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ABHAI's Pravasi Utsavam

August 11, 2019

Chennai’s ABHAI (Association of Bharatanatyam Artistes of India), initiated in 1987 by Pakkirisamy Pillai was to encourage, amidst the highly competitive performance scenario, camaraderie among Bharatanatyam artistes. Since last year, ABHAI, in a friendly sensitive gesture, has mounted ‘Pravasi Utsavam’ solely meant for presenting proficient Bharatanatyam dancers settled abroad - who find it difficult to procure performance opportunities during the Season with its crowded calendar. And no matter how many opportunities for dancing one has in various countries, to present a Bharatanatyam recital on its home soil, has its own special appeal.

After a brief invocation sung by Uma Namboodiripad Satyanarayana invoking Dakshinamurthy, followed by dancer Roja Kannan’s (President of ABHAI) very concise welcome address, the festival at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan in Chennai, had USA settled Lavanya Raghuraman trained by the Dhananjayans in Bharata Kalanjali presenting the curtain-raiser recital.  Beginning with a salutation to Nritta Ganapati as Parabrahma  swaroopam, the dancer went on to the Swarajati (Nrityopaharam for the Dhananjayan school), Sakhiye  inda  velaiyil in Anandabhairavi, with zippy teermanams and the expressional part of the nayika cajoling the sakhi to go as a messenger of love to fetch Rajagopalaswamy residing in the holy town, rendered with the confidence of a frequent performer. She finished with abhinaya in the Javali Sarasamulade  denduku in Kapi, the nayika trying to dodge the advances of the over eager nayaka for neither time of day nor the lack of privacy added up to an opportune moment for romance.

Ananga Manjari

Lavanya Raghuraman
Ananga Manjari, a Peruvian trained under Shankar Kandasamy in Malaysia, apart from stints under dancers like Renjith Babu and Vijna in Chennai, took up the varnam in Shankarabharanam, Sakhi  inda  jalam  enadi  endan  samiyai  vara  solladi - her neat movement profile characterised by a very erect back and tip-toed, toe-heel movements particularly in the kudittumettu, very indicative of her Ballet background.  Her interpretative part, very precisely word /gesture oriented, at times missed out on the bhavartha of a sentence – not surprising in one not born to the language of the sahitya.  Particularly towards the finish of the next concluding item Shankara  Srigiri in Hamsanandi, the high vaulting physicality of the movements with leg kicks backwards and frontal, along with the stillness and balance in the frozen stances, obviously came from the balletic past.

The next dancer again settled in the USA, Jyotsna Vaidee, a student of Prof. C.V. Chandrasekhar and other teachers from the Kalakshetra alumni like Katherine Kunhiraman, veered away from the orthodox repertoire, and started with an ode to Mother Earth - Prithvi - based on the Prithvi Suktam set to music in Nagaswaraawali,  by Snigdha Venkatramani, with the dancer’s own choreography. The theme of Mother Earth with her life chain where each form of life while feeding off her bounty is interconnected with other forms in a give and take association, did not emerge as a very clear, communicative statement. Ardhanari  Ashtakam with Shankaracharya’s Champeya  gauraartha  shareera  kayai slokam bringing out the male/female principles in the unified Shiva Parvati entity, apart from the dancer being unsteady in the frozen postures, also became a case of missed opportunity in the rendition, the dancer not making full use of the dramatic power of the complement of contrasts. Even the Sindhubhairavi  Gita Govind ashtapadi Yahi  Madhava  Yahi  Keshava seemed low key. One was left with the feeling that the best of the dancer had not been seen.

Ruta Uttarkar

Jyotsna Vaidee
The last part of the evening presenting Ruta Uttarkar, a disciple of Dr. Rathna Kumar, Director, Anjali Centre for Performing Arts, Texas, was followed by the most heart warming conclusion for the festival, with the guru herself presenting some abhinaya items. Ruta’s very peppy start with the He  Gajanana in highly Sanskritised Marathi, was followed by the centrepiece of the recital based on Lalgudi Jayaraman’s music composition Angaiyar  Kannee, with its statements evoking the power of female divinity. Despite a foot-sure and animated dancer with qualified accompanists, the item clearly showed the absence of adequate rehearsals ensuring team synchronisation - the dancer and the talented singer Mriduravalli from Hyderabad finding themselves at odds with missed cues in the music.  Rathna Kumar providing the nattuvangam lead, seated on a chair behind the raised platform for the musicians, was unable to interact with the singer to provide timely cues.  A pity, for each of the performers did not lack for prowess. I found in Rathna Kumar’s own Bharatanatyam choreography (as rendered by the disciple), not the typical Vazhuvoor brand of her Guru K.J. Sarasa’s school, as much as an unconscious seasoning of Kuchipudi overtones, coming from Rathna Kumar’s long career in that dance form under Dr. Vempati Chinna Satyam - and one is not referring to the dance technique which was flawless, as much as the gait, and tone of rendition.

It is on rare moments in the present scenario that one gets to experience the effulgence of manodharma in abhinaya – which Rathna Kumar provided for us in her presentation. Devoting the recital to her recently departed mother and her guru K.J. Sarasa, the two people who kindled in her when a young child the craze for dance, the dancer’s mellow expressions right from the Arutpa homage, provided hints of intense moments to follow. Rathna began with a special Annamacharya composition, the intricacies of the poet’s Telugu having been explained fully to her by critic V.A.K. Ranga Rao years back. Set to ragam Vagadeeshwari, Nakuncheppare  Valapu  Telupu shows the lovelorn nayika confused and unable to understand her feelings. Was love as deep as a well or as high as the moon above? Were the arrows of Cupid bright or sharp? Was her beloved Lord Venkatesha coming to her or was he going to the cuckoo? The dance interpretation of the confused nayika was superb, and how well Mriduravalli’s singing echoed the mood of the poetry!

Presented for the  second time during the evening, Kshetrayya’s padam Sarasamulade denduku in Kapi could not have been bettered in catching the myriad tones of the young Nayika - not averse to romance but embarrassed by the advances of the impatient  hero in broad daylight with the curious, gossipy world all round. At first shyness and hesitancy followed by annoyance at his persistence, not wanting to become  the subject of gossip, but with eagerness for  love’s fulfilment not leaving her – the mercurial attitudinal shades were deftly caught in Rathna’s interpretation. The dancer also mentioned her still vivid memories of herself as a twelve year old watching Gowriamma present this item.

Rathna Kumar

Another delightful exposition was the Kshetrayya padam in Navroz, Eela  vaccitive, etuvanti  saamine  dabbasi  yeelagu  Kaalla  denee.  The experienced nayika well versed in the ways of love, chides the young heroine for deserting the lover after having had a tiff with him. “How did you have the heart to move away from one of such high esteem? How did your feet move at all?” she demands indignantly.

Rathna, going down memory lane, narrated how her mother still in her teens, learning music from a guru of the Tyagaraja parampara, was told to make a tune of all Komala swaras, for her chosen sahitya - the guru testing her for he believed that she was incapable of composing any tune. When she found that the swaras sung in a tune made doleful melody not suiting any poetic composition she knew, she told the guru as much and he asked her to look elsewhere. Then her mother hit upon Basavaraj Appa Rao’s ‘Yashodhara Vilapam’. The music of Komala swaras arranged as she conceived in the raga Kanakangi seemed to ideally suit the words Lepanaina  lepalede expressing Yashoda’s plaint when Akroor mentioned that Krishna was not her biological son.  Anguished Yashoda wonders if all her vatsalya lavished on child Krishna has been in vain. The young teenager’s musical acumen in the way the tune in Kanakangi is composed, the manner of the singer’s exquisite accompaniment with the minimal instrumental touches, and the dancer’s intensely felt interpretation were all of a class – to be cherished – making for  a very moving exercise. If this marks Rathna’s first attempt at getting back to performing after a seven year absence, one can only say, “More of it, please.” The years away from performing, with whatever life has had to offer, have added a special sensitivity to her abhinaya, enriching it with a piercing quality of conviction. Altogether an unforgettable evening!

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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