer, Lakshmi is senior disciple of guru Jayarama Rao. Her excellent selection of pieces enabled her to demonstrate a wide range of different emotions while showcasing the Kuchipudi art form. Opening with a short dedication to Lord Venkateswara (Vandeham jagat vallabham), the joyful Krishna was brought alive in Lakshmi’s dance to Swati Tirunal’s bhajan. In the Durga stuti, there was a marked change in mood, with the fierce goddess being brought to life through Lakshmi’s dramatic and evocative portrayal. In the javali, Lakshmi effectively brought out the sarcastic countenance of a jilted lover. The brilliant performance concluded with the distinctive Kuchipudi tarangam, where the dancer performs complex jatis while standing on the edge of a brass plate. Like Sreelakshmy Govardhanan in the 2016 Festival, T. Reddi Lakshmi’s performance ensured that Kuchipudi was the highlight of the evening.

The final performance was in the Kathak style by Abhimanyu and Vidha Lal. Exponents of Jaipur gharana, the couple are disciples of Geetanjali Lal. In the opening piece, they depicted elements of similarity between Krishna (Hari) and Siva (Hara). With two dancers on stage, this piece would have been more effective if each had taken on a different role to demonstrate the Hari-Hara theme. In pure dance item set in Charukesi, the intricate footwork of Abhimanyu Lal came to the fore while in ‘morpankha,’ Vidha took on the role of Radha awaiting her celestial lover. Although the successive fast rotations brought applause throughout, their performance failed to reach the dizzying heights of their first endeavour at the festival two years prior.

Madhuram’s Sydney Dance Festival is a unique opportunity for Indian dance lovers in Sydney to experience high quality Indian classical dance presented by leading practitioners. Like in previous years, the festival showcased some exquisite performances by dancers new to Australian audiences. The festival could be further enhanced in future years by the inclusion of live musicians to complement the dancers, bringing the full Indian dance experience Down Under.

Mohan Ayyar is a PhD scholar in Indian music and dance at Macquarie University.