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Impresario India gamely carries on
Photos courtesy: Impressario India

April 12, 2017

Despite obstacles in procuring sponsorship, Impresario India mounted the nineteenth edition of its annual choreographic festival, National Festival of Creative Arts, on March 21 and 22 at Stein Auditorium, Delhi. For the curtain raiser was Kuchipudi performer and teacher Vanashree Rao reinventing herself, in her latest discovery as  group choreographer, harnessing a mixture of dance forms - Kuchipudi, Bharatanatyam and Chhau. Rasa United, her group also has the able cooperation of Dr. S. Vasudevan wearing many hats as Bharatanatyam dancer/teacher/music composer/ nattuvangam specialist and choreographer. In partnership with vocalist K. Venkateshwaran, the two provide the musical scaffolding for Vanashree’s productions.

Starting with the Tripura Samhara episode from the Shivapuranam, the entry saw dance visualization in Chhau with masked dancers Kuleswar Thakur, Anuraj Khichi, Prashant and Arjundev, with the ‘Tom Na’ syllables and alap in Revati, freezing in difficult contortionist yogic postures, impersonating Tarakasura’s three asura sons, whose uncontrolled might, thanks to Brahma’s boon of immortality, is finally crushed and destroyed by Shiva. After holding formations, requiring a balancing feat, the three strut around to Hathya Dhara movements.  With Mount Meru as chariot and Vasuki as the string to the bow and Vishnu himself as the arrow, with the graceful Kuchipudi dancers Ayona, Ranjini, Moutushi, Gulddin Sultana and with Vanashree as Shiva, enters the chariot in style and the end comes swiftly with Shiva catching the asuras in a row and killing them. One distinguishing feature of the group is having young expressive dancers (Chhau and Kuchipudi) endowed with fine stage presence as well.

The second production, and by far the best, was a ragamalika item “Ananda tandavam aade”, the Kuchipudi movements set by late Vempati Chinna Satyam in the 90’s - which Vanashree learnt when she attended his classes for a while. Retaining the entirety of the guru’s legacy, she has in this song added a dramatic touch through a Bharatanatyam element in the shape of Shiva’s tandav dance, with the Kuchipudi part representing animated, graceful devotees, dancing in admiration. A newly trim Vasudevan, as Shiva added a virile facet to the item, his tandav Bharatanatyam against the Kuchipudi lasya adding up to a fine complementing contrast, in a vibrant interactive display. The concluding Mahishasuramardini was conceived by Vanashree after being inspired by Pandit Jasraj’s Devi Stuti, sung with such evocative fervour. Moving solo confrontations of asura Chhau against the Devi’s Kuchipudi crew were followed by the final vanquishing of Mahisha (impersonated by Dr. Vasudevan’s Bharatanatyam), with Vanashree as the Devi, the curtain came down with ‘Aigiri Nandini’. Costumes by Vanashree and Sandhya Raman were striking and the taped music provided the right aesthetic support.


Dramatic tales from mythology

Baramasa

Moumala Nayak’s Kathak choreography in the second half of the performance was woven round Bara Masa where the months of Baisak, Jyeshta, Ashada, Sravana, Bhadon, Asvine, Kartika, Agahana, Pausha, Megha, Phalguna and Chaitra were all represented through songs and poetry pertinent to each season – with the lyrics in a host of ragas like Jog, Todi, Gaud Sarang, Basant etc with all situations of love portrayed. But for the aesthetically costumed group, to convey either a mood of hope during monsoons and Basant, or of separation, more in-depth interpretation was needed, than what proved to be such a sketchy treatment of what was a theme with a wide canvas, comprising varied images of Nature and of man / woman interrelationships. Everything became too hurried and no lingering image remained. And all too often treatment of a group concerned more with expressional dance, needs to rise above showing just a multiplicity of solo dancers. And above all, one wishes that the quality of the taped music had been more reliable in terms of melody and sur control. Thus lyrics like “Sajan more ghar aa”, or “Jhuk ayi badariyan savan ki”, or “Jhoolat Radhe naval Kishore”, “Mori chunari kadariyan basante” or “Mein kheloongi holi unaheese” and several others became just fleeting moments.



Divya Namaskar

Kiran Segal’s disciples of Pallavi, in the group Odissi presentation titled ‘Divya Namaskar’ paid  homage to Rabindranath Tagore through a selection of poems expressive of the poet laureate as a romantic, as a nationalist and as a philosopher. The first song “Ekla chalo” while widely known had a special quality to it in the taped musical arrangement by Neel Dutt, a Jazz musician of Kolkata, whose interpretation seasoned the singing with music of esraj, sarod, electric guitar, guitar, kohl, drums, pakhawaj and last but not least, the Odissi drum of mardal played by Surendra Maharana. This song wherein the poet urges everyone to soldier on alone, despite obstacles, had Odissi dancers, with face covered in Purulia Chhau like masks walking along – the movements while repetitive having the typical Odissi identity. What one would have liked though in the graceful dancer leading the group in a solitary state, was a more determined air in keeping with the unbending mood of the song – which really belongs to the realm of the inner dancer feeling the situation.

The two main dancers Madhyama Segal and Sangini Kumar combined well in Bashi based on verses from Gitanjali showing Tagore as the mystic poet when he refers to himself as the flute and God as the flute player. “Sravanero ….gaye”  with the entire group of Madhyama, Sashika, Arushi, Sangini, Sreyasi and Mrindini, turned out to be a very endearing number with the folksy quality in rhythm and with the dancers in the typical Bengali white sarees with red border, waving their red pallavs. The group formations like Pindi mentioned in our texts and all moving in one file with each dancer winding her hand round the waist of the one next to her, was reminiscent of what one sees in our folk and tribal dances. While very charming in  their minimalistic treatment, the concluding number of Taalanga (composed by Kiran in 1997 and performed at Vijay Chowk with a much larger group) had nritta in a slow accelerando – with the mardal, tabla, kohl, ghanta, sankha, all Odissi percussion providing rhythm. The music in Dhrupad began with vilambit alap in the raga Darbari and the dance slowly expanding the rhythmic canvas was very effective. Here was a combination of Yoga and Odissi and movement more in the style of Kiran’s mother Zohra Segal.


Raibeshe

After this came a rather prolonged but very well conducted folk music recital of Jhumur (prevalent in Bengal, Bihar, and Jharkhand and used in Badna, Tusu, Karam Puja and other such occasions) presented by Bangla Natak led by melodious vocalist Moushimi Mukherjee with equally well balanced accompaniments. Finally, to end on a note of strong martial art physicality came the traditional male oriented dance from Murshidabad district -  Raibeshe, also under Bangla Natak (name Raibeshe derived from the long bamboo sticks or stilts used by dancers) practiced in Birbhum, Bardhaman and Murshidabad. The dancers wearing thick anklets render vigorous back and front summersaults and dance to dhol and kanshi.



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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