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More praise than dance

May 19, 2019

Some of the emerging formalities of late have made me wonder if strict rules should be insisted upon on how long a master of ceremonies or the compere can speak. A new trend is now being noticed of three or more dancers featured in one performance, each presenting one item! The large part of the evening is spent on formalities with a row of chief guests having courtesies extended to them - and more importantly the master of ceremonies praising them and reciting details of their achievements - including those of the bureaucrat who is called for obvious reasons. Suramya organising Nritya Darpan recently at the Habitat Stein auditorium, had senior dancers with titles to their credit as chief guests, invited to the stage with lengthy introductions. It was as if they were being recommended for the Padmashri, which, on their own merit, most had already earned - and which was the reason they were being called as chief guests, one presumes! So where was the need for these long winding introductions for such well-established dancers? The formalities took up precious time. And I wondered how four dancers slated to perform could be accommodated in the rest of the time. I need not have worried for each had one item to perform!

Rashmi Aggarwal
Nritya Darpan commenced with Kuchipudi dancer Meenu Thakur who has been trained under several teachers starting with C.R. Acharyalu, Pasumarthi Siddha Ramaiyya, Swapnasundari, Jaya Rama Rao and now Voleti Rangamani, daughter of C.R. Acharyalu - from whom Meenu Thakur has learned to perform the Simhanandini Talam. Dancing on a transparent screen of white cloth spread over a canvas full of red colour, the dancer uses her feet to different mnemonic combinations ending with a 'takatakita' khanda rhythm, in such a way that it draws the figure of a lion imprinted (thanks to the red colour underneath) on the white cloth, and when raised and held up at the end, one sees the cleanly drawn lion on the screen. The music in ragas Kalyani, Madhyamavati, Revati exhorting the Goddess (whose vehicle is the lion) in a meditative tone as Kathyayani, Simhavahini, Veera Virahini, Kali, Bhadra Kali, Rajeswari eh al. Meenu did a satisfactory job and the Simha drawing that finally emerged, was neat. But can just this one item which demands a certain skill and little else, mean a whole program? With highlighting a figure made through the footwork being the main criterion, Simhanandini lacks the beauty or the agile grace of a full length Kuchipudi recital. The expressions, the nayikas in mercurial moods - everything is lacking and the dance element is so little, with the dancer looking at her feet all the time, that one wonders how just Simhanandini can form an entire presentation!

The impressive dancer of the evening was Rashmi Aggarwal, a senior disciple of Bharatanatyam Guru Saroja Vaidyanathan. Her emphasis was on abhinaya for which the knowhow came through a workshop experience, and her interpretation of the Praudha (experienced) nayika based on a Javali "Saami ninne kori naanu" in Kamas, composed by Veenai Padmanabhan, showed a dancer unselfconsciously portraying the woman who boldly flirts to regain the attention of the wayward nayak by reminding him of the good days they shared in the past. "Thiriga chooda ra," she asks him to turn round and look at her,"sarasamada ra". The many ways of tempting him and inviting him to her side, was done with conviction. In a contrasting mood, the next interpretative song was a Bhajan, an Abhang "Brindavane Venu" by Bala Dasa, with the images of a serene, green Brindavan with dancing peacocks and joyous animals in the dance, concluding in the immersed bhakti incantation 'Vithala, Vithala' incantation, at the end.

Odissi dancer Purnashri Raut of Chattisgarh presented the Ashtapadi "Sakhi he keshi mathanamudaram". That she had been taught the Kelucharan choreography by whoever was obvious - though neither expression nor movement could evoke any feel of the intense desire, of the abhisarika yearning to be united with her beloved Krishna, with whom her moments of first intimacy she nostalgically reminisces on.

Vani Madhav, the other Odissi dancer, was the only performer who presented ensemble dancing, though the students, while disciplined, were not fully proficient and finished in their movements. Presenting the Devi in her ferocious avatars as destroyer of Chanda/Munda, Shumbha/Nishumbha, and Kali, along with shades of her moments as benefactor like Saraswati, is what Vani Madhav's choreography was built around. What struck me about the dance was a very anchored quality with constant group freezes, like cameos, with the performance largely moving from pose to pose with the fluidity of movement to movement while covering floor space, in Odissi, totally missing.

Association for learning performing arts and normative action
I have appreciated Odissi dancer Alpana Nayak's sterling quality of patience in dealing with differently abled students - and this for the simple reason that very few able-bodied dancers are willing to use their art to work with the less fortunate - and parents of all the handicapped youngsters she is working with have nothing but praise for her bringing hours of sunshine and happiness into the lives of their children.

L to R: Disha Kannan, Akankshya Satapathy, Anoushka Agrawal

That apart, the usual training being imparted in Odissi to other youngsters forms another chapter of Aloka's activities. Recently featuring three of her what she called senior students at the IIC's Chattopadhyaya's Seminar Hall, one was sorry to see the same trend mentioned above, being exhibited in the compering, by reading out long passages of introduction with trivial details of every little place, the student had performed in, for each of the disciples. Being encouraging is one thing. But by investing modest accomplishments with unmerited praise, are we not taking away from the need for every dancer to realise that one has to constantly strive to do better, for this art has no such thing as complete mastery. Apart from the young dancers, the career details of bureaucrats present as chief guests too being part of the introduction while requesting them to take the stage, was a bit much! We are becoming more and more a people being fed on flattery all the time, which encourages mediocrity.

Akankshya Satpathy who has been a student of Aloka's since the age of five, presented Batu - a good choice for hardly any dancer presents this as part of the concert format today. The choreography of late Kelucharan Mohapatra demands an agile body able to hold the postures inspired by figures carved on ancient temple walls. The dancer performed correctly though she must get over the tendency to bend forward from the hip, losing the straight body on occasion. And the set smile could not totally hide the inner grunt of effort. This item to be performed with abandon needs so much body control that one does not have to think about it, excepting to enjoy the moment while dancing. But I hope more dancers will present this as a part of the concert format. The same dancer presented Upendra Bhaja's famous poem "Malli mala Shyamaku dibi" where the Vasaka Sajjika is described dressing herself up and waiting to greet Krishna with her garland of jasmine flowers when he comes. There is a lyricism and charm in the way the nayika thinks of ways of making him comfortable by wiping away his sweat and cooling him with sandal paste etc which always gets across very successfully to the audience. The announcement said that music was by Prashant Behera who was fine as the vocalist but where is the question of his composing the music for a traditional lyric which ever since I can remember has been sung by singers like Ghanashyam Panda in the same tune?

Anoushka Agrawal presented Bhubaneshwar Misra's Shankarabharanam Pallavi as translated into Odissi dance by Guru Kelucharan. While the rest of the movements were fine, the torso deflections, so central to Kelucharan Mohapatra's choreography, needed to be more smooth and graceful, while accentuated. The dancer's presentation of 'Srita kamala kucha mandala,' the Jayadeva ashtapadi was done with involvement. The "Kalyavishadhara" segment showing Krishna overpowering Kaliya, and the "Madhu, Mura, Naraka" interpretation with the God astride an eagle battling demons Madu, Mura and Naraka were danced with conviction.

L to R: Disha Kannan, Akankshya Satapathy, Anoushka Agrawal

Disha Kannan the third student to be featured in Jaya Bhagavati Durge evoking moods of the destructive powers of the Goddess as Mahishasuramardini and as Shakti, contrasting with her role as Matra roopini or embodiment of Motherhood, performed with gusto. She has an expressive face which in showing ferocity, instead of exaggerating needs to internalize the emotion more.

The musicians for the event were well rehearsed.

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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