A world of dance on World Dance Day
|Dr Kapila Vatsyayan
Padma Shri Geeta Chandran and her disciples at the Natya Vriksha Dance Company hosted the 2015 edition of World Dance Day on April 25 and 26 at India International Centre, New Delhi. The whole auditorium was filled with the scent of mogra flowers which were spread out on the stage. On the first day of the event, the evening opened with a grand book launch of renowned dance critic Leela Venkatraman’s book Indian Classical Dance – The Renaissance And Beyond. Venkatraman is a prolific writer and dance critic, a contributor to dance journals, and the author of several books. She has been awarded the prestigious Sangeet Natak Akademi award for her work and contribution. The dais featured a galaxy of star speakers – Guru Singhjit Singh, Guru Lakshmi Vishwanathan, Dr Kapila Vatsyayan, Shanta Sarabjit Singh and Pavan K Varma. Among the audience were Vanashree Rao, Madhavi Mudgal, Arshia Sethi and many other renowned dancers. People were squatting in the aisles to catch a few words of the scholars.
Leelaji, with her extensive knowledge of music and many forms of dance – Bharatanatyam, Kathakali, Kathak, Kuchipudi, Mohiniattam and Sattriya – delves into the technique, literature and other nuances of these dance forms. She very ardently follows the old school approach to classical dance forms and her candid criticism has always been an eye-opener. “It’s been a wonderful evening on a Saturday. I didn’t think so many people would turn up for a book launch. Do people have that kind of interest in dance, or it appears that you’re writing for the wall, and nobody’s listening?” asked Leelaji. “I have this tremendous urge to capture the last 60-70 years of dance in a book. At least it is on record. Things have slowly changed, though people think nothing changes in dance. But one doesn’t know whether what changes is good for the art or whether it destroys some of the delicate sensibilities of the art form. For that, I think, thinking is necessary. There should be smaller performance spaces where people can do an inward-looking piece rather than doing something big full of glamour, noise, loud mannerisms and articulate things. There have to be silences. Those silences which speak. These speaking silences are lost in the midst of noise and if we don’t capture them, we lose something precious.”
The next section titled Navdarshanam was group choreographies by senior dancers of Natya Vriksha dance company. These compositions have been visited before by Geeta and her disciples, but here, they introduced new movements and formations to each piece to bring about new interpretations to the choreography. The first piece was a mallari performed in a group by Sneha Chakradhar, Divya Saluja and Radhika Kathal. The composition was in raga Nattai, adatalam. A mallari depicts the procession of the deity in the temple. It has intricate rhythmic patterns. The dancers exhibited straight lines and angular movements which were crisp. The next piece was Samyukta performed by Sharanya Chandran and R Amrita Shruthi. The music composition was by Geeta Chandran in collaboration with Sudha Raghuraman and G. Raghuraman, vocals by Sudha Raghuraman and mridangam by K. Shivakumar. The music goes through crests and troughs and so do the movements. The dancers explored slow movements with aalap and the rhythmic movements were executed with perfection.
The third piece was an abhinaya, a javali by poet Dharampuri. The composition depicts khandita nayika, who has been waiting for her lover the entire night. She strings flowers into a gajra and puts it on her head, wears her ornaments and adorns her bed with flowers. She stays up the entire night and he shows up in the morning in a dishevelled state. She tells him that his behaviour is not going to be accepted, that he’s like a flitting bumblebee. The piece was taught and choreographed by Jamuna Krishnan during an abhinaya session. It was in Saveri ragam, aditalam.
The fourth piece was Omkarakarini by Sharanya and Amrita. The piece is a devi stuti in Lavangi ragam, sung by O S Arun. Both the dancers used interpretive gestures and stances with grace, depicting the devi as the destroyer of evil and gentle towards her devotees. Finally, it was a group performance of Nataraja – Natanam Adinar – in adatalam in 14 beats. It was well interpreted as a group choreography by Sneha, Divya and Radhika. The first day ended with the screening of an international film, Vara, which features Geeta Chandran, directed by Khyentse Norbu Rinpoche.
On the second day, the first young artiste for the evening was T Reddy Lakshmi. She is an upcoming dancer of the present generation of Kuchipudi and the disciple of Jayarama and Vanashree Rao. Lakshmi chose to perform to numbers focussing on abhinaya. She began her recital with a composition in praise of Goddess Tripura Sundari, an invocation performed at the beginning of a Kuchipudi recital. The composition was set to ragam Mohana and talam mishra chapu and aditalam. Lakshmi brought a mangal patra and leaf to purify the directions, drawing rangoli on the floor and performing a pushpanjali. She began with an ode to Lord Ganesha.
The next composition in ragam Shuddh Sarang and talam adi was a composition by Swati Tirunal. It describes Lord Krishna’s beauty and his deeds. The story of Draupadi is narrated when she was dragged to the court of the Kauravas and rescued by Lord Krishna. Krishna is also known as Padmanabha or Vishnu, who reclines under the Shesh Nag. The bhajan was choreographed by Jayarama and Vanashree Rao. The elaboration of the piece began with raas, Holi and other leelas of Krishna in Vrindavan. He is depicted with the four-armed stance as the Padmanabha. The story of Draupadi began with the dice game between the Pandavas and Kauravas, and the shrewd Shakuni was portrayed by Lakshmi as limping around and laughing with shuddering shoulders. Draupadi is dragged to the court and Krishna saves her modesty by becoming the sari that wraps her.
In the next piece, Satyabhama writes a letter to Krishna as she cannot bear separation from him. She is the daughter of King Strajit. The breeze, the moonlight, the birds and the bees, all remind her of Krishna. She pleads with him to come back to her. The composition is from Bhama Kalpam in raga Arabi.
The song portrayed in the next piece was about the khandita nayika who is angry with the hero. ‘You seldom visit me,’ she says. ‘Last night I sent my sakhi to get you, but you declined. We have played together as children. I remind you of those days.” The composition was a javali in ragam Kedargowla and taal roopakam.
The next piece was a tarana in raag Mallika, taal mishra chapu and adi. The stories of Putana vadha and Kansa vadha were interwoven. The piece started with the shloka ‘vanshi vibhushita navaneeradha pitambara’ in praise of Lord Krishna. While mother Yashoda feeds little Krishna, wipes his face and puts him to sleep in a palana, Putana disguises herself as a village woman and walks up to the palana, picks him up and suckles him. While the little baby Krishna bites into her, she can feel the pain of his bite, which gradually becomes excruciating and results in her death. The facial expressions in this piece were quite precise. The vanquishing of the Kaliya elephant and Kansa were then portrayed. Finally, Lakshmi danced with a pot of water on her head and a plate beneath her feet.
T Reddy Lakshmi is a fine upcoming dancer in Kuchipudi. Her nritta and its energy are strong and so is her face and body, which expresses a lot in nritya. Her movements have an exactitude about them, though she missed the taal a few times, which her guru caught immediately.
The grand finale of the event left the audience agape. It was a powerful performance by Vishal Krishna. Vishal belongs to the 11th generation of dancers of the Banaras gharana. He has trained under the strict tutelage of his grand aunt, Kathak queen Sitara Devi. He started the performance with a Ganga stotra. Ganga resides on the head of Shiva and has the purest of water. She is Bhagwati Gange, whose praises have been sung by all. She originates at the feet of Lord Krishna. It was a neatly done nritya piece, followed by an interlude of tabla. This was followed by pure nritta in teen taal vilambit in solah matra, bandish, aakash bhramari, leaps, footwork, khula sam, bolon ki jugalbandi, gaton ki mala, jump and a squat for sam, pirouettes, swirling while sitting, tatkaar and finally, dancing on the edge of a plate. Talking about his performance, Vishal said he also did some pairon ki uthan, todey, tukdey, paran and a few special things that his grandaunt Sitara Devi had taught him. And finally, shuddering of the feet to create the sounds of ghungroos, ending with Vishal dancing standing on the rim of a plate. The lighting for this piece created shadows of the dancer on both the side walls.
The sequence of nritta left the audience spellbound since the body that is dancing is young, agile, energetic, flexible, can jump, leap, swirl, pirouette, and squat like an acrobat, plus the strong taal and beats by the pakhawaj and tabla left the audience amazed.
The final piece was a Soordas composition choreographed by Madhavi Mudgal, with music by Shri Madhup Mudgal. Talking about this performance, Vishal said, “The piece is about Radha and Krishna’s first milan. The emotions brought out are the shock of Krishna when he sees Radha, and then his admiration of her beauty. Radha and Krishna converse through the eyes.” In the song, Krishna asks Radha about where she comes from or whose daughter she is, and invites her to come to his palace to play. When Radha refuses to come to Nandagaon, because Krishna is famous as a thief, Krishna retorts that he hasn’t stolen anything of hers. Vishal’s depiction of the first glimpse that Krishna has of Radha, his gaze moving from her head to toe, and finally, the exchange of looks between the two, the emotion of love at first fight, was mesmerizing.
About the choreography, Madhaviji said, “Last year, during a festival, I did a dhrupad with Vishal. And now, he wanted to do some more abhinaya, which is a wonderful thing since young Kathak dancers are not interested in abhinaya. I chose these two padavalis for him, and for a dancer who’s starting out, he did well. I concentrated more on the abhinaya for the piece, since that was the demand of the composition.”
Pics: Anoop Arora