Giving form to the formless
Expressing a theme through group representation poses a variety of challenges. This week three performances went on the boards in Delhi.
SCINTILLATING COMPOSITION A scene from `Buddhavatara' a choreographic production in Bharatanatyam directed by Siri Rama. Photo: S. THANTHONI
Abstract themes, while allowing freedom for dance exploring, are not easy to anchor in visual images. And between the dance drama and a group expression, the choreographer used to thinking in solo terms, is caught in a bind. The production Shabdabrahman, crystallized with scholarly inputs from Professor Satkari Mukhopadhyay, presented by Nrityaranjani at the Kamani, revolved round the theme of the universe as the nirguna (formless) manifestation of the cosmic sound Om - its saguna manifestation being Shiva/Nataraja. To contain the wealth of ideas the concept enshrines, in a tight dance production of an hour and 10 minutes, meant incisive, well-crafted and suggestive group images, rather than the representational dance-drama type of expression the visualiser, Guru Kanaka Srinivasan, opted for.
The Pancha Bhootas (five cosmic elements) entering could have made for compelling group sequences, instead of the rather tame highly repetitive movements danced solo except for the Prithvi sequence. The appearance of the nine planets was imaginatively set. Too many amateur dancers parading with no definitive part except as bystanders was unnecessary. Thematically
related individual sequences hung separately, the entirety not threading into a unified theme. Siva in his outer stillness and inward alertness ready to erupt in smouldering passion needed strong dancing which lack of balance in the dancer's stances rather diluted.
Recorded, vocalist Sudha Raghuraman's painstakingly composed music with Sivakumar's jatis, through poor sound balancing with overloud percussion, except for the softer edakka portions, made the shabda or word, so seminal to this theme, go unheard.
So while Sudha's Todi or Surati or Nattakuranji mode was clear, the words were not, the exception being the Aakaasham part with a male voice reciting the shloka. The idea of stringing aksharas into a kavutvam composition was innovative. In the end, good ideas but no compelling dance images.
At Tiruvalluvar Arangam Sunaina's (Society for the Upliftment of National Arts of India) Krishna Leela Tarangini devised by Kanaka Sudhakar, presented under the aegis of Delhi Tamil Sangam and the Sangeet Natak Akademi, featured the same formulaic opulently costumed dance drama manifestation with Sudhakar's many students. For a production based on saint/composer Narayana Teertha's magnum opus, the temptation to borrow heavily from the Kuchipudi tradition specialising in his compositions resulted in a kind of mixed Bharatanatyam/Kuchipudi flavour. Tagged on were also Swatii Tirunal's tillana in Dhanashree and a much-rendered Balamurali tillana (played without
laya on the veena).
While dancing with rhythmic conviction, some of Sudhakar's disciples need to straighten the back and hold the araimandi correctly with out-flanked knee bend. Arya Ramesh as little Krishna was by far the most impressive, and also convincing was the adult Krishna, Sivaramakrishnan. Music sung by Vidya Srinivasan in a plethora of rakti modes like Todi, Neelambari, Dhanyasi, Desh, Attana, Mohanam etc. notwithstanding, the veena and flute with uncertain sruti and laya created indifferent melody moments despite Kanaka Sudhakar's nattuvangam clarity.
Dance drama at its best
`Buddhavatara' was dance drama at its best, even when an apology for a stage, total power cut with inept organisers unable to provide even a petromax light substitute, made the evening a string of disappointments at Delhi University's Tagore Hall on the occasion of the Fifth Annual Conference for Buddhist studies. But the excellent team of Mumbai-based dancers led by choreographer and teacher Siri Rama, now based in Singapore, created magic, opting to dance on the staircase landing/foyer on the first floor, the lattice work on the windows letting in the still remaining sunset light outside. Scripted and musically conceived by the late Professor V. Subramaniam, Sanskritologist and Buddhist scholar, Carlton University, Canada, `Buddhavatara', from the tautly rendered pushpanjali in Nattai was scintillating. Maya's dream and the Lumbini Gardens scene with the sakhi interpreting the queen's attraction for a baby deer, narrating how in a previous birth the deer king who sacrificed his own life for that of the pregnant deer as prey for the hunter, would be born as her son Siddhartha, was portrayed through some of the most involved dance, with even the youngest deer represented by a polished performer. By the time of the tillana in Madhyamavati, no cosmetic aid was needed to embellish what was clean Bharatanatyam of the Meenakshi Sundaram Pillai line. This wonderful team needs to be seen more in Delhi.
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