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Brilliant dancers from the land of soldiers
- G Ulaganathan

August 28, 2019

The Coorgi community in Karnataka is unique. They are a minority but have contributed many brave soldiers and also sportsmen who have contributed enormously to the nation. They have also enriched the world of culture. From among them have emerged the twins - Amrutha and Akshathaa - two young girls who showcased their brilliance in Kathak last week at a performance in Bengaluru at the National Gallery of Modern Art. They have been dancing and been part of the Noopur ensemble with Kathak gurus Hari and Chethana in festivals in India and abroad for the last few years.

Amrutha and Akshathaa are also young entrepreneurs and are successfully running a boutique of their own under the label Sumaya. Being musically inclined, they have been trained in Carnatic music under Seethalakshmi Subramaniam and have completed their junior exams. Probably for the first time, they presented a full program together at the NGMA to a packed audience and it was a love offering for Krishna, 'Krishnarpanam.' The concept and brilliant choreography was by Hari and Chethana and they danced to the melodious music composed by Ustad Faiyaz Khan.

Akshathaa and Amrutha began their recital with a shloka on Nada Brahma, the embodiment of sound, and the practise of music as spiritual sadhana, the Nada Upasana. This piece 'Chaitanyam' speaks about the Trinity - Brahma, Vishnu and Maheshwara - and seeking salvation and union with the divine. This was followed by a technical dance composition 'Swarnanjali' in teentaal, a time cycle of 16 beats. The young duo exhibited their thayyari through their graceful thaat, aamad, thukdas, tihais, ladi and parans. Then followed the very appealing Madhurashtakam, the Sanskrit composition by philosopher-poet Vallabhacharya. Akshathaa and Amrutha were very expressive in conveying their devotion and admiration for Lord Krishna who is everywhere. They impressed with the vibrant nritta composition, the Taal Maala consisting of thukdas woven together characterized by elaborate footwork, rhythmic intensity and elegant stances.

Amrutha presented a brilliant solo, a power-backed rhythmic piece on Goddess Kali. The dancer depicted Kali as the guardian, mother, embodiment of dharma and eternal time. She effectively brought before our eyes the various shades of Kali who emits a million black fires and how her whole body is bathed in vibuthi; she smiles after slaughtering the demons, wearing a necklace of skulls and a skirt of severed arms, holding the head of a demon "symbolising the destruction of ego", a trident that flashes like lightning and a knife etched with sacred mantras and infused with divine shakti. This was followed by a traditional Thumri, a composition of Bindadin Maharaj. Here Radha is with Krishna and enjoying his company. Suddenly when she notices the birds returning to their nests and sees the setting of the sun, she feels it is getting late and it is time to go but is not sure how she will convince Krishna. So she pleads with him but Krishna does not permit her to leave, instead binds her with love and kisses. She soon forgets that she has to go and instead, gets enticed in Krishna's love.

After Krishna, it was the turn of Shiva. Akshathaa displayed the beautiful divine composition in praise of Lord Shiva and his manifestations - Shankara, the doer of good, Shiva the 'trinetra' or three eyed, and 'Neelakanta' with a blue neck - and, finally Nataraja, the cosmic dancer and Ardhanareeswara. "There is no Shiva without Shakti and no Shakti without Shiva, the two are one - or the absolute state of being - consciousness and bliss." It was a brilliant performance by the duo and Hari and Chethana's choreography laid emphasis on bhava, rasa and nritta devoid of speed and pacy chakkars associated with Kathak.

During the performance by the twins, the audience were also given a glimpse of a special Kathak number performed by Hari and Chethana for a Tamil feature film 'School Campus' which is due for release next month. The clip shown on large screen shows the couple dancing at a school function in front of hundreds of students and actor Dhanush.

The only sore point of the evening was the long felicitation function in which almost ten guests were called on stage, and asked to speak. It not only tests the patience of the audience but also the young dancers who have to wait endlessly in the wings. It would be better to have just one guest to felicitate the dancers.

G Ulaganathan is a senior dance critic based in Bengaluru.

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