Natya Vriksha’s World Dance Day utsav back on stage!

The World Dance Day celebrations of Natya Vriksha used to be a mega event each year pre-pandemic. It was always an utsav that went on for two or three days. The first evening was usually dinner at the Natya Vriksha studio, prepared under the loving guidance of Geeta and Rajiv Chandran’s mothers. Here, one could interact with various gurus and dancers from various different dance forms. The one person whom I met here, became familiar with and have cherished memories of was the late Sunil Kothari sir. The next two days of the World Dance Day celebrations would be workshops in the morning and talks and interviews in the afternoon, the presentation of the Natya Vriksha lifetime achievement award and then the young dancers’ performances in the evenings. It used to be a jam-packed schedule.

Kalamandalam Krishnendu

After the pandemic, the festival was back again this year, in April 2022, but it was toned down and of course, there is still a small amount of lingering COVID anxiety. Day 1 began with a Koodiyatam workshop (held in collaboration with Rasaja Foundation) with Kalamandalam Krishnendu, followed by the Natya Vriksha Dance Fest in the evening. Kalamandalam Krishnendu performed Koodiyatam, and Geeta ji’s disciple Sowmya Laxmi Narayanan performed Bharatanatyam.

Kalamandalam Krishnendu performing Koodiyatam with her accompanists





Kalamandalam Krishnendu with Geeta Chandran

Though I am not very familiar with the form, I am very interested in Koodiyatam. The costumes and the jewellery always make it especially intriguing. The make-up also stands out. The eyes are constantly open wide and become red, and the facial muscles are twitched to express all emotions. The agility of the dancer also stood out as she played different characters, sometimes sitting, sometimes standing and jumping, from her traditional stool. 

Sowmya Laxmi Narayanan (Pic: Anoop Arora)


Sowmya has been dancing with the NV group for some years now and always stands out for her clean, simple and precise style. I have watched her as a group performer and this time, she made her mark as a soloist. She started with her performance with an alarippu in sankirna gati. The stage was decorated, as is customary in Natya Vriksha performances, with mogra flowers and a lamp stand. Sowmya was accompanied by her guru Geeta Chandran on nattuvangam, the excellent duo of K. Venkatesh on vocals and Manohar Balatchandirane on mridangam, Varun Rajasekharan on ghatam and G. Raghavendra Prasath on violin.

Sowmya Laxmi Narayanan (Pic: Anoop Arora)

The costume she wore was red and purple. The piece that she presented had complex and conventional rhythmic patterns, set by Manohar Balatchandirane and choreographed by Geeta Chandran. Sowmya did expansive movements, and eye movements which followed every hand movement. 

Sowmya Laxmi Narayanan (Pic: Anoop Arora)


The next piece was a jathiswaram in raag Purvi Kalyanam, sankirna gati, adi talam. This jathiswaram was premiered in Delhi for the first time. Geeta Chandran had worked with K. Sivakumar on this jathiswaram to set the complex patterns and keep the musicality intact, while embellishing it with counter-patterns. It’s an old composition with contemporary sensibilities of rhythm. 

Sowmya Laxmi Narayanan (Pic: Anoop Arora)

It is a practice in Bharatanatyam to start each piece with the violin playing solo and it really gets you into the mood of the raag. Sowmya rendered the piece with precision in her footwork, hastas, squats, backward turns and movement, covering the entire stage. The perfection of Manohar’s mridangam was enhanced by the ghatam of Varun Rajasekharan. 


Sowmya Laxmi Narayanan (Pic: Anoop Arora)

The next composition was a varnam in raag Todi, aditalam, a composition of Anna Swamy Shastri. The devotee goes for the darshan of the goddess of Kanchipuram. The devi is the embodiment of mercy. She is the celebrated queen of the lord Ekambrishwara. The devotee calls upon Jagdamba to bestow her compassion, grace and protection. He asks Lalitambika when the time is to pray so that he can be honoured by her blessings.

Sowmya Laxmi Narayanan (Pic: Anoop Arora)

The abhinaya was clear and understated. The bhakta asks for karuna and daya from the goddess. He addresses her as the Karuna Katakshi, the one who has compassion in her glance. Soumya depicted the karuna hasta on her toes with the eyes lowered in compassion for the bhakta, who begs in front of her. She took the karuna each time in a different pose, in a broad plie, with one knee bent and the other on top of it in a half squat, exhibiting amazing balance. 

Sowmya Laxmi Narayanan (Pic: Anoop Arora)

The other attributes of the devi depicted were the ardhchandra, the moon spreading its light as the bhakta gets dazzled by it, her garland, her nupur. She is the consort of Shiva. Parvathy had performed penance for the boon of getting Shiva as a husband. Sowmya subtly showed her expressions as she sees him and acknowledges him as her husband. The two opposites unite to become one. One with jata, the other with tresses tied into a bun, one with damru, the other with veena, one for samhar and the other for janm, the third eye destroys and the karuna of Ma revives. Sowmya ended the piece with pooja and aarti of the goddess as karuna flows from her eyes and the bhakta falls at her lotus feet.

Sowmya Laxmi Narayanan (Pic: Anoop Arora)

Soumya’s nritta shows her technique and her years of practice—her stretches, squats, leaps, movements left, right, back and forward, moving with her back towards the audience, backward turns, footwork with the beats and percussion. Her hastas indicate a very rigorous practice. Over the years, Sowmya has really matured as a dancer and as a soloist. Her movements are Natya Vriksha trademark perfect and I hope to see her a perfect and confident soloist over the coming years under Geeta ji’s guidance. With the confidence and ease of movement and expressions seeping in, it will be a pleasure always to watch her. 

Sowmya Laxmi Narayanan with her accompanists (Pic: Anoop Arora)

Finally, K. Venkatesh sung a mangalacharan, an ode to Lord Shiva, in his very smooth singing style. His singing is a major boost to the performance of the dancer. Geeta ji patted the musician and the vocalist on the head for their excellent performance. 


Lipsa Satapathy (Pic: Anoop Arora)

The second day began with a panel discussion on Assessing Classical Group Choreography: Past, Present And Future. In the afternoon was a film screening and a dialogue in celebration of Anita Ratnam’s Narthaki completing thirty years. And in the evening were performances by Lipsa Satapathy in Odissi and Abhimanyu Lal in Kathak.

Lipsa Satapathy (Pic: Anoop Arora)


Sukanta Nayak on vocals, Dheeraj Kumar Pandey on flute, Pradipta Kumar Maharana on rhythm, Zaved Yaar Mohammad on sitar and Santosh Swain on manjira.

Lipsa has learnt and honed her Odissi under Guru Gangadhar Pradhan, Guru Bichitrananda Swain and Guru Aruna Mohanty. She wore a turquoise and orange aharyam. She was accompanied by Sukanta Nayak on vocals, Dheeraj Kumar Pandey on flute, Pradipta Kumar Maharana on rhythm, Zaved Yaar Mohammad on sitar and Santosh Swain on manjira. 

Lipsa Satapathy (Pic: Anoop Arora)

The first piece was a mangalacharan, an ode to Ma Matangi. The goddess holds the veena and is the daughter of Matang Rishi. She is shown to be four-armed, with the crescent moon on her head and vermilion in her hair. The music for the piece was composed by Bhubaneswar Mishra. Lipsa started with a pushpanjali to Lord Jagannath. She took the stance of the goddess holding the manikya veena. The veena is studded with precious stones. The attributes depicted included ‘sangeet rasika priye, neel shuka priye’. The piece started with the melody of the bansuri. The movements were precise and complete.

Lipsa Satapathy (Pic: Anoop Arora)


The next piece was a pallavi, in which a raga is elaborated through movements of eyes, hands and intricate patterns of footwork. Pallavi literally means ‘flowering’. It was a pure dance piece in raag Saveri, taal mallika, music given by Bhubaneswar Mishra and choreography by Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra. Lipsa showed great coordination and precision in her movements and footwork with the bols and rhythm, while she swayed in tribhanga. She did the abhinaya for wearing her ornaments. Particularly noticeable were her chakkars. For this piece, her mardala player, Guru Prafulla Mangaraj, has to be given a special mention.

Lipsa Satapathy (Pic: Anoop Arora)


The third piece was an abhinaya piece based on the classification of the heroine into ashtanayika, which recounts the eight phases of the emotional state of the nayika. The poetry and text were from the Geeta Govinda by Kavi Jayadeva, which is an Odia work written in the fifteenth century. The piece highlights the complete surrender to madhur bhakti and it is in the raas leela format of Odissi. It has been developed in Odissa over several years and has evolved since the rise of Vaishnavism in Odissa under Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Here, Lipsa went on to elaborate four nayikas: vasakasajja, khandita, virahotakanthita and swadheenapatika. Music was by Ram Haridas and the choreography was by Guru Aruna Mohanty. 

Lipsa Satapathy (Pic: Anoop Arora)


Lipsa began with her back to the audience as the lotus of her hands blooms. The bee hovers over the flower. The moon is reflected in the waters of Yamuna. The nayika collects the flowers and strings them into torans. She decorates her chamber with the flowers as she requests the sakhi to go and get Krishna. Krishna, her beloved, is the one who wears the peacock feather on his head. She makes the chandan paste in preparation for his arrival and hugs the calf in excitement, waiting for him. 

 

Lipsa Satapathy (Pic: Anoop Arora)
 

But alas, he does not come. The day passes. She is sleepy and yawns and stretches as she waits. She lights a lamp and looks for him outside the door. She is tired and pained, removes her ornaments and in desperation, throws them away. This is the transformation from vaskasajja to khandita. She falls asleep and at the break of dawn, she hears a knock on her door. She gets up to open the door for Krishna but he bears the tell-tale signs of having spent the night with another. She wails, ‘Jaao he lampat’ and shuts the door on him. As she turns away from him, she repents and opens the door but finds him missing. 

 
 


Lipsa Satapathy (Pic: Anoop Arora)

Here, she becomes the virahotkanthita as she pines in despair. She summons her sakhi to call him back. She puts on all her ornaments again and tidies her chamber in wait for him. As he comes back, she responds coyly to his touch and he embraces her. It is a story oft-told, but Lipsa’s sensitive abhinaya lent credence to it and you could identify with the emotions the nayika was experiencing. 

Lipsa Satapathy (Pic: Anoop Arora)

Next, she performed a Mahakali stuti. The truth of life and death is embodied in Mahakali. She wears skulls in her neck and smears the ash of the funeral pyre on her forehead. She is the dark and furious incarnation of Ma Durga. She carries the chakra, sword and other weapons. She is the colour of the blue lotus. She is Shive, consort of Shiva, and Narayani, the power of Krishna. Kalaratri resonates in her body. She is the beginning and end of life. 

Lipsa Satapathy (Pic: Anoop Arora)
 

The piece started with the sound of the flute with the accompaniment of sitar. Lipsa began with a pushpanjali to Ma with a leg stetch and pranam and went on to depict the various weapons that she carries – the kharag, chakra, gada, shool, chaap. As Lipsa depicted Ma holding beheaded demons’ heads in her hand and drinking the blood, her eyes expressed the anger that Mahakali represents. She wears her ornaments, in particular the nose ring, and her body is the colour of the blue lotus. She is the shaktiroopa, responsible for srishti, stithi and samhar. Lipsa’s abhinaya brought out the various aspects of Mahakali as Rishi Markandeya has described in his stuti. 

 

Lipsa Satapathy (Pic: Anoop Arora)

The nritta with footwork and taal, plus the hastas, were admirable and abhinaya is Lipsa’s forte. In the portrayal of Mahakali, Lipsa danced the dance of death as Mahakali carries the sword in her hand and vanquishes the demons. 

Abhimanyu Lal (Pic: Anoop Arora)

The last performer of the festival was Kathak dancer Abhimanyu Lal, son and disciple of Guru Geetanjali Lal. He was accompanied by Pranshu Chatur Lala on tabla, Salman Warsi on pakhawaj, Imran Khan on vocals, Salim Kumar on sitar, Nasir Khan on sarangi, Vinay Prasanna on flute and Nikhil Parihar on padhant.

Abhimanyu Lal (Pic: Anoop Arora)

Abhimanyu Lal (Pic: Anoop Arora)

Abhimanyu Lal (Pic: Anoop Arora)

Abhimanyu Lal (Pic: Anoop Arora)
 

The first piece he performed was one I have watched before (click here for the previous report) – the traditional bhajan ‘Jagiye Gopal Lal’, a depiction of the hymns and rituals used to awaken Lord Krishna in Shrinathdwara, an extract from a full production called ‘Krishna of Shrinathdwara’ conceptualized by Usha R.K. Music and choreography were by Guru Geetanjali Lal. In this piece, he depicted the rituals of dawn and the unique posture of Shrinath ji. He ended the evening with a technical piece in teen taal.

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