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Events with an identity

September 26, 2017

More than just a festival
Photos: Inni Singh and Sreeniviews Photography and Visual Arts

Dance festivals are a dime a dozen. To make each event stand out with a flavour of its own requires imagination to curate. Gandharva Mahavidyalaya, in its very enterprising fashion has designed festivals wherein a theme or a selected line or verse from Sanskrit literature is made a compulsory part of each dancer's recital, the interpretation being left to the individual dancer's creativity. Bringing back to central focus the solo dancer who ultimately represents the core strength of a dance tradition, and featuring young dancers who are the future torch bearers, Prastaar, the Vidyalaya's latest event mounted at the Kamani auditorium, prescribed as central motif and as bonding thread a verse for interpretation by all artists, from Subhashitavali 1049 (Shringarapadhdhati), compiled by Vallabhadeva in the 15th century, providing immense possibilities for abhinaya elaboration.

Tanmaam shikshaya bhadra yatsamuchitam vaktum thwayi prasthite (Teach me beloved, what I ought to say when you go away) says the nayika to her beloved. "Do not go" would sound inauspicious and "All right, go" loveless (thistheti prabhuta yatharuchi-kurushvatrapyudaseenatha); insisting that he stay with her could be considered imperious and saying, "Do, as you wish" could smack of cold indifference. Saying "I will die without you, when you are gone," might or might not be believed. "So why not you tell me the suitable words for bidding adieu?" The nayika puts the onus on the nayaka for suggesting the right way of bidding farewell.

Bhavajan Kumar

An all pervading serenity coupled with scrupulously clean technique and springy light footed jumps of Bhavajan Kumar's Bharatanatyam had the advantage of an excellent musical springboard - well trained and coordinated even in the instrumental interventions at each stage, comprising Nandini Anand (vocal), K.P. Rakesh (nattuvangam), Vedakrishnaram (mridangam), K.P. Nandini (violin) and Sruti Sagar (flute). Following the sollukattu in Todi set to rupakam, came the mellow unhurried pace of the varnam in Shankarabharanam "Manavi chekona rada" with the nayika's appeal to Brihadeeswara that he shed his anger and stubbornness and answer her call of love, the dancer's gently persuasive interpretation journeying along with the melodious music whose pleasant decibel levels retained emotion filled musicality. The teermanam links crisp and never overlong , (executed with the dancer's effortless grace) with the subtle touches before joining the main refrain line in the charanam not to speak of the delicate arudi summations were a tribute to Guru Adyar Lakshmanan's choreography along with Mylapore Gowriamma. It was good to see a male performer without qualms about gender incompatibility portraying a nayika's feelings, thinking of himself only as a dancing body. Bhavajan Kumar's interpretation of the verse, guided by his present Guru Leela Samson, owed much to the setting of the music by Nandini Anand in Vasanta. The varied expressions aptly caught the dilemma of the intelligent nayika - not a meekly submissive person.

Sanjukta Sinha

Kathak dancer Sanjukta Sinha, disciple of Kumudini Lakhia, is a performer in every sense of the term, her powerful stage presence investing each movement of even a thata freeze with an energy along with sensual allure - particularly while expressing a sentence like "Tumhare bin lage nahi Piya" with nritta intra-forms like Tandav Paran in a dha ta ka thunga woven in. The dance with abhinaya and nritta flowed in a seamless fashion with no needless Ab dekhiye peir ka kaam interventions. But after the Shuddha Sarang and Yaman, competently sung by Samiullah Khan, with brothers Mohit and Ashish Gangani for tabla and pakhawaj support, came the challenging verse in Sanskrit language - not a conventional part of Kathak interpretation. The singer's kavit like recitation with the wrong pauses and the dancer's dismissive bhaav batana in the seated position were equally clueless about what the verse signified. As the bonding feature of this festival, this needed more thought and time devoted to translating it in dance. Usually very smartly turned out, Sanjukta's maroon top in heavy material had fold creases which showed under the lights.

Arushi Mudgal

Arushi Mudgal's Odissi highlighted the advantages of an excellent mind, brimming with ideas honed in a family setting where art is a way of life. After picking for the opening number, an unusual verse from Shivanandalahari suggested by Veejay Sai, likening Shiva, the blue throated one with the peacock, with music composed by Madhup Mudgal, slowly fading out to the strains of Gambheer twam neelakantham bhaje (with evocative singing shared by alternating female and male voices of Sawani Mudgal and Khushal Sharma), the dancer presented an Oriya geet Kohibaku lajja madochi Sajani. The bashful nayika suffused in embarrassment and shyness about her encounter with Krishna, is still unable to keep her secret to herself, and confides in her friend about what happened when Krishna who destroyed Kaliya, covered her eyes from behind as she was stringing a garland of flowers. The twin voices of Sawani and manjira player together reciting the ukkutas in the nritta interventions added an element of dramatic tonal strength.

The dancer's artistic maturity came out in the Sanskrit sloka, which she made into a metaphor of the dying body as nayika addressing its soul the nayaka - not able to come to grips with the impending departure of its eternal companion. Madhup Mudgal's score in Kaushik Kanada, Sohini Bhatiyal and finally raga Lalit had a compelling quality along with the smooth Sanskrit enunciation. But the special quality lay in the weaving of images showing the bonding inevitability of body and soul sharing pain and joy together, as inseparable as the shadow and the person, a bird without flight, fish without water, the sun without its halo of light, eyes without vision. "Now that you are eager and ready to go, tell me how I should allow you to leave", is the plaintive cry. After this moving interpretation, the recital concluded on a note of pure dance set to Bageshri in ektali followed by jhampa taal. A very polished performance!

Purva Dhanashree

Living up to the excellence of the first half of the second evening, was the next half by Purva Dhanashree whose Vilasini Natyam was very compelling. Starting with a Salam Daruvu by Kasinath Kavi on Shiva, defining each of Shiva's feats and accoutrement as accomplishing destruction of the ego and jealousy leading to supreme knowledge , the dancer went on to the jatiswaram in Kalyani assisted by the same set of musicians as for Bhavajan Kumar barring the mridangist who was Sriganesh. Purva, known for her abhinaya prowess, with help and guidance from her mother Kamalini Dutt made a triptych presentation of the Sanskrit verse, very individualistic. She attributed the words to Mandodari, the frog princess who grew up to be the beauteous woman whom Ravana falls for and marries. The words occur in the context of Ravana coming to take leave of Mandodari before leaving for war with Rama. Mandodari wonders how and with what words she should bid goodbye to her husband. "In what way are you different from Lakshmana who cut off your sister's nose, for you have abducted Sita who has no love lost for you, through wiles of a golden deer and masquerading as a sage asking for alms and now are going to war to fight her husband?" As husband and wife she recollects how she and Ravana, through happiness and sorrow, have been inseparable. And how can she live if he perishes in this war? The dancer briefly capturing an encounter between Rama and Ravana, arrives at the last scene where lamenting her dead husband, Mandodari, cushioning his head on her lap, bids goodbye offering his mortal remains to the fire. Her final act is one of total surrender to Lord Shiva. Ma Yahi with music set by Vasudevan for three parts in Shuddha Dhanyasi, Poorvi Kalyani and Shubha-Pantuvarali, was sung with emotive throb by Nandini Anand and enacted with restrained power by Purva.

Navia Natarajan

On the last evening, Navia Natarajan's curtain raiser for her Bharatanatyam recital was Parasakti, the dancer's movement visualisation, based on selected verses from Somadeva Sharma's Lalitopakhyanam and verses from Navaratnamalika Stotram of Shankaracharya, strongly communicated the contrasting attitudes of Devi's destructive power and benevolent beauty. Vocalist Srikanth's music was in a ragamalika format, starting with Omkara bindu samyuktam harnessing ragas like Revati, Mohanam, Dwijavanti. Papanasam Sivan's varnam in Natakuranji, "Swami naan undan adimai enru ulagamellam ariyume" was given a very individualistic treatment by the dancer whose own choreography saw innocent love full of bhakti for Shiva during childhood slowly flower into erotic love, feasting on the sat chit anandam he radiates. The way music was managed added a dramatic quality to the varnam rendition, which combined elegance of movement lines, very much the dancer's own choreography, and rhythm with expressional conviction. The Subhashitavali verses, for which the dancer received guidance from Bragha Bessell, retained the straight forward treatment, with singer Srikanth singing each line of the verse in a different raga, with Navia's expressional flair delighting in sancharis to evoke rasa. Here was no weepy submissive woman but a nayika who spoke on equal terms with the nayaka.

Monisa Nayak

To Kathak dancer Monisa Nayak, herself a member of the faculty of the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya, went the task of ringing in the concluding moments of this three day festival. She started with a Dhrupad composition of the founder of the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya, Vinaychandra Maudgalya in Bhimpalasi set to chautal, dedicated to Ganesha described as the remover of obstacles and the patron of the arts. Weaving in the well known Jaipur gharana Ganesh Kavit, the neat rendition was followed by nritta in teental in which Monisa presented the chaals as a part of Amad as is customary in the Jaipur Kathak tradition and Panch mukhi Shiva in five layas, the item so called though the dhakita-dhakita-dhadhakita-kitadhakita composition has nothing to do with Shiva! The usual tatkar ability apart, the unusual element was the uptlavan bhramari. A very well trained, pleasant dancer as Monisa is, the nritta part one felt, became a monotone sans high points. One would have expected some more improvisations being woven into the prolonged footwork. Percussionists Yogesh Gangani and Mahavir Gangani could bring in soft touches in tone along with the tandav decibel levels. And in the abhinaya, despite Madhup Mudgal's score in Kedar and Chhayanut, the same singer Samiullah Khan, not being at ease with the verbal part, fell short of evoking the right bhav or emphasis - and the interpretation of the nayaka being forced to leave because he had received a call through a letter, seemed ideationally weak - with the abhinaya too falling short. After the concluding Tarana in Adana, the curtain came down.

Extremely well organised, the compere, new to the task, needs some guidance in her pronunciation of the elongated vowels while mentioning names and technical terms.

A fitting festival for Kelucharan Mohapatra

Yet another festival, which has begun acquiring a stature of its own is Srjan's Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra Award Festival, carefully nurtured over the years by the Guru's son Ratikant Mohapatra. The mood is set, right from the entrance to Bhubaneswar's Rabindra Mandap, where one sees the carefully grouped enlarged photographs of the participating artists outside -- with the modest lobby of the auditorium transformed into a photographic history down memory lane, with old priceless pictures of Guru Kelucharan on various occasions. One climbs the steps to be greeted by a large photograph of the Guru at whose feet exquisite rangoli floor design has a burning lamp in the centre. One could spend a long time just going through these pictures.

The programme, by sponsoring artists from all over India, has offered a large variety to the Bhubaneswar audiences. Carnatic music duo Ranjani Balasubramaniam and Gayatri Balasubramaniam with their individual voices stressing bhav and virtuosity acting as an admirable foil of polarities complementing each other to merge beautifully as one whole, rendered a Marathi Abhang. And as an audience of Oriya speaking connoisseurs thrilled to the music, one had a feel of a mini India in the Orissan capital, paying homage to the memory of the great Kelucharan Mohapatra.

Rare coming together of Bharatanatyam by Vaibhav Arekar, Odissi by Daksha Mashruwala and Kathak by Uma Dogra in one work Ekatatva, a flautist of Odisha, Annada Prasanna Pattanaik in a flute and veena (Pushpa Kashinath) jugalbandi accompanied on the tabla by Udayaraj Karpur, were all part of the programme.

But by far the most exciting event, which would seem to have brought down the house in applause, is the musical ensemble Shivagni - the name a combination of Shibu (Ratikant) the sponsor of the group and of Agnimitra, the lead figure in the creative endeavour of this ensemble. Even as music in Odisha has been fighting its long battles for the 'classical' category, young talents showing a heightened flair for new musical ideas are becoming a parallel reality in the State. In many festivals like Dhauli, exotic percussion - talavadya events have revealed astonishingly vibrant fare. And Srjan's idea of making the performance space available for such experimenting music ensembles, speaks of enlightened art support. The variety was mind boggling with Agnimitra Behera (violin), Srinibas Satpathy (flute), Bikashita Sahu (drums), Ramesh Chandra Behera (keyboard), Satchidananda Das (mardal), Kshiti Prakash Mohapatra as vocalist, Deba Ranjan Naik on guitar, Samir Ranjan Pradhan on percussion, Kulamani Sahu on tabla and Biswaranjan Nanda also on tabla. Srjan ranga bhayo, raising a toast to the sponsoring body in raga Bairagi made a pun on the word Srjan, representing colours of creativity. The bandish and pakhawaj in ektala druta laya with violin, flute, drum octave ended in a tihai with a sawal/jawab rhythmic exchange. The next composition in Durbari brought in Western touches by Agnimitra with Srinibas playing in the classical Hindustani mould. The violin and guitar in 'A' minor brought in what sounded like film tunes and in this free-wheeling, only the start and finish were structured. Then came a rhythmic number in combinations of 5, 6 and 7. The melodic accompaniment resembled a Nagma but was not the same. The Ragamala item had as many as fifteen ragas Bahar, Basant, etc., finally ending in Bhopali sounding very much like Irish music on the bagpipe, with the dholak and tabla bringing in very different rhythmic tones. Mountain Mist based on Orissan folk and tribal rhythms with tabla, pakhawaj and the African Drum djembe had myriad sounding bols like dhagada dhatula tikicha tikicha... in slow, fast and again slow speeds. Tempest was like the Hindustani instrumental Jhala - very fast with the drum, with ragas like Bakulabharana and Basantamukhari with the keyboard, the violin and the flute sounding like a Western symphony and fast drums with guitar, piano and synthesiser. Raga Bairagi sounding very Arabian with flute and guitar and the Darbuka instrument with the typical Arabian flavour brought back echoes of the belly dancer. The concluding number in Keerwani called Colours of Joy also comprised an old Thumri composition in Patdeep, with the bandish "Bhajare Muraliya Baje" in conclusion. In an exchange with this writer at the hotel, the musicians talking about an event which unfortunately this critic missed said: "When we ended with a long tihai with percussion instruments, the applause was deafening and what we entered into with great trepidation about how the audience would respond, had received the kind of ovation we did not expect. Long hours spent practising for weeks, till we were exhausted, paid off. We were determined to keep the raga integrity while trying out new ideas within its contours, bringing in various effects, seeing how far we could go - and we were open to musical flavours from all parts of the world. That made it very exciting. The base was always the Raga."

Ratikant talked of now being ready to go global. Whenever that may be, the fact that this festival can act as a springboard for generating novel art ideas is a great achievement - very much in tune with a homage to Guru Kelucharan, whose own creative impulses had an enormous inclusivity. He was inspired by many art forms, bringing all he wanted to take into the language of Odissi's stylised idiom. And for a man with such expansively creative ideas what could be a better salute than encouraging young talent in Odisha? This type of event will give the festival an identity of its own.

Mahanayaka Bijayananda

Having mentioned the high points, one needs to look at the other side of the festival which could have done with more thinking. Srjan's Mahanayaka Bijayananda based on the life story of Odisha's great politician hero late Biju Pattnaik, had its difficulties in capturing a representative dance-drama type of creation woven round a recently departed hero. For a dance work which needs some high points of dramatised element, perhaps a trick or two was missed by not concentrating on the main aspect of Biju Pattnaik's personality - which was his daredevilry and courage for action. In his very early years, appearing as a candidate for a by-election in Kullada, a constituency in Ganjam district, despite all the denial of permission by the Sub-divisional Magistrate, Russelkonda, who was the Returning Officer for the Election, Biju Pattnaik, piloting his own plane, landed on a village street in the small township. The Sub- divisional Magistrate, a budding IAS officer, very new to know that he was dealing with a very important person (and refusing to heed hints thrown in by members of the staff that he was arguing with the wrong person) angrily protested that he would try him in court for endangering the lives of people by insisting on landing on a coconut tree fringed village street. So strongly protective of the people's safety was the young officer, that when Biju Pattnaik became the Chief Minister, he had a special place for the concerned officer who had, irrespective of other considerations, shown the courage to fight him for what he believed was right. He was that type of a person.

Next was Biju Pattnaik's daring act without considering the risk to his own life, in again piloting his own plane to Indonesia, at that time a troubled area, and managing to smuggle out of the country Sukarno (the future Head of Independent Indonesia), whose life was in danger, for which act Biju Pattnaik became the darling of Pandit Nehru. In this context, it has also to be mentioned that for this deed of bravery, Biju Pattnaik was accorded by the Indonesian government the status and title of "Bhoomi Putra", a 'special citizen' of Indonesia. Perhaps instances of this nature would have enabled Ratikant to put action-filled episodes into a work, which became too linear. An element of theatre becomes a must for a dance drama. In any case such imitations in dance are very difficult.

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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