From zero to ten in a step
A galaxy of dancers played out the theme of numbers at the Sangeet Natak Akademi’s annual festival in Hyderabad.
Photo: Nagara Gopal
impressive Rajashree Shirke and her troupe
More than just Parliament was involved with numbers, when Sangeet Natak Akademi’s annual festival of choreography played out the theme of ‘Sankhya’ (numbers) at Rabindra Bharati of Hyderabad, with Shankarananda Kalakshetra and the Department of Culture, Government of Andhra Pradesh.
In the integrated Indian wisdom, numbers garbed in aesthetic expressions, mysticism and symbolism are more than dry arithmetic, and choreography based on it would be expected to inventively explore and play around the theme, instead of the conventional Trimoorti or Dashavatar rendition.
Bharati Shivaji’s Mohiniattam choreography constituted a straightforward Dashavataram with three dancers in eye catching Mohiniattam formations, and the repetitively simplistic Dasha Pushpa offering 10 kinds of flowers to Shiva. The Kamboji, Kalyani, Todi, Atana, Surati et al music in the over-loud crowding of edakka, maddalam, veena and cymbals with Sadanam Radhakrishnan’s vocal support detracted.
Raja-Radha Reddy’s duet round the number two was a dressed-up version of the usual Rasa Shabdam, and Arjuna’s mental conflict on the field of Kurukshetra — the Purusha/Prakriti, lasya/tandava complementing contrasts implied in the male/female duo.
It is in the abstract treatment of number nine with six excellently trained Bharatanatyam dancers whose bodily attitudes alone, in synchronised discipline, evoked rasa, sans sahitya — barring one line mentioning the rasa and its sthayi bhava — that Ananda Shankar’s Navarasa choreography scored, spurred by Prema Ramamurthy’s imaginative score eloquently sung by Venu Madhav and assisted by competent accompanists. A male dancer’s Kathakali-like Bharatanatyam provided the contrast, giving a fillip to rasas like Veera, Raudra and even Bibhatsa.
Rajashree Shirke of Mumbai harnessed the classical idiom of Kathak for the theme “Chatur Veda”, the Katha-vachak treatment incorporating Bharata’s four ‘vritti-s’. Woven round four incidents from the Mahabharata, the excellently trained group transformed with lightning speed from Arjuna to Brihannala to Gandhari, from horses to chariot and soldiers etc., with Rajashree the lead storyteller. Music and percussion were evocative. Some tight editing would enhance impact.
Though built around the familiar Trimoorti theme, Shashadhar Acharya’s Chhau choreography, for a vast group, intelligently drew on all the three forms of traditional vocabulary of Seraikella, Mayurbhanj and Purulia. Acharya’s drumming was crucial to the production which in totality held audience attention, despite dancers of unequal trimness. The deadpan faces with no animation, perhaps induced by the generally mask-covered Seraikela routine, was a drawback.
The Kathak Kendra production showcasing Sapta (seven) Avarta, conceived by Prerana Shrimali, explored the orbits and cycles as earth revolved round the sun with the five senses in play during the seven-day week, each day presided over by a planet. Shubha Mudgal’s voice on tape was particularly evocative as in the Kabir song (for guru in Budha) and if the technique-oriented dancers had commanded equal abhinaya involvement, scenes like that of mother interacting with the child would have registered better.
Swapnasundari’s Shadrutu had the six seasons Greeshma, Varsha, Sharad, Hemant, Shishir and Vasant become metaphors tracing the three relationships of Earth-Woman versus Sun-Man, the Devadasi and God, the Nayika and Nayaka. The highly intellectualised concept symbolising Agamic worship in the temple, with the Devadasi representing Prakriti “pulsating amidst the Brhamananda at the sanctum of which is the Purusha” and the Kumbharthy ritual, and then the human level Nayika/Nayaka relationship, the two-tier treatment heavy with jostling ideas, became scattered. With lyrics in so many languages (including Kashmiri), neither the dancer’s famed abhinaya, nor the Vilasini Natyam and Kuchipudi saw full bloom.
Manipuri dancers from Nrityasharam, Delhi, and the Jawaharlal Nehru Manipuri Dance Academy, Imphal, never strayed from the traditional vocabulary, but choreographer Singhajit Singh’s Ashta Nayika, in a freshly conceived interlacing of the Nata Sankirtan and rasa, was a delight.
Brilliant in concept, execution, music, Anita Ratnam’s “Framing Five”, using modern dance, Bharatanayam inspired movements, Kerala’s rope acrobats and Kalari, wove in the five cosmic elements, the five symbols of Sikh faith, the five pillars of Islam, the Pentagon and the Pentacle a feminine symbol for the Divine Mother. Subtle in its abstract treatment, if the Prithvi movements were grounded, the Akasha movements were air bound. Anita with two male dancers performed to O.S. Arun’s versatile voice, the music for Vayu just the loudly inhaled/exhaled breath. And right through as a refrain ran the “taka takita” five syllabic rhythm. Sadly such abstraction was often above the audience understanding.
Sonal Mansingh’s Shoonya interpretation had the favourite “Shoonya Mahari” from the Buddhist Chariya geeta. The pulsating nothingness out of which comes Creation was shown through nritta sequences — all finally merging in the silence of the void. The other solo senior dancer Padma Subramanyam delineating number one communicated the high philosophy of the Advaita to one and all through her inimitable interpretative ability, aided by the musical nectar of an excellently coordinated team. “Wonderful! But where is the choreography?” was the question many asked. Does choreography refer only to a visual group designing of outer space or can it also refer to a solo dancer’s designing of inner spaces?
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