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Charming experience
- Tapati Chowdurie

March 5, 2019

Udok Performing Arts recently held the sixth edition of its annual festival Margam. Joint artistic directors Rajib Saha and Moumita Chatterjee had invited practitioners of different dance forms from across the country.

From Chennai, Srimayi Vempati came from the house of Vempati Chinna Satyam. Though a Bharatanatyam aspirant earlier, today she is endowed with the unmistakable style of the well-known guru of Kuchipudi, whose legacy she is carrying forward. Giving lip sync to the verses of the song as is wont in Kuchipudi, she sailed through her performance with ease. Srimayi Vempati warmed up with an ashtapadi from Jayadeva's Gita Govinda, where Radha uses a plethora of imageries to describe Krishna's qualities. She reminisces about his love dalliance with gopis. Herein comes the allegory, that Krishna is the godhead, and all other mortals aspire to be one with him. The second piece was a Thyagaraja composition, Jagadananda karaka, about miracle stories of Vishnu's incarnation as Ramachandra. Srimayi's angas and upangas speak the language of Kuchipudi, her facial muscles dramatically expressing her desired emotions. She dazzled in her nritta rendition as well. She was a bright star of the festival.

Srimayi Vempati

Parshwanath S Upadhye

Bharatanatyam performer Parshwanath S Upadhye has a great following wherever he performs. As siddhidata in Ganapati Stotram, he stuck an instant rapport with the audience. As Ardhanariswar in the inseparable Shiva-Parvati role, he was a unity of opposites, harmonizing two conflicting ways of life, spiritual and materialistic. When he stood in the Shiva pose he was the sculptural embodiment of Nataraja, an unmistakable soft Parvathi on Shiva's left. When he stretched his hand up to strike the temple bell, in the devarnama by Kanakadasa, he perfectly timed it to the recorded music; when he plucked flowers from the branches of trees to weave a garland, make sandalwood paste to smear it upon his lord, he was the ardent devotee of the supporter of the universe; as the teasing Krishna, he was impish; as his devotee he begged Adi Kesava, who dwells in Udupi to appear to him.

Parshwanath is an artist of the younger generation, who has used the Mysore bani of Bharatanatyam with masterly strokes and a good use of natyadharmi and lokadharmi elements. The jati patterns superbly rendered in pure nritta style, was equally well done when he wrenched the boy Krishna's ear, not knowing his identity. With his background of Kalaripayattu and karate alongside his intense focus, he succeeds in transmitting his sheer enjoyment in dance to the rasikas. His ardha mandala was distinct and his leaps reminded me of English choreographer Mathew Bourne's male swans in his production Swan Lake to the music of Tchaikovsky. The festival ended with the presentation of Parshwanath and left the audience wishing for more.

Kuala Lumpur based Odissi artiste Sandhya Manoj and Kuchipudi dancer Ratheesh Babu were guest artistes in Riwayat Festival 2019 hosted by artistic director Anurekha Ghosh of Nat Mandir, at the heritage building of Maharaja Nabakrishna Deb's Rajbari at Sobha Bazaar in Kolkata. Kathaka Anurekha Ghosh had a galaxy of performers in this festival. Among them Sandhya Manoj and Ratheesh Babu presented Ardhanari with a different perspective. What the duo tried to state is that a man falls in love with the qualities attributed to a man in a woman (her confidence, her strength, her individuality, her stability) and the woman falls in love with the qualities attributed to a woman in a man (his care, his warmth, his concern, his protectiveness).

Initially it is shringara rasa that takes precedence over all other emotions between couples. The production aimed at showcasing the balance between Shiva and Shakti or the male and female power in human beings too. The presentation started with Shiva in meditation and Parvati praying to him. She observes Brighu Maharishi coming in doing Namaskaram to Mahadeva, circumambulating him alone and leaving after prostrating only to him. Parvati's reaction of irritation at being left out - displayed through appropriate dance and music - was palpable. Thus offended, she complains to her consort. Amused at this funny incident, Shiva pacifies his devi and asks her to be seated on his lap to prevent Brighu from paying his obeisance only to Shiva. Noticing this, Brighu turns himself into a bird and goes around Shiva only. Amused, Shiva cuts himself into half to join Parvati in the other half so that Brighu may go round both of them. Not satisfied with their Ardhanari rupa, Brighu becomes a bee and drills a hole through Shiva and leaves. Parvati fumes but Shiva's simple answer is that Parvati should have told Brighu that she is Shiva herself. It was at this dramatic instant the duet dance of Adi Shankaracharya's stotra "Champeya Gourardha" describing the male and female beauty of Ardhanariswar began. Shiva and Parvati met in two dance styles of Kuchipudi and Odissi. Both Ratheesh Babu and Sandhya Manoj are eminent dancers in their respective fields and with their different story line they won a lot of appreciation from the audience. Expressional dance is quite a forte with Sandhya, so it is with her chowk and other Odissi stances. She indeed did steal the show in the dance hall of the palace, where legendary singer and dancer Gauhar Jaan performed Kathak regularly to Indian and British dignitaries.

Ratheesh Babu & Sandhya Manoj

Durga Arya

Kathaka Durga Arya settled in Germany, came to take a Kathak workshop in Nat Mandir, the dance institution run by Anurekha Ghosh, with the collaboration of EZCC. Durga Arya has received her training in Kathak from Pt Birju Maharaj. An admiring audience saw her perform Krishna Vandana followed by Saraswati Vandana. She had an excellent group of accompanying artists - vocalist Sudakshina Manna Chatterjee, sitarist Chandrachur Bhattacharya, sarangi player Umesh Misra and Biplab Bhattacharya on the tabla. Soon she moved to pure dance in teen taal. She had perfect rapport with the percussionist.

Arya retains the fragrance of Birju Maharaj's style, and this coupled with her spirited and joyful dancing was quite catchy. Rather than taking up the entire performance time for herself, she took the stage along with the senior disciples of Anurekha Ghosh, whom she had taught a piece and together they performed 'Niratata Dhang' by Bindadin Maharaj. Dancers filled the stage and some of them had to stand in the audience space for their performance. It was a charming experience.

Tapati Chowdurie trained under Guru Gopinath in Madras and was briefly with International Centre for Kathakali in New Delhi. Presently, she is a freelance writer on the performing arts.