Shades of stardom
YOUNG TALENT It was a week that saw the good and the not-so-good on the dance stage. But now that the Nritya Pratibha festival is over, there are points to ponder.
PHOTOS: SHANKER CHAKRAVARTY.
Arundhati Baruah Singha
As the Sangeet Natak Akademi's Nritya Pratibha festival of young dancers tapered to a close, Bharatanatyam dancer Pavitra Bhatt, a disciple of Deepak Mazumdar of Mumbai, brought the house down with his vivacity, clarity of line and rhythmic talent.
But his guru also deserves praise, not only for conducting the recital with punch, but for choreographing the numbers in a manner suitable to a male dancer. Take the episode depicting the dishonouring of Draupadi in the Kaurav court, during the Meera bhajan "Hari Tum Haro". Viewers were made aware of Draupadi's terror and the sordid behaviour of Dusshasan and others, but without the dancer even once having to take the stance of Draupadi. This is not to say that a male dancer should not enact female roles - such an attitude would go against the concept of ekaharya abhinaya on which Indian solo dance rests - but the approach provided a freshness suitable for today's youngsters.
Saji Nair, a student of the renowned Kanak Rele, gave a Mohiniattam recital full of the vigour and pace characteristic of her guru's style.
The presentation had a tensile strength and exuberance that often get overpowered by the lasya element in Mohiniattam.
EXUBERANCE: Saji Nair performing at the Sangeet Natak Akademi's Nritya Pratibha festival.
Arundhati Baruah Singha's Bharatanatyam presentation was typical of the style of Kalakshetra, her alma mater. Also trained at the Darpana Academy of Guru Mrinalini Sarabhai, Arundhati exhibited nearly immaculate technique and showed how concentration and the pursuit of perfection can help a dancer overcome what are traditionally considered disadvantages, such as a lack of height.
The Kalakshetra technique of Bharatanatyam, uncompromising as it is, is arguably the most difficult, but Arundhati upheld it with discipline. The slightly sagging elbows came as a surprise though, and towards the end, one could see the dancer flagging slightly.
Nattuvangam by Maheswari Nagarajan was strong, but her vocal accompaniment was not.
Atreyee Roy, disciple of Guru Shovana Narayan, brought the festival to a close with a sparkling Kathak recital that revealed immense hard work and a flair for the stage. With her guru providing padhant, she displayed taiyyari befitting the occasion in her footwork segments. In the heat of performance, however, unwarranted mouth movements take away from the charm.
Guru Asha Joglekar, asked to felicitate the dancers one evening, said these youngsters had passed the stage of ambivalence and proved they would never leave the dance, that dance was a part of their life. These were words of blessing from a senior guru, but they remind us of the importance of this festival, which is not just one of many platforms for young talents organised by cultural societies big and small, but a message from the apex cultural body of the Government of India, bringing into focus a particular group of young artistes in whom the nation can invest hopes and funds too. (After all the SNA is a publicly funded body.)
Looked at from this standpoint, the festival could not evoke unalloyed pride.
The responsibility for choosing these artistes would surely rest first with the gurus and then the Akademi. Therefore, if some of them did not measure up as representatives of the best of their genre, the blame cannot go only to the dancers. One would expect quality to be the first and most important consideration in the decision making process, if for no other reason, because the gurus would want to put their best foot forward. This was no occasion to play favourites.
In assessing the students one would be assessing the gurus - their dedication, their teaching calibre, and indeed, how much they love their disciples and the art that nurtures them.
Since these are young dancers with experience yet to be gained, many presentational points (like having a drink of water on stage!) could be overlooked. But dance being a physical medium - apart from emotional, mental and spiritual - it appeared incongruous, to say the least, in a festival of young artistes, to find overweight dancers or those lacking in stamina, rhythmic abilities or other basics.
Another factor that sought attention was the sound balancing every evening. Granted, this type of programme with multiple presentations is tricky to provide for.
It seemed that the discipline by which musicians are required to come early and get their mikes balanced beforehand so the technical crew can make a note of the requirements, was missing.
Though a few requests from the artistes to adjust volume could be taken in stride, where was the need for some accompanists to start asking for lights on them, on the audience as well, and overshadow the proceedings by playing something special as a solo, even while remarking that there was "very little time allotted, even for the children".
Often accompanying artistes do not get the limelight they deserve, and this attitude must change. (For starters, perhaps their bouquets, as a general practice, should not be conspicuously smaller than the main artiste's. And a list of credits could be circulated every evening if they could not be accommodated in the brochure.) But springing such surprises on stage hardly helps raise artistes in the audience's esteem.
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Chennai and Tamil Nadu