Teacher and taught in Sare Jahan Se Achha
Photos: Joginder Dogra
August 27, 2017
It was like a cosy club of dance teachers and their disciples at Utsav’s efficiently organised, annual, two- day event Sare Jahan se Achha (Aug 17 & 18) at Habitat’s Stein auditorium, Delhi. The time of the old dance Nattuvanar gurus whose sole profession was training aspirants, has, barring rare instances where a few from the old clan still remain, been largely taken over by the innumerable dancer divas who also teach, and are the gurus of today, the occasionally voiced protest from the old guard about teachers usurping the title of gurus notwithstanding. The theme chosen this year for the festival was Guru/Shishya.
A scholar, performer and teacher, Sandhya Purecha proved that multiple demands can be accommodated with some painstaking effort. Taking up a Nirupana of Maharaja Sarfoji, which her late guru Acharya Parvati Kumar was responsible for bringing onto the concert circuit through his dance visualisation, Sandhya’s own presentation with her two diligently trained students Suhani Dhanki and Chitra Dalvi captured the bygone flavour of Sadir along with contemporary Bharatanatyam chic. The composition in Marathi Joki jara shikhamani taya hariketu rani in Pantuvarali is in the form of advice by the experienced prauda nayika to her juniors, untried mugdha maidens that they would soon be working for one who was a queen of sringar and beloved of the great Hari, and very adept in the ways of love and hence would have to learn how to tactfully cope with mistress and her loved one (taaki aata probana sambalika saaki). Set for three dancers wisely and with a trained aesthetic eye, Sandhya took on the sahitya passages with her own interpretative skill, letting the youngsters have full play in the nritta interludes set to multiples of 4 (chatusram), 3 (tisram), 7 (misram), 5 (khandam) and 9 (sankeernam) in that order. The nattuvangam and singing by her guru in the music tape of the 1970s with the youngsters in perfect leg stretches and araimandi and total control over dance profile, along with the felt joy in the dance, made for a vibrant performance. Schooled in the ways of love, the senior protagonist’s words of advice and tone contrasted with the generally all too playful maidens, who unimpressed by the urgency of the situation, impatiently reverted to their light hearted preoccupations. This and the manner in which the nayika appeared and slowly melted away after each sahitya segment without causing any disruption in the flow of presentation had to be applauded. Acharya Parvati Kumar would have been delighted that his line of students is doing this well.
Vyjayanti Kashi’s Kuchipudi with her daughter Prateeksha Kashi proved how this dance tradition has been made to stand on its head as it were. What started off as an all male form with Stree vesham as a high point, now has the female dancer in Purusha vesham in a presentation based on verses taken from Narayana Tirtha’s Krishna Leela Tarangini sung in music set by Kartik Hebbar, wherein Vyjayanti played roles from Hiranyakashipu to Deva Narasimha while daughter/student Prateeksha was Prahlada. Mother/daughter combine has an almost inevitable quality of ease, acquired through frequent working together. Pahi Pahi Jagan Mohana Krishna in Amritavarshini saw some dance narratives built round Krishna feats, with the nuanced footwork very neatly catching the syllabic accenting in the rhythm very clearly in the Tarangam segment. The dancers exploited to the hilt the dramatic possibilities inherent in Kuchipudi, the mother and daughter being greeted with lusty applause.
Uma Dogra who was trained in Kathak under late Pandit Durgalal, comes across as a dancer whose integrity and guru bhakti have injected her performances with a special character. One is surprised at the restrained and very moving appeal of her abhinaya, for her guru was more the king of nritta. But Uma’s own talent for poetry composing along with her close working with dancers like Vaibhav Arekar have led to her giving abhinaya full play in her Kathak recitals, unlike many of the other dancers of this ilk. She interprets her own verses with subtle understated charm. Set to music by Dharam Veer Bharti, and also sung by him, Dagar vich kaise chaloon, mein jal bharna jaoon, with Uma’s abhinaya had a quality of silence in understated elegance. Her own verses set to music in Varsharitu, saw her combining with four of her students who acquitted themselves very well.
Trained under Raseswar Saikia and now under the guidance of Guru Jatin Goswami, Sattriya dancer Anita Sharma is another performer/teacher who has found in her daughter Aarhie Kaushik an ideal dance partner. The beauty of the Krishna Vandana lay in the devotee’s epithets, describing Krishna whose eyes are like fresh petals and whose face is like the full moon. The soulful singing on tape fully did its part in evoking the mood of prayer. Chali Nach divided into pure dance of Ramdani, followed by Krishna as the butter stealing charmer in Gitor Nach with concluding nritta in Mela Nach showed, apart from the dancers’ ability for involvement in the thematic sections, scrupulous neatness of movements, with perfect synchronisation. The tete a tete of Mother and daughter in the Kubja episode had conviction. Bhasker Jyoti Ojha’s music and vocal support blended melodic virtues with mood of total serenity and devotional fervour. The percussive sweetness of the rhythmic syllables on khol, added to the performance.
Wearing with panache several hats as performer, teacher whose students are now training other youngsters and administrator of a large institution like Ganesh Natyalaya, Saroja Vaidyanathan astonishes one and all with the energy and sprightliness of her dance at the age of near 80! Trim bodied and agile, her interpretation of the Tulsidas Bhajan Bhaj man Ram Chandra Sukh dayi with Bharatmilap, Kewatprasang, and Ahalya being resurrected, was followed by her students taking over the stage with nritta presentation embodying all the rhythmic combinations of 3,4,5,7 and 9. The students chosen from amongst Saroja’s innumerable disciples, pertained to such height differences, that group synchronisation, even while present, did not show up.
Nalini and Kamalini with their Guru Jeetendra Maharaj seated in front, began their Kathak in the time honoured manner with a prayer to Gajapatiprabhu deenabandhu. Two other students joined them for the teental nritta and finally the Tarana. The performance did not feature anything out of the way. An open ended form like Kathak without live tabla, is at a serious disadvantage. But in the time slot give for each guru and his shishya, recorded music became the accepted and inevitable mode adopted for all the presentations.
Lajare sorigolli aaj Sajani (I was drowned in embarrassed shyness), says the shy heroine after her romantic interlude with Krishna. She describes to her friend how after hearing his honeyed words (sunibo mridu bachana) had swept away and conquered her initial reluctance. The abhinaya presentation was by Odissi dancer Ileana Citaristi whose Italian heritage was erased in her interpretation of lajja, a very Indian concept. In Parthasarathy – Divine Charioteer, the dancer was joined by her student Sashwat Joshi who played Arjuna to Ileana’s Krishna. The dance in the form of a dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna, was based on verses from the Gita set to music by Ramahari Das. Generally expressive, one felt that Krishna displaying his Cosmic identity needed more emphasis with heightened accenting. The fact that this was an excerpt from a larger projected work imposed limitations in not allowing one to tinker with the music and hence dance.
The host group from Utsav Odissi Dance Academy, which mounted the festival, provided the curtain raiser with a shortened version of its larger work Jhansi Ki Rani. The work of Bundelkhand’s Subhadra Kumari’s written work has inspired the libretto with music set by Bankim Sethi who also provided vocal support. The production is a blend of Odissi and Chhau, with the cast having six guest artist male dancers all trained in Chhau. With their Hathyadhara movements the tone was set and the costumes cleverly caught the different identity of the army of the Rani and soldiers under the British. It was an unadulterated straight forward dance narrative with no surprises, which left this critic feeling that the final moments of the soldier/Rani bout were somewhat tame. Again the trouble seems to have been in presenting excerpts from a larger work, retaining the recorded music.
Ranjana Gauhar’s solo work in abhinaya form was based on an ashtapadi from the Gita Govinda Dheera sameere Yamuna teere vasati vane vanamali, wherein the all important sakhi paints a picture of Krishna waiting with heart full of love for Radha, the gentleness of every leaf stir or fall of a feather giving rise to eager hope that perhaps it is Radha’s delicate footsteps he has heard. She pleads with Radha to leave her telltale anklets behind and join Krishna without denying herself the love she craves for.
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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