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Natya Parampara Utsav 2017
- Srividya Angara Sinha

November 9, 2017

Kuchipudi Parampara Foundation, founded by Kuchipudi exponent Deepa Narayanan Sashindran, celebrated the 4th edition of its signature dance festival 'Natya Parampara Utsav.' Curated and hosted by Deepa, the festival was held in the beautiful environs of the National Gallery for Modern Art (NGMA), Bengaluru, on 29th of October 2017.

The evening began with the traditional lighting of the lamp by Guru Chinta Seetaramanjaneyulu, Kuchipudi guru Anupama Mohan from Kerala, Guru Vijaya Marthanda (Prof, Jain University), and other eminent personalities. The first performer for the evening was the bright and petite 14 year old Vaishnavi Margam, from Warangal. Dressed in a vibrant pink and green, this live-wire of a dancer exhibited robustness in footwork and an adherence to rhythm that gave much joy and hope. Her expression was sprightly as she danced to the iconic "Jhem jhem tanana" composition of Dr. M. Balamuralikrishna, and choreographed by Guru Vempati Chinna Satyam. This was followed by another one of the great Kuchipudi master's works, "Ananda tandavamade" composed by Dr. C. Narayana Reddy. Vaishnavi's jathis finished well, with completed movements and thundering footwork.

M. Vaishnavi

Ratheesh Babu and Shweta Nayak

Ratheesh Babu, who has carved a niche for himself as a Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi teacher in far away Bhilai, performed next with his students Shweta Nayak and Rajashree Das. Dressed in an assemblage of blues, purples, greens and yellows, they presented two duets compiled by his gurus Anupama Mohan and Dr. Rama Devi before ending in a finale where all three artists came together. The first piece presented by Ratheesh and Shweta Nayak was "Champeya gaurardha sarirakaya", the famous Ardhanarishwara stotram by Adi Sankaracharya. Comprising rich music (Ragamalika, adi tala) and choreographed aptly by Ratheesh, the dance piece oscillated between pause and movement keeping in with the mood of the lyric. This was followed by the Dikshitar kriti "Sarasijanabha sodari" in raga Nagagandhari, and tala rupaka. The dancers Shweta Nayak, and Rajashree Das, both bright and beautiful faces, did a commendable job though their Mahishasura Mardini sequence could have been more intense. The final presentation for the evening was the well-known Oottakadu Venkata Subbaiyer composition "Ati nirupama sundarakara." Sung in praise of Lord Krishna, and choreographed in the format of a tarangam, this was a lilting melody in the form of raga Pantuvarali, and tala tisra ekam. Ratheesh and his able students ended their segment with a well-conceived and well-delivered finale.

In keeping with the tradition of the Natya Parampara Utsav, the other dance form that was highlighted for the evening was Kathak, performed by the luminous Dr. Tina Tambe from Mumbai. Tambe first presented the Shiva Stuti, "Angikam Bhuvanam Yasya", followed by nritta in the 16-beat cycle of teentaal. Comprising some very special compositions from the Jaipur gharana, Tina Tambe was crystal clear with her footwork and her articulation. The most telling part of her presentation was the abhinaya which was centered around Krishna and the festival of colours, Holi. Presented in raag Desh and taal deep chandi, and choreographed by Tina's guru Dr. Suchitra Harmalkar, this piece was about Krishna teasing Radha and her friends, by of course, dousing them in colours that they did not plan on having on their person. While eventually Radha is won over by the loving mischief of the lord, what caught the attention was the extreme clarity and subtlety with which this was delivered by the dancer. The act of mixing colour in the local cistern, with Krishna adding a special pouch from his waistband, the simple act of filling the "pichkaris" or water-guns with the now coloured waters ... it was all caught vividly through an undulating network of movement and expression. A favourite moment was when a surprised Radha catches the full impact of Krishna's laden water gun ... the dancer's expression almost made the onlooker look for water on the floor!

Tina Tambe

Chinta Ravi Balakrishna

After the pleasant Kathak came the evening's piece de resistance, Mohini Bhasmasura, a Kuchipudi dance drama from the land of the dance style's origin - the Kuchipudi village. Directed by the brilliant Dr. Chinta Ravi Balakrishna, the dance drama stood out spectacularly in an evening of solos and smaller groups. Like most Kuchipudi artists based out of the village itself, Chinta Ravi Balakrishna first began his tutoring under his renowned father Guru Chinta Ramamurthy. He further honed his skills under illustrious gurus like Vedantam Rattaiah Sarma, Chinta Ramanatham and Vedantam Satyanarayana Sarma.

Mohini Bhasmasura tells the story of the asura Vrukasura. Like most asuras, Vrukasura too was an ardent devotee of Lord Siva, and equally intense in his hatred for Lord Vishnu. In his bid to overthrow Vishnu, he engages in "tapas" and when Lord Siva appears in front of him, asks for a boon. "Whoever comes under my palm must turn to ash!" he exclaims. The benign Lord Siva grants him his wish, rechristening him as "Bhasmasura". But the asura now insists on testing the veracity of the boon by placing it on Siva's head itself! An alarmed Siva runs to Vishnu asking for help, and Vishnu, assuming the seductive form of Mohini entices the asura to a dance-off. In the very end, Mohini places her hand on her head, and the imitating asura repeats after her, leading to his inevitable death.

Chinta Ravi Balakrishna as the asura Vrukasura/Bhasmasura was beyond excellent. His bearing, physique, expression, footwork and aharya spoke volumes about the thought and clarity behind the crafting of this character. His entrance quite literally lit up the stage, what with a mound of gold on his person, in the form of arm-bands, wristlets and crown! While the scene for the penance was being enacted, there was a duet centre-stage with Siva and Parvati. Throughout the scene, Balakrishna continued lip-syncing to the chant "Om Namah Sivaya", lending credibility to the character on stage. Also to be mentioned is the way the essence of Bhasmasura rises to Chinta Ravi's eyes. The gestures of the eyes and eyebrows, bolstered by the fitting makeup, peppered at places with the heinous laugh of the asura, brought the character to life. Truly, kudos!

At this point, it is also necessary to speak about the energy of the dancer-student who portrayed Siva. In that brief period of time, she embodied the masculine Siva in an extremely convincing manner. Once again, the audiences were treated to thundering footwork, and an abandon in the bhramaris, a visual delight in totality. The dancer who played the part of the sprightly Narada too deserves mention. Hers was the opening scene, and she heralded the energy that was to set the stage for the rest of the presentation. The other characters in the drama also performed to their best ability. Perhaps a little more emphasis on the aharya of the rest of the characters other than Bhasmasura would elevate further, this very well performed dance drama.

The evening concluded with KPF founder-director Deepa Narayanan Sashindran and the other dignitaries honouring nonagenarian Guru Chinta Seetaramanjaneyulu. The elderly guru is renowned as "Yakshagana Sarvabhouma". He had kindly traveled all the way from Gudivada to accept this honour. He spoke words of benediction for all dancers, young and old. It was a privilege to be in his presence, and to hear such words from a man whose life had been dedicated unswervingly to the nurture and promotion of Kuchipudi. KPF next honoured Bharatanatyam and Kathak exponent /choreographer Dr. Suparna Venkatesh. Other dignitaries felicitated were Kuchipudi guru Anupama Mohan, Bharatanatyam and Kathak Guru Dr. Vijaya Marthanda and writer/art critic Y.K. Sandhya Sharma.

Honouring nonagenarian Guru Chinta Seetaramanjaneyulu

Best wishes to Deepa Narayanan Shashindran for all her efforts in promoting Kuchipudi through her Kuchipudi Parampara Foundation and its signature dance festival, the Natya Parampara Utsav. Here's wishing for the festival to grow from strength to strength, edition after edition!

Srividya Angara Sinha is a Kuchipudi performer and teacher, artistic director of Citsabha Bangalore and arts writer who contributes regularly to many art journals.