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Brilliant performances
- Vijay Shanker
Photos: Madhusudan S Menon

September 6, 2019

The National Centre for Performing Arts (NCPA) presented two brilliant classical dancers in a program at the Experimental Theatre on July 19. The dancers were Lata Surendra for Bharatanatyam and Lingaraj Pradhan for Odissi.

An accomplished Bharatanatyam exponent, teacher, choreographer, curator, writer in the field of performing arts for nearly five decades, Lata is acclaimed for her creative dance choreographies taking dance beyond specific geographies. 'Charanamrutham' was a fitting visual prayer against the backdrop of Guru Poornima celebrated by all artists. It was truly a reverence through dance by Lata Surendra unto her mentor, the legendary Guru T.S Kadirvelu Pillai, defining 'diksha' through the maestro's unique contributions and cross-rhythmic variations. She spoke about him as one who awakened her to "that silence which is the seed of all sound and the pulsating stillness, the heart of all movement." She therefore commenced the performance in a very unusual way through a silence that gave birth to the sound variations that followed with her clear, crisp and energised footwork complimenting the rendered sollus and nattuvangam and mridangam by her Guru's sons Kalishwaran and Dakshinamurthy Pillai.

As she highlighted, "We are just energy ornately sheathed in diverse forms; diverging from a point to converge back into it, caught in the inherent cycles governing life." The tangible and intangible that she portrayed with subtle abhinaya set the prelude to the intricate Khanda Jathi ata thalam alarippu through which she etched the essence of Lord Shiva. The Tanjavur Quartet varnam that followed in Anandabhairavi ragam with the complicated, power-packed Moras instead of the usual jathis set by her guru was the highlight of the evening. With renewed variations in sanchari bhavas, Lata held the audience spellbound through her command performance. With unflagging stamina complimenting Guru Kadirvelu Pillai's cross-rhythmic patterns, she defined his challenging choreography. The interesting usage of his jathi in the oft presented battle scene at Kurukshetra leading to the dilemma within Arjuna, was very absorbing in the manner it was dealt with within the varnam. Besides this, the procession of Rajagopala draped in a lighter vein through skillfully used music was an interesting variation on the way a varnam could gather greater color.

The slokam from Sri Krishna Karnamrutham with the one truth perceived as diverse forms was beautifully brought out. Lata's experience was evident all through as she delineated Krishna and Balaram entering Kamsa's court. Krishna appeared as a mountain to the doorkeepers, as a child to the watching mothers, as a friend to the gopas present, as the answer to their dream to young damsels. To the yogis he appeared as the one they meditated upon and to Kamsa, he appeared as death incarnate. The divya darshan that was accorded unto Kamsa unfolded to the concluding complex Thillana in rupakam that rounded off the journey from 'silence to silence.' The mellifluous vocals by N.N.Sivaprasad, the power-packed nattuvangam by Kalishwaran K. Pillai and competent mridangam backing by Dakshinamurthy K Pillai, flute by Nandakumar, violin by Balasubramanian, complimented the dancer's commitment.

Lata Surendra

Lingaraj Pradhan
One of India's leading Odissi dancers, Lingaraj Pradhan presented a beautiful abhinaya number portraying one of the most neglected characters of Mahabharata - Karna. In spite of being part of the royal lineage, Karna never got his due. Lingaraj's performance blended well with powerful music and his dramatic portrayal did complete justice to the emotional intensity of the character. In the abhinaya section, Lingaraj enacted an extract from Tulsidas's "Rudrashtakam" portraying Lord Shiva as the destroyer, while interpreting the attributes of the Lord as well. Both Karna and Lord Shiva emphasized the dramatic and expressional aspects of dance, with little concern over movements. In fact the varied movements were used as interludes to carry the theme forward. Undoubtedly Lingaraj Pradhan is among the leading Odissi dancers of the country. He is the disciple of respected mentor, Guru Bichitrananda Swain, who has learnt Odissi from some of the pioneer traditional veterans in the field.

Vijay Shanker is a Kuchipudi and Kathakali exponent, teacher, bilingual journalist, arts critic and actor.

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