August 26, 2018
Just when lauding the increasingly healthy audiences for IIC's annual Monsoon Festival, this year's attendance dipped - thanks to inbuilt resistance to an all-male dance festival, albeit chosen with care. Instead of a festival only for male dancers which is aimed at helping them, but which again looks like ghettoizing male performers into a separate class, the better idea would be a mixed festival, with one male and one female dancer each day. A fine Manipuri dancer like Yum Lambam Bidya Nanda from Imphal (now Kolkata) sadly had to perform to a very scanty gathering. Imphal trained and now under Hemanth Kumar of Shantiniketan, working for a PHD, this aesthetically costumed dancer, right from the opening Dashavatar based on the Gita Govindam ashtapadi, impressed with his light footed excellent technique, full of grace, in Tanchep tala and Dashkosh. The physical balance and ability to evoke emotion through angik or bodily stances while maintaining a serene countenance, showed the all-round grip over Manipuri dance.
Set to talas Tanchep and Menkup, Radha Abhisar portrayed Radha preparing herself with great care to meet Krishna, exchanging thoughts with sakhis about how Kamadev's arrows were attacking and igniting her desire. Based on Hemant Kumar's choreography, the item Kalpana visualized a nayika plunging into an imaginative world on beholding a statue, reminded of her beloved. Alas, she realizes it is make-believe she is swirling in. Full of feline like delicate jumps the ending is on a pure nritta note - executed with flair - though a little over indulgent and too long, needing editing. Shiva Panchakshara Stotram, imaginatively composed by Sinam Basu in a masculine tandav mood in talas Tanchep, Daskosh and Duithaka - draws the movement vocabulary from Nata Sankirtan, Thang Tha and Manipuri tandav. Even here, while communicating strong emotions (punctuated by one moment of grace-filled sensitivity showing Mandakini flowing from the locks) the mukhabhinaya serenity was preserved. The typical Manipuri inflection of the singer in the recorded music, added to the total impact.
Trinidadian Vinod Kevin Bachan, an Odissi disciple of Ranjana Gauhar, slated to perform the same evening elsewhere, restricted himself to just two items and unfortunately he left out the Pallavi, the mainstay of an Odissi recital. Starting with Swati Tirunal's "Vishweshwar darshan ko chalo" set to Saroj Mohanty's music in Asavari raga and khemta tala, Vinod showed excellent feel for rhythm, though on occasion a lighter foot-tapping, sans the feel of heavy footedness - notwithstanding grace, would be more suitable for softer emotions. The Meera Bhajan "Jukhi ayi badariyan savan ki" with the peacock dance and all the signs in Nature of impeding monsoons concluded the short recital.
Saurav Roy was the crowning glory of the festival. This Kathak dancer trained under Kolkata's Malabika Mitra demonstrated 'tayyari' of rare vintage. And what is more, despite being an outstation dancer, he managed live music which was beautifully modulated - with a very melodious singer in Dinesh Pal, and fine sarangi player in Lalit Sisodia. Shubhi Thakur, the tablist, had clarity in mellow playing - sounding so soothing to the ears, providing excellent accompaniment for the invocation "Gayiye Ganapati Jagabandhana." Following a teental upaj on the tabla, the dancer chose nritta in Dhamar, because this tala with its heavy pakhawaj bols, chimed with Nature's season of clouds and thunder. Thata, Paran, and the chakras undertaken with perfect equipoise, were followed by a brief teental presentation with chakradhar. The clarity of footwork and the total control while presenting a Lucknow gharana bandish or a Jaipur gharana Paran in 'Anagat' and 'Ateet' in Tisrajati spoke of diligent training. That abhinaya held no qualms for the dancer was seen from the Bindadin Jhaptal composition "Sheshphan dagmagyo..." in Darbari Kanada, depicting how Earth balanced on Sheshnag trembles with the impact of Ram's arrow aimed at Ravan. Contrasting with that depiction of power, the dancer immediately moved on to the weeping widow Mandodari lamenting beside the fallen Ravan, for not heeding her counsel that Rama was invincible. In the concluding Kajri "Baithe soche Brija Dham" where the nayika deep in thoughts stirred by the monsoons, is longing for her Shyam and entreats fellow devotees to fetch her heart's love to her, the melodic/emotive singing and the dancer's interpretation came together beautifully.
Kapil Sharma's Bharatanatyam was predictably in the typical Kalakshetra 'bani' of a long standing disciple Leela Samson, apart from his own experience for some years in teaching youngsters. With Ragini Chandrasekhar's confident nattuvangam, M.V. Chandrasekhar's mridangam accompaniment, Venkateshwar's vocal support with its strong classical credentials and violin by Raghavendra Prasad, Kapil was well supported in the Dandayudapani Pillai Navaraagamalika varnam "Saamiyai azhaittodi vaa sakhiye" choreographed by Leela Samson with jati compositions contributed by Karaikudi Krishnamurti, one of the stalwarts in this field. Crisp and effective, no interlude with nritta punctuation was needlessly stretched. Aside from the clean nritta, Kapil has developed a feel for abhinaya, and after the varnam's depiction of the nayika, flattering her sakhi to fetch the Lord of her heart to her, it was pure abhinaya in the Subbarama Aiyer padam in Begade "Yarukkagilum Bhayama?" Why should I fear anyone when a man of such standing has chosen me" demands the nayika of gossip mongers. Where is the secrecy in this "no hole in the corner affair." The nayika provides the metaphor of one riding an elephant while choosing by-lanes to avoid being seen! That Kapil as dancer is not bothered about the item being from a male or female perspective, is healthy. The Tillana in Paras concluded the orthodox recital.
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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