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Dharma - A weave with a twist
- Poornima Gururaja

November 12, 2018

When you have to bring alive a painting through dance and animate it, how you thread your thoughts with it becomes very important. Picking on an oft performed theme, the Dasavatharam, Dr. Lakshmi Ramaswamy from Chennai, a senior disciple of Chitra Visweswaran, presented a piece formatted roughly as a varnam at the International Dance Alliance Festival held in Bangalore on the 27th of October 2018.

An uneventful entry and a simple opening jathi were a deceptive beginning to what was to follow. Lakshmi strung together 10 episodes depicted in the paintings of maestro S.Rajam (originally commissioned for the family of S. Balachander), with just the necessary amount of brevity, precision and pointed clarity. Every nuance of the brilliant lyrics composed by Dr. S.Raghuram and set to music by Dr. Rajkumar Bharathi were justified in the group presentation.

Although the compere had set the thread as "protecting Dharma", picking up from the third jathi the twists and turns that were given to an expected point of emphasis in the episodes were noteworthy. Instead of the Rama-Parashurama battle that is generally depicted, she chose the slaying of Parashurama's mother Renuka at the behest of his father, and when the father offers him a boon, Parashurama asks for his mother's life as opposed to anything else, fulfilling the obligation of a son to a mother. She picked the Shoorpanaka episode over the normal Ravana Vadham which spiked my curiosity. The virtuosity with which she presented the brief interactions of Shoorpanaka with Rama and Lakshmana were testament to her quiet artistry. For a moment I had forgotten it was a part of Dasavatharam with Rama as the protagonist of the episode. While portraying an "Adhama" nayika, she still held her poise. If one did not pay attention, we might have missed the two metaphors - Lakshmana being a tree and her wanting to be a creeper, and him a lotus and her, the bee. Common metaphors were so aptly brought about to suit not only the situation but also to a single Lakshmana as opposed to a Rama with Sita as his companion. A Shoorpanaka with perfect "ouchityam," a rare viewing these days. The emphasis on Rama protecting the dharma of being devoted to one wife was indeed refreshing.

The transitions in the end from all ten avatars to one group pose starting again with the Ramavatharam and ending with Seshashayana Vishnu was well rehearsed, effortless and visually pleasing. The paintings however could have been displayed one for every avatar contrary to all ten displayed at the beginning of the presentation. The detailing in the paintings were missed by connoisseurs of the art who might have liked to link the details to the performance itself, considering that the performance was titled Chitra Katha.

Accompanying Lakshmi on stage were her disciples Poornima Srinivasan, Jagyaseni Chatterjee, Divya Srilakshmi, Lalitha Narasimhan, Monica and Tanya Shravani.

Poornima Gururaja is the director, Kalasindhu Academy of Dance, Bangalore.