A novel dance recital by Eva Pavitran
-  Padma Jayaraj, Thrissur
e-mail: padmajayaraj@sancharnet.in

October 5, 2004   

Mohiniyattam like Kathakali belongs to Kerala. It is as if Mohiniyattam sprung from the landscape and seascape of Kerala. Its graceful lasya movements represent the dance of the waves and paddy fields. Performing arts in Kerala were attached to the temples as part of ritual worship, and temples were the places of learning that disseminated values through art and literature. In the 19th century, Swathi Thirunal of Travencore did much to enhance Mohiniyattam. Iryimman Thampi, a talented poet and musician of his court, composed varnams and padams to enrich this dance form. Yet reforms did not affect the pure dance style and its basic tenor. After a period of decline owing to lack of patronage, the poet Vallathol resurrected it along with Kathakali when he founded Kalamandalam. And Tagore took the teacher Kalyanikutti Amma to teach the dance form in Santhiniketan. Ever since, it has occupied a pride of place among the classical dance forms of India.

Now Mohiniyattam belongs to the concert halls as well, like Bharatanatyam, Odissi or Kathak. Eva Pavitran is an upcoming artist, the talented daughter of an illustrious dancer, Kalamandalam Kshemavathy, who took Mohiniyattam beyond the bounds of India. Navaneetham, a cultural organization in Thrissur, Kerala, inaugurated a ten-day workshop with Eva's solo performance. Eva grew up hearing jingling bells and toddled into dance from the tender age of three. Her first performance was at five. She was awarded the title of Kalathilakam in the Youth Festival of Upper Primary Level, a regular feature in Kerala every year at school level. She performed with her mother and sister in Paris, and she dances at various functions.

The performance in Thrissur was noted for its novelty of theme: different aspects of love. Without straying from the traditional format, she danced to Malayalam poems choreographed by her mother. She started with Ganesa sthuti.  Ananda Ganapathy is written and composed by the noted theatre personality Kavalam Narayana Panikker, in the raga Puraneer. It was sung in sopana sangeetha saili, an intimate aspect of the music of Kerala connected with its temple culture. Kavalam's music perfectly suited the texture of Mohiniyattam. Since the dance recital was in pure Kalamandalam style, Eva's performance was aesthetically satisfying.

Sugatha Kumari is a well-known poet of Kerala and her 'Krishna ni enne ariyilla' (Krishna, you do not know me) is a poem famous for its spiritual yearning. The dancer, a Gopika of Vrindavan, did not dare to nurse any romantic notions on Krishna. She never tried to meet Him; nor ever tried to reveal her feelings. She was content to keep her admiration and adoration in the heart of her hearts. Yet Krishna stopped just for a fleeting moment in front of her once. Does it mean that He knew her all along? Eva's performance was an emotional rendering of unspoken love in a harmonious blend of nritha, nrithya and natya. The poem tuned in a lighter vein does
not exactly match the conventional structure of Mohiniyattam. Yet thematically it is an innovative attempt. Mohiniyattam originally taught in Kalamandalam had only five or six pieces. Innovative choreographers have added to its repertoire ever since.

The third was a varnam in suddha dhanyasi ragam. It featured Sakunthala, the symbol of a lovelorn human heart, waiting in distress. As long as women fall in love and are forgotten, Sakunthala is relevant. Eva's expressive rendition of Sakunthala's angst struck a chord with the audience.

A padam from Ashtapathi in raga Dharbari kanada spoke of Radha in an unconscious state of madness driven by her anguish. Unable to stand her agony any more, her friend goes to Krishna, tells him of Radha's pain, and succeeds in bringing Krishna back to his love. The pangs of Radha were emotionally evocative. Purists may wonder at the combination of a Hindustani raga for a Mohiniyattam piece, for Mohiniyattam is a dance-form made up of circles and semi-circles of broader wave lengths. It is difficult to correlate this structure with the short-wave structure of a Hindustani raga. Every dance form blends perfectly only with a particular genre of
music. It will be jarring if Kathak is rendered in a Carnatic raga with mridangam as accompaniment.

Rajiv, a staff member in Kalamandalam, is one of the best singers in the field of classical dance. He sang Ashtapathi wonderfully, but even his mellifluous singing with matching accompaniment could not hide the unsuitability of Dharbari kanada for the Mohiniyattam idiom.

The concluding item performed by Eva was a thillana, a Swathi Thirunal krithi in bhupala raga. Eva's recital proved that the padams of Swathi Thirunal suits Mohiniyattam perfectly.

Eva did visual communication in College and found delight in acting during her college days. She is the heroine of Campus, due for release, directed by M Mohan under the banner of Vrindavan Pictures. Between dancing and acting, Eva finds it difficult to choose. "Dancing has been part of my life and I have a passion for acting, I can't choose between father and mother," Eva smiled. Indeed - she is the daughter of Pavitran, a well-known filmmaker in the stream of parallel movies in Malayalam. 

Padma Jayaraj is a regular contributor to narthaki.com.