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Experienced nayikas attract large turnout
Photos courtesy: Shovana Narayan

September 28, 2016

It was a strangely warming sight at the Habitat watching helpless organisers turning away throngs of people waiting outside, because of no vacant seat in the packed Stein auditorium! And this, wonder of wonders, for Lalit Arpan, the annual  classical dance festival hosted by Kathak artist/teacher Shovana Narayan’s institution! With a different theme each year, avoiding a feel of predictability, this event has allowed itself sufficient elasticity to respond to varying impulses. This year’s choice of the Ashta Nayika theme based on Vidyapati’s poetry, featuring senior, ‘Padmashri awardees’ only (made very clear in the introductions) certainly attracted a large turnout, particularly on the opening evening. Rasa as an intellectual perception calls for a deep mental culture an artist develops through years spent in the art form. So the selection of seniors was dictated by wisdom, and Vidyapati’s poetry given its Jayadeva like bold sensuality in describing the sringar of the Radha/Krishna relationship, is hardly for the less mature performer though the Radha of Vidyapati, a parakeeya like Jayadeva’s, is less brazen about her relationship with Krishna.

Dhyanendra Tripathy in his impeccable Benarasi Hindi, as an alter ego of Vidyapati himself, entered the stage endorsing the sreshtajan to enjoy his poetry in Maithily, recapturing the ecstasy of the varying moods of sringar in Radha’s relationship with Krishna. Then the two apsara sutradhars Bharatanatyam dancer Shalini Rao (from whose research work the poems were selected) and Kathak disciple of Shovana Narayan, Shivani Varma (who conceived the Vidyapati focus) introduced the nayikas starting with the vasakasajjika, wherein Radha adorning herself gets ready to assuage her love for Krishna.

Jwala’s sonorous voice heralds Shovana Narayan’s entry as the vasakasajjika, representing a waiting maiden, now ready for love’s fulfilment.
Tribali tarangini pura duggama jaani
Manmatha patra pathau

As described by Manmatha to friend Krishna, Radha’s fragrant sandal-pasted body is the shield, her love-filled sharp eyes and eyebrows are the bow and  darting arrows, her earrings are the disc and her graceful swinging gait is like that of the majestic elephant as she is arriving “to duel in love” with Krishna. She is bound to be victorious, says Manmatha. Adorning herself for the awaited tryst, even as it rains (music in this part in Mianki Malhar) young Radha imagines the ecstasy to be shared with her beloved. Like the bee to the flower, she is drawn to Krishna. Shovana’s interpretative part cleverly knit in nritta bits, the concluding fast footwork like a metaphor for the ecstatic culmination of love.


Shovana Narayan

Madhavi Mudgal

Madhavi Mudgal’s Odissi exposition as virahotkanthita Radha was in her usual vein – superbly neat and aesthetic with expressional subtlety - with well coordinated melodious musical accompaniment (composed by Madhup Mudgal and rendered by the Gandhava Mahavidyalaya crew).
Ke patia lae jaeta re mora piyatama
Hiya nahi sahae asaha paasa dukhha
Re bhela Saona Masa

Set to raga Desh, the dancer began with her separation pangs in the Sawan masa imagery of the singing cuckoo, the dancing peacock, all spelling the ideal ambiance for love. But, alas, Sreepati has failed to arrive and Radha desperately approaches creatures of Nature to act as love messenger by delivering her urgent letter to Krishna. In the second poem “Kathan bedana mohe...,” Radha unable to bear the love pangs, confronts Manmatha for thwarting her with his arrows of love, perhaps mistaking her for Shiva. To disabuse him of his confusion - she draws attention to her flower decorated hairdo against Shiva’s matted locks, her ornaments against Shiva’s garland of snakes, her sandal pasted body so different from Shiva’s ash- smeared one, and her forehead with vermilion mark as opposed to his third eye.
 
Radha as swadhinabhartrika reigning over Krishna’s heart with him rushing to fulfill every wish of hers had no poetic base as such, but was in the shape of a dialogue between the two. As presented by the Kuchipudi couple Vanashree and Jaya Rama Rao, in the eye to eye exchange between Radha and Krishna, even as Radha is wanting to boast to her friends about how Krishna wants to satisfy every whim of hers, the message remained indistinct -  and the idea of a Krishna who is subservient to Radha did not come out.  The nritta virtuosity rendered to a Hamsanandi Swati Tirunal composition “Shankara Sri Giri” with its Shiva accent, appeared somewhat out of context. Kuchipudi is so full of the Krishna theme and something more in tune with the Krishna emphasis would have been a better choice.


Jaya Rama Rao & Vanashree

Geeta Chandran

Geeta Chandran’s strong and expressive Bharatanatyam exposition of what was supposed to be kalahantarita nayika was, given the verses she performed to, khandita - the jilted Radha very clear in the text. To create the right context for the khandita portrayal, the dancer began with “Madhura madhura Brindavan Maja” portraying merriment in Brindavan, with Krishna frolicking with the Gopis.
Aadha aadha madita bheladahu locana
Bacana bolat aadh aadhe
Rati aalasa samara tanu jhamara hei
Purala mora sadhe

In a slightly inebriated condition when Krishna staggers onto Radha’s doorstep, jilted Radha demands that he go back to the woman he has been dallying with. Angrily Radha points to Krishna’s body carrying the telltale marks of his flirtations - of the other’s vermilion mark and her alta marks which have made his usual black heart look a different colour and this along with drooping eyes which speak aloud of sleeplessness. The concluding notes for the evening were in Hamsanandi, sung evocatively by Venkateshwaran, with Geeta’s convincing dance interpretation.
 
Vocalist Sudha Raghuraman’s trilling voice rendering a Sanskrit sloka in Yamuna Kalyani set the tone for Prathibha Prahlad’s entry as yet another khandita, the ambiance created through an opening number based on Oothukadu Venkata Subbaiyer’s lyric “Swagatam Krishna” sung in lilting Mohanam. Overflowing with warmth of welcome for Krishna, Radha’s feelings receive a rude jolt on seeing a dishevelled Krishna at her doorstep - his appearance a complete give away of a night of passionate love spent elsewhere and Radha as khandita reeks scorn and anger at this “Bada aparadha.”
...locana aruna bujal bada bheda
 Rayani ujaagara garav nibeda
Kuchakumkuma maakhala his tara
Jani anuraage raangi karu gora

Even the colour of his black heart has become white with her marks left on his body, she says. The music set by Sudha Raghuraman with a great deal of drama in its tonal inflections and her singing provided a strong base for Prathibha’s abhinaya.


Prathibha Prahlad

Singhajit Singh & Charu Sija Mathur
 
The senior Manipuri couple Guru Singhajit Singh and Charu Sija Mathur’s uniquely evocative dance narrative portraying Radha as vipralabdha nayika, for this critic was one of the highlights of the festival.
Jaah jaah tohe udhav hai tohen Madhupur jahe
Chandrabadani nahi jiyutire badh laagat kahe

The springy grace, the khartal  playing right through which enhanced the musical mood, and highly imaginative choreography saw Singhajit Singh take on several roles – now Krishna, now the companion listening to Radha’s separation pangs with Krishna away in Mathura, now the charioteer taking Krishna to Mathura, now the tree under whose branches action in Brindavan takes place, now poet Vidyapati spreading the hopeful message (Sun, Gunavati) that Krishna will come to Gokul again, and always the time keeper marking rhythm on the khartal. The Pala movements and Khartal Cholom introduction were beautifully woven into the choreography and images of Radha trying to cling on to Krishna as he speeds away to Mathura, or the anguish of each at separation from the other, were all very sensitively suggested. “Chandrabadani Radha will be no more if he does not come” warns Radha till Vidyapati gives hope. And the music of even Vidyapati’s text sung in typical Manipuri style added to the ambience. The volume of the recorded music however needed to be toned down.

The proshitabhartrika as interpreted by Mohiniattam dancer Bharati Shivaji was the essence of grace and conviction.
“Neend na pare raini jo aava...sejke vaanchi janu koi lava
Dahe chaand aur chandan cheeru... dagadh kare ttan..viraha gambheeru....”
Man kari tahan udi jaie, jahan Hari paaela re.

Waiting endlessly for the beloved on his travels, lonely Radha imagines she is a bird flying in the air to join her beloved even as poet Vidyapati asks her to have patience. Her mind plays tricks on her and she is sad that even dreams of uniting with Krishna are less now. The supremely graceful movements showing Radha becoming a bird, with the dancer grounded but communicating the feel of airy lightness was masterly. So too was the sambhoga sringar bit, subtle and full of suggestive appeal. The dancer’s minimalistic movements to music sung in typical Sopanam mode (though again the tape was too loud) by Rajgopalan (the last bit in Valachi ragam was specially moving) with Shyamala Bhaskar’s veena and Sri Kumar on edakka brought out fully Mohiniattam’s mesmerising quality.


Bharati Shivaji

Ranjana Gauhar

Chand jani ug aajuk raati
Piyakeliye pathav bhi paati
These lines in the abhisarika poem and also in the khandita verse, one feels Jayadeva’s Gita Govind influences in the commonality of images. Radha as abhisarika, setting out in the dead of night for a tryst with the beloved, saw Odissi dancer Ranjana Gauhar take the stage. To music on the tape, the dancer’s otherwise convincing portrayal had so much of the “Sakhi he keshi mathanam udaram” imagery , not excluding the “charana ranita mani nupura”, which in the Jayadeva ashtapadi interpretation of Guru Kelucharan takes on two speeds, that one felt the sameness though the words are different! Besides Jayadeva, the poet, Kelucharan the master choreographer’s influence is so strong! But here it is Radha entreating the Moon not to shine at night so that the cloak of darkness enables her to go to her beloved, without being seen.

In all this, it was surprising that Jamuna Krishnan, the first dancer to do sustained research on Vidyapati, was not involved in the selection of Padavalis of which she has a whole corpus.

 



Writing on the dance scene for the last forty years, Leela Venkataraman's incisive comments on performances of all dance forms, participation in dance discussions both in India and abroad, and as a regular contributor to Hindu Friday Review, journals like Sruti and Nartanam, makes her voice respected for its balanced critiquing. She is the author of several books like Indian Classical dance: Tradition in Transition, Classical Dance in India and Indian Classical dance: The Renaissance and Beyond.














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