Whilst the Odissi presentation bespoke a certain maturity that comes from wisdom and experience, in the choreography, the Bharata Natyam performances portrayed vibrant youthfulness, foibles and all, writes Suguna Sundaram
Swapnokalpa Dasgupta’s continued efforts to bring something new to the cultural scene creates magic for audiences time and again with her showcasing innovative dance ensembles and programme at the NCPA.
As Head of Dance-Programming at the NCPA, her yeoman efforts are also visible in the fact that she prefaces the dance performances at NCPA by a small introduction to the programme, specially aimed at schoolchildren from socio-economically challenged backgrounds, with no opportunities or exposure to the classical arts. This is done through an interactive workshop (called Nritya Parichay) by an eminent artist or Guru of the genre, who takes the children through the language of dance, engaging and guiding them through the evenings’ performances every time there is a show.
The Pravaha festival was prefaced by a 45-minute workshop by eminent Bharata Natyam exponent, Guru Asha Sunilkumar, for children from two municipal schools from Mahim. She walked them through what was to emerge on stage that evening in the festival. The response from the children was simply sparkling, and they displayed keen interest in this culturally enlightening activity, subsequently relishing the classical treat on stage with the actual performances.
Pravaha (which means flow, trend, or course), at the Tata Theatre at the NCPA, was a festival celebrating new choreographies, from experiences to creations. The evening was divided into two sets of dance performances. The first half was Sankalan (to bring together), an Odissi performance, choreographed by Padmashri Madhavi Mudgal, and her troupe, led by Arushi Mudgal (daughter of Madhup Mudgal) , with music (pre-recorded) by Padmashri Madhup Mudgal. Post-interval saw Vaibhav Arekar and his Dance Company Sankhya perform in the Bharatanatyam style.
The Odissi recital began with Kalyan, a salutation to the divine omnipresence in Raag Yaman, a traditional homage or Vandana to the Lord. The music and choreography of this was truly divine, enhanced by the evening raga creating the ambience for devotion and piety. The colours of the costumes were resplendent
The second composition was called Teevra Madhyam (sharp Ma- madhyam note). The dominant strain was Raag Hindol with a mishr (mix) of Maru Bihaag, and the concurrent usage pattern was the going away and coming back of the teevra madhyam note. This set, had costumes in a pale palette of colours, beige, nude, pale yellows and pale blues, as opposed to the traditional bright shades of reds, greens, maroons and oranges.
They danced at a languorous pace, to music that was haunting. The delicately-boned, petite Arushi Mudgal and the troupe, comprising one male dancer and about 12- 15 girls, simply captivated and wooed one in this pure dance piece. The lights and effects by Sushant Jadhav, were brilliantly executed and designed. It was a visual treat, so effectively used here. This piece of music in Hindol also showed how classical Indian music can blend so seamlessly to create international music. The percussion, and melody in the piece was haunting. The entire item just left you craving and wanting for more…
The third piece they performed was Tapoi Katha, (the story of Tapoi) a popular Oriya folk narrative, written by Gopabandhu Das. The choreography was traditional, and the music, rich with local flavour. It was an endearing story, and much loved by the audience due to the classic performances by the dancers.
The fourth and final piece was Pallavan, a pure dance piece- brilliant musically and in choreography. The delineation of the item followed traditional patterns straight from the Natyashastra and had the transition from Karana (Sanskrit- verbal noun meaning doing) to Angahar (movement of the limbs- twisting and bending them gracefully) to Laya (speech tempo). It was a mishr of Tilak Kamod, with strains of Jog and Maru Bihaag. The music was amazing, the dancers unhurried, limber, their movements stretched, their upper torsos and shoulders leading a fluid movement that seemed impossible and so sensuous. The rhythmic play in the tishra, chaturashra, kanda and mishra ( 3/4/5 and 7 beats cycle) was mesmerising.
Watching the Odissi performance was in itself an elevating experience. Strengthened by superb music, colours, costumes, and choreography, Sankalan was a beautiful amalgamation of dance and music, each form elevating the other. Madhup Mudgalji’s music used Raag and Taal with so much expertise, it brought the international flavour of a symphonic concert. The drums, tabla, sitar and flute, were all coordinated to maximum melodic effect, giving goose bumps at points.
Post interval saw a Bharat Natyam performance by Vaibhav Arekar, a student of the Nalanda University of Dance, and his dance company called Sankhya (about 12-15 dancers this evening). It can’t be easy, creating a production, but Sankhya had a good one in place. Vaibhav played compere and called the performance Choreographed poetry of the seasons.
He went through Grishma, or summer, Varsha – the monsoons, Shishir –winter, and Vasant or spring. He was clad in a white costume and wore corresponding coloured odhnis for the various items. The thrust of the dance was more a journey within – looking inwards, conceptualised and choreographed by Vaibhav. Lights and design were by Sushant Jadhav, music by Aalaap Desai, and percussion by Satish Krishnamurthi. Pre-recorded. The music was more sargam (a collection of musical notes), than lyrical.
Each section of poems was independent- the only connection being emotion. Vaibhav chose to explain the journey verbally after which the dancers performed, rather than leave the audience to interpret it. The colours worn were the ones commonly associated with the seasons.
Grishma/summer (colour red) was a depiction of the conflict within the mind, in Raga Puriya Dhanashri. It was very well visualised, especially the opening part, wherein a brief glimpse, created the effect of a dancing flame. A combination of lights and laya, costumes and choreography brilliantly synchronised. It was more dance theatre than pure dance. But audiences appreciate the dramatic in art forms as much as pure form.
Vaibhav’s explanation of Varsha, along with the Marathi poem recitation Paaus ala ga ala, greatly tickled the audience He drew a beautiful analogy between the Gods and the elements – Radha as the parched earth, depicting the virah rasa (separation) And Krishna, the blue skies pouring forth, quenching the thirst of the earth. The composition Matwaro Baadal Chayo, in Raag Malhar was very well sung, the celebration of the rains. This item was pure dance form.
Shishir depicted the winter of the soul, the desolation, again in pure dance. A sombre presentation, with suitable gravitas – Quickly moving to spring, the fourth set – Vasant, completing the cycle, celebrating the existence of transformation. This set was pure Bharatanatyam, with beautiful choreography, the emphasis on colour yellow in the costumes, the colour of the sun and hope and newness…there was a segment where the rhythm and the pauses were maintained purely by hand clapping and finger snapping, the sound of percussive instruments silent. This was amazingly well executed, the movement of the dancers in total synchronicity. This led on to the next, a Javali, (a traditional composition in quick tempo, colloquial language and usually erotic descriptive) YeRa Ra Ra Chapora, by Patnam Subramania Iyer. The standard portrayal would be the nayika waiting for the beloved. In an unusual deviation, they had two ganikas (prostitutes) discussing, awaiting and calling their beloved. The piece ended on a joyous note with the dancers sprinkling flowers onto the audience.
In the end, one came away euphoric. The thought that a host of talented dancers dedicated this kind of time and attention to creating these savvy productions, was hugely positive, and bodes only good for the future of Dance. They traverse the bridge from the traditional to the contemporary viewers, leaving something for every viewer to take home.
Whilst the Odissi presentation bespoke a certain maturity that comes from wisdom and experience, in the choreography, the Bharata Natyam performances portrayed vibrant youthfulness, foibles and all. Crisp, scintillating, captivating, Pravaha was a journey well taken.
Suguna Sundaram belongs to the rare breed of writers in English who review Indian classical music and dance. A trained classical musician and dancer, Suguna has over three decades of experience as a writer. Interestingly, her day jobs over the years have been with all things commercial, including being editor of some of the most popular (and boldest) film fanzines. Suguna Sundaram reviews Indian classical music and dance on Xyngr.