Wednesday, 29 April 2020

Sruti Lockdown diaries with Rasikas

Sruti has been receiving emails from artists, rasikas and Sruti readers on their inspirations, experiences this lockdown and what they are listening to during this period.

Sruti has compiled this series as lockdown diaries and sharing some of them with you.


The following piece is by Shankar Athreya, who is based in London and is an avid listener of Carnatic music (untrained he says!) 

I listened initially to Abhishek Raghuram in 2011 and then sporadically in 2015. In 2018, I was going through a challenging phase at work, when I had to go to office and effectively keep my chair warm. In order to not get agitated, I put on the headphones and listened to Carnatic music on YouTube. While I was listening to a KVN concert, I accidentally clicked on a Pallavi Darbar concert of Abhishek Raghuram. The Nattakurunji pallavi was mesmerizing and therapeutic. It helped me relieve my stress immensely. Part of the credit should go to my bias for Nattakurunji as a ragam, but Abhishek’s singing was possibly close to divinity. 

I must have listened to it nonstop some ten times. From then on, it was catch up time. Hunting all possible concerts of Abhishek online, pestering all family members for concert links/CDs and the ilk. Regrettably, though I have never heard him live as visits to Chennai are infrequent.

Abhishek is on the top of the list, whether lockdown or otherwise. It’s just that there is no new inventory to listen! I also download concerts on to my phone and listen on the train. The journey from home to work is 40 minutes and it passes like a breeze. It’s not there now, so this is replaced by listening on the desk at home.

I also like Abhishek’s rendition of Sogasuga mridanga talamu. There is a five minute piece on YouTube; the mastery exposed was sheer breathtaking. There is also a Kiravani, Vannanai

This lock down I would really like Abhishek to render all or any of these online for his rasikas

# Sarvesha (bilahari)
#Innamum sandegham padalamo (Kiravani)
# Dikshitar’s Chaturdasha Ragamalika
# Any of his grandfather's composition 

PC: Akira Io

Sunday, 26 April 2020

Coping with Circuit-Breaker in Singapore – Apsaras Arts


Vidhya Nair

A dance tribute was created, dedicated to healthcare and frontline workers who have been working tirelessly to keep humanity safe from the current COVID-19 pandemic.   This was choreographed by Apsaras Arts’ resident choreographer Mohanapriyan Thavarajah featuring the company Bharatanatyam dancers as a tribute using the motif of the flute to depict that melodious music can be produced from one’s healthy breath. The dancers conveyed their gratitude for being able to stay healthy and for caring for those who have fallen ill during this pandemic. This message resonated and highlighted the healing quality of classical Indian dance and was featured as the number one stay-at-home activity in Singapore’s daily – the Straits Times.

Singapore has over 200,000 Indian and Bangladeshi workers living in dormitories across the island with many of them isolated with little to do to occupy themselves. Apsaras Arts joined a movement created on Facebook @Project Dorm where creative content is being beamed to all these workers on their mobile phones.  Several dance performance videos featuring entertaining semi-classical Bharatanatyam and Kathak, Bharathiyar’s poetry Suttum vizhi were shared as many of these workers miss their families and are coping with mental anguish and anxieties.

Apsaras Arts launched their Spotlight Series on Sunday 12 April with two sessions on the Zoom platform. This series is aimed to develop in-depth and interactive discussions on topics within the performing arts with eminent speakers for the benefit of arts practitioners and connoisseurs to gain new knowledge and find common ground. The first session was on the topic of margam featuring four Indian classical dances forms – Kuchipudi, Odissi, Kathak and Bharatanatyam. Soumee De, Shivangi Dake, Mohanapriyan Thavarajah and Aravinth Kumarasamy. The session speakers, discussed the similarities and contrasts between the dance forms and provided greater clarity on the nuances of how a margam is created and some of its central characteristics.   

Watch Today

In the second session of the series on 26 April, three dancers from India have been invited to speak about their legendary gurus. The speakers will share their personal and inspirational insights about their gurus.

Tuesday, 21 April 2020

ABHAI Disburses Relief Fund

ABHAI ( Association of Bharatanatyam Artistes of India) is happy to share the information that we have been able to disburse the relief fund to the first set of beneficiaries which included performers, teachers,  veteran dance musicians, orchestra members and Kalari experts through the 'Artists for Artists Relief Fund'. We are absolutely grateful to all our donors and garnering ourselves for more relief work. Looking forward to the support of all our friends and well wishers.

The picture shows one of our beneficiaries veteran flautist C.P.Venkatesan who turned 101 years a couple of days back

Dharti Ma – Song for the Earth

Shailaja Khanna

Earth Day Network’s 50th anniversary has come at a time when the entire planet is facing one of the strangest times in memorable history. Being isolated in our homes, one suddenly appreciates the simple necessities of life that one has taken for granted – open spaces, pure water, sunshine, basic interaction with other living beings, animals included.

To commemorate gratitude to Planet Earth, nine outstanding artists from all genres got together and despite conditions of lockdown, separately recorded a tribute they entitled Dharti Ma. The track features Carnatic vocalists Bombay Jayashri and Abhishek Raghuram, North Indian classical vocalists Kaushiki Chakravorty and Mahesh Kale, Sufi singer Hans Raj Hans, and playback singers Shankar Mahadevan, Shweta Mohan, MD Pallavi and Abhay Jodhpurkar. The song has been recorded in Hindi Tamil Bengali Marathi Malayalam Gujarati Kannada and Punjabi.

Commissioned by Earth Day Network, the US based organization that operates in over 190 countries, the song was conceived by Karuna Singh, South East Regional Head, Earth Day Network to “unite people across borders, regardless of whether they speak the same language or not. My dream is this song gets sung in every existing language.”

The simple touching lyrics were written by Chetna Shrikant, a Mumbai based singer and writer. Dharti Ma, tujhe pranaam. Tujhpar nirbhar hum, sadeeyon se tumne sabhi ko dee jeevan.
Earth Day Network’s first Ambassador in India Bombay Jayashri shared “Composing the music was easy, it was writing the lyrics that were more a challenge; I was lucky to find someone whose ideas were in sync with mine. These words of Chetna’s moved me, and I sang Dharti Ma as a solo in Hindi last year. Recently, when Karuna Singh approached me again, and said it would be wonderful to record this in other languages too, I thought it was a great idea and a rallying song for all of in India who are facing a very challenging time. I truly feel the world as we know it will change forever. I was happy to record in Hindi, as I had done earlier. We put our heads together and approached other singers who we thought would be best suited to represent the diverse musical traditions India has, as also those who are known to be associated with a humane rather than strictly commercial approach to their music”.

Kaushiki Chakravorty, who sang in Bengali said “I feel happy and indeed privileged to be a part of this very special song, Dharti Ma. I think this lockdown period has taught us to connect with our inner selves; given us the time to introspect and see that’s the actual requirement for life. I hope this song and its message will inspire more people to introspect and do their bit to save the resources and protect Mother Earth.”

MD Pallavi, the very popular Kannada singer, and actress who has sung poignantly in Kannada agreed -“we need to recalibrate our equation with the earth. Hopefully we will emerge from the pandemic as more sensitive beings. It is an honour and privilege for me to be a part of this project for Mother Earth – Amrit’s music is really soulful and peaceful.”

Abhishek Raghuram who opens the song with a beautiful rendering in Tamil said “I do hope this song will go a long way in spreading awareness of how much Nature has given us.”

Twenty-one year old Carnatic vocalist Amrit Ramnath (Bombay Jayashri’s son) who composed the music, organised lyrics translations in the other languages, and also arranged and mixed the music, and video said “the entire song was composed arranged and produced remotely. I tuned each section, recorded at my studio at home, and sent each singer to record and send back. Then we spent many hours in the studio, placing each track, arranging instruments over them, and stringing them together to create the complete song. All my instrumentalist friends were so supportive; Sumesh Narayanan on mridangam, Sayee Rakshith on the violin, Abhinandan David on guitar, MT Aditya the tabla player and sound engineer”

Abhay Jodhpurkar, better known for his Hindi Tamil and Kannada playback singing, sung Dharti Ma in Gujarati; as he laughingly shared, “my first time singing in Gujarati. This multi lingual anthem, sung by such legendary singers, and that too for the best cause possible is really the need of the hour.
Hansraj Hans, “Sufi King” summed up the heartfelt desire of the musicians in collaborating musically under such conditions “we can only appeal to our Mother Earth to protect us; and being musicians we can only ask her through our music”.

Click here to listen to Dharti Ma

Saturday, 11 April 2020

Music Academy Dance Season - Part III

Leela Venkataraman

Alapadma - The lotus unfolds, by Singapore’s Apsaras Arts, with Aravinth Kumaraswamy as artistic director, was very poetic. Starting with the Padma Alarippu, to segments built around the multi-faceted symbolism of the lotus signifying creation (srishti sarasija mythology, pada pankaja) romance (leela kamala), iconography (alankara ambuja) and sahasra padmam (human wisdom). What showed the dance to great advantage were the allied disciplines—the excellent lighting effects and the costuming, which were professional, adding up to one of the best productions one has seen of this group. Captivating and of great significance was the music composed by Aravinth Kumaraswamy, Chitra Poornima, Satish and Rajkumar Bharathi with the melodious rendition by the singers. And what a nattuvangam expert in Sheejith Krishna! With V. Vedakrishnan (mridangam), Ganapathi Venkatasubramaniam (percussions), Easwar Ramakrishnan (violin), Sruthi Sagar (flute) and Kasturi Sahadevan (veena), the musical team had the best of artists.

Young dancers

The younger brigade of dancers was particularly impressive. Youngest, Mahati Kannan, niece and disciple of dancer Padma Subrahmanyam, has all the talent, equipped with scholarly inputs including musical and dance knowhow. Her centrepiece, the varnam  Ka va Venkataramana, in Ramapriya raga set to Adi tala, choreographed by her guru, showed the young dancer at her best,  beginning with the ashta-aksharas recited from the temple tower, in an episodic treatment ending with the case of Salabeg, the Muslim poet. It depicted that the stalled ratha jatra of the Lord could be set in motion again (evocative veena and flute interventions of B. Kannan and C.K Pathanjali respectively), only through the intervention of the great Vaishnava devotee  Salabeg. The Sankarabharanam padam Dari joochu chunnadi needu priye projected an innocent mugdha. The dancer’s abhinaya, with time and experience, has the potential to acquire depth.

Meera Sreenarayan, continuing from what one had seen of her last year, enthralled with exceptional prowess in both interpretative dance and nritta. In the Husseni varnam in Roopakam, Emandayanara, the nayika addressing Pratapasimha whom she describes as Kamini jana chittachore (who has stolen so many of his subjects’ hearts) is chided for getting smitten by the one with the elephant-like walk. The meditative concentration and ability to lose herself in the moment imparts Meera’s dance with rare potency. With Indira Kadambi’s nattuvangam, were teermanam flourishes (ideas spawned by the guru crystallised admirably in the rendition of the sishya) like the unique way of dancing the kitataka tadinginatom by executing a circle with the entire body and different feet positions. Leaving certain syllables silent, by contrast, imparted new strength to the accented parts.  Jagadoddharana in Kapi, was followed by the humour of the less known javali, Taru marulade vemi bajari, Pattabhi Ramiah’s composition in Natakurinji. Edapalli Ajit Kumar’s tillana in Jog, with the foot-tapping rhythm to Adi tala combinations of 3,4,5,7 and 9, was also unusual.

Shweta Prachande, commencing from the  salutations to Soorya Bhagavan (music by Rajkumar Bharati, evocatively sung by Satish Venkatesh) showed herself to be a fast-evolving artist, compared with what one saw about a year and a half ago. Nritta inputs by G. Vijayaraghavan added to the impact. The interpretation of Lalgudi Jayaraman’s Charukesi varnam in Adi tala Innum en manam, brought out the quality of Shweta’s movements, blending assertive footwork and laya with springy light-footed agility. The charanam was rendered with tremendous involvement. The dancer was equally convincing in portraying the gossipy onlooker’s shock at the abhisarika, in  Choodare—Kshetrayya’s padam in Sahana.

Christopher Guruswamy’s wise selection of items starting from the Subbarama Dikshitar varnam Enta nine telepudura in Khamas set to Roopakam, (learnt from Roja Kannan) choreographed by Adyar K. Lakshman, showed not just his vastly improved capacity for expressional communication, but also his clean technique with light footed leaps, sarukkal, mandi adavu, and full leg stretches. With Murali Parthasarathy rendering vocal support, Christopher followed with the ashtapadi, Natha harey Jagannatha harey (set to raga Vasanti by Hariprasad) portraying the sakhi conveying to Krishna the picture of desolate Radha pining in her home.  Arunachala Kavi’s Ramanatakam piece, with Ravana insolently querying Hanuman (with the consequences which followed), made for a spirited finale.

Dakshina Vaidyanathan Baghel began with a Salaam daru by Shahaji. Pachimiriyam Adiappaiya’s varnam Viriboni had the sakhi as protagonist entreating Lord Rajagopala to answer the love call of her flowerlike friend stung by the arrows of Manmatha, who is no ordinary female. An intelligent dancer, Dakshina here needed a change of emphasis—while pleading the case of the friend, the sakhi needed to play down her own glamour and personality, while imploring the Lord to help her friend. Karaikudi Shivakumar’s jatis, with S. Vasudevan’s excellent nattuvangam, were performed with grace and laya emphasis. The abhinaya item from the bhajana sampradaya Momu jopura in Behag was moving, and equally impactful was Triveni (music by S.  Vasudevan) where Gangotri represents Saivism, Yamunotri represents Vaishnavism, and above all this representing the all-pervading Brahman is the river whose flow is unknown, namely, Saraswati.

After Dakshina, Kirti Ramgopal’s recital was like a peaceful lake with no ripples of any kind. The total peace in her dance without the slightest effort to project her persona is a quality one does not come across today. Even the varnam in Kharaharapriya, Mohamaginen had the same treatment with no hype.

One of the high points of the festival, with an intellectual resonance, was Apoorva Jayaraman’s Bharatanatyam, which, apart from the dance expertise, revealed the mind behind it. The beginning with Rig Veda’s Nasadiya Suktam posed the fundamental question of whence, how, and what of creation itself. In the swarajati in Khamas, Ma mohalagiri meerude by Namasivaya Pulavar, Apoorva portrayed the smitten nayika overwhelmed by the darts of Mara which threaten to consume her like fire, and implored the sakhi to deliver her love message by catching Kazhugachala Velavar Ettendiran at the appropriate moment. The dancer’s interpretative clarity (trained under Kalanidhi Narayanan and Priyadarsini Govind) was characterised by a measured quality of inner silence and gestural economy, with Satish Venkatesh’s melodious singing never distracting from the dancer. In the nritta interludes, Apoorva’s innovative flair in the movement units radiated originality. Jayashree Ramanathan (nattuvangam), Siva Prasad (mridangam) and Easwar Ramakrishnan (violin)  were all supportive.

It was a changed Parshwanath Upadhyhye one saw, the savoured slowness of his abhinaya in the Quartet’s varnam Sarasijanabha in Kambhoji choreographed by his guru Sudharani Raghupathy, quite unlike the razzmatazz of his earlier presentations. One felt the inner stillness in moments showing Nee padame gati naanu raa as well as in phrases depicting padakamala, kamalanabha, and kamalasana. A very mature performance!

Pavitra Bhatt made an arresting start with Adi Sankaracharya’s Subramanya bhujangam, a ragamalika set basically in Misra Chapu excepting for the first sollukattu in Adi tala. It was good to see the dancer taking up a Tanjavur Quartet swarajati set to Chakravakam, with the nayika pining for Brihadeeswara. He had the right support in singer Venkatesh Kuppuswamy, and the jatis with Kalishwaran Pillai’s nattuvangam, sparkled with the dancer’s emphatic footwork and forceful movements. His rendition of Gopalakrishna Bharati’s Vazhi maraitirukkude, had emotive strength though the gesture showing the bull—held close to the body—failed to convey the message that the bull, like a mountain, was blocking his view of the shrine). The orchestra included Satish Krishnamoothy (mridangam), K.P. Nandini (violin) and J.B. Sruthi Sagar (flute).

Yakshagana by Sri Idagunji Mele, Keremane Shivananda Hegde’s group, was one of the most artistic presentations starting from costume, entries, stage formations and the way even the cloth curtain, with contrasting aesthetic borders, was held to form a square or loops around the characters. Vali Moksha, in an abridged form, brought out all the salient features of the characters involved. What a singer in Anant Hegde Bhagwah, with mellow chenda and maddala support from Krishna Yaji and Marasimh Hegde! Unfortunately, a large part of the audience started leaving. Surely Kannada is not difficult for the Tamilian to understand!

Absolutely brilliant was Vaibhav Arekar’s choreography and conceptualisation of Shrimant Yogi, on the life of Karmayogi Shivaraj Maharaj. This was dance theatre at its best and the ability to present the story without ever personifying the enemy in dance (crushing Mughal rule of the time was suggested through the sound tape and music), and scenes like the dancers hands tapping the floor with their hands in perfect syncopation to imitate the sounds of galloping horses, showed creative imagination of the highest order. The surprise was the reaction to what they thought was  “saffronisation”in the yellow flags flown—with some people walking out; a typical case of reverse intolerance when people are not able to look at historical happenings without being coloured by the politics of the day! What a pity! This production, as many know, was created much before the present government dispensation was even thought of, the  yellow flags here symbolising Karma Yogi with no relationship with the politics of today. Unfortunately, it would now seem necessary for even the most non-political of choreographers to announce beforehand the time and intention of a production. Such lack of objectivity in the audience is surprising.

Music Academy - Dance Season - Part II

Leela Venkataraman

Priyadarsini Govind looking as stately as ever, presented Muthiah Bhagavatar’s composition Matey, with the charanam largely translated into statuesque poses. The post-varnam abhinaya largely involved some hasya rasa, one on the dysfunctional family of Siva, wherein the vahanas of the couple and their children are all at odds, each a sworn enemy of the other as the lion eying the bull, the peacock the snake, the snake the rat and so on, driving Siva, the head of the family into taking poison! The next was Parvati trying to bring peace between the quarrelling brothers Ganesa and Kartikeya. Amusing, but one missed Priyadarsini’s abhinaya depth in sringara.

Narthaki Nataraj’s Bharatanatyam, without contemporary trappings of the dance, presents Kittappa Pillai’s tradition in all its details. Starting with a sloka and Syama Sastry’s Devi meena netri in Sankarabharanam, one saw a picture of the goddess as visualised by her guru. The Tanjore Quartet’s varnam in Todi, Mamogalagiri konden swami, in a sanchari has the incident of Radha and Sri Rajagopala (Krishna) exchanging clothes in a change of identities, with the maya of division gradually disappearing in the large oneness, suggestively touched upon in the abhinaya. And of course, one saw the famous Kittappa Pillai teermanams.

The afternoon slots

Janaki Rangarajan, notwithstanding the surprisingly poor singing from Nandini Anand (who strangely, the same evening sang well for Alarmel Valli), perhaps due to an nth hour induction with the assigned singer not available, acquitted herself well—starting with the saptatala ragamalika jatiswaram, and moving on to the varnam in Manohari, Samika naatho inta jaala melara. The jatis in the Bharatanatyam format, without Bharatanrityam movements, were well executed. The best of her recital came in the ashtapadi in Behag (music composition by Hariprasad) Kuru Yadunandana, a much-evolved version from what one had seen the dancer perform on earlier occasions, combining restraint with intensity.

G. Narendra, featuring in a solo performance after a long time, proved he had not lost his flair or the spring in his step, starting with the varnam Velanai kaanbom vaareer by Lalitha and Ranganayaki Jayaraman in Khamas set to Adi tala. The azhagunathan atop his peacock vahana, the deva senapati destroying Sooran, and the delightful arudi in the charanam line Kandanai kaana kan tedinen yen manam  ilai kolladu—all had an original stamp. Dancing non-stop for an hour and more, with good accompaniment provided by Murali Parthasarathy (vocal), K. Mahalakshmi (nattuvangam), Veda Krishnan (mridangam) and Eashwar Ramakrishnan (violin), the dancer proved his mettle.

It was good to see Purva Dhanashree provide the audience an exposure to Vilasini Natyam. The churnika and sabda pallavi Tom tanatadiratanadirana in Anandabhairavi, projecting the technique and style, followed by varied extremely subtle abhinaya elaborations in the varnam Sarasijakshulu nee vani in Kalyani, showing the nayika expressing steadfast love for Saundarya Gopala, regaled the audience with the aesthetics of this dance. If Kasturi Ranga’s composition Adadani janmamu ettina portrayed the nayika’s hopelessness and despair about married life without fulfilment despite the trappings of a large house, Sadasiva Brahmendra’s Gayati vanamali in Yamunakalyani had all the contrasting lilt of joy.

Jyotsna Jagannathan could have planned her programme better for, after a neat presentation of Dandayudhapani Pillai’s varnam Mohamaginen inda velaiyil, with the dancer making an exit searching for her Lord, asking the sakhi   Varuvaro solladi, moving on to the ashtapadi Yahi Madhava in Sindhubhairavi  showing Radha as khandita, did not allow for an effective contrast in tone.

Kathak by Gauri Diwakar, presenting her mentor Aditi Mangaldas’ choreography, earned enthusiastic standing applause for the selection of items and the presentation. The textual framework comprising Muslim poets ‘Hasrat’ by Sayyad Fazlul Hasan, Malik Muhammad Jayasi, Mian Wahid Ali, and Sayyad Mubarak Ali Bilgrami was on Radha and Krishna.  Resonance, an abstraction set to Teental in raga Kafi, was based on the sound of Krishna’s flute. The music in score and the full-throated vibrant singing by Samiullah Khan in Sahana and Suddha Sarang added tremendous verve to the dance which abounded in grace, perfection and emotive delicacy. The choreography was such that all the Kathak ingredients and bandishes, naturally flowed through the compositions, in different contexts.  Bilgrami’s poetry was used as a kavit.  Hariho gati meri in Bairagi and Miyan ki Todi comprised the finish. Yogesh Gangani (tabla), Aashish Gangani (pakhawaj) and Ravindra Rajput (flute)  provided the right support.

--- to be continued 

pc: Music Academy

Wednesday, 8 April 2020

From the Editor

Dear Sruti readers,

This is the time of the month when we send Sruti magazine by post, and you 
look forward to receiving your copy.  This time, because of circumstances beyond 
our control we are really sorry that it's not going to be so. 
As all of you are aware, the corona Covid 19 virus has been playing 
havoc around the world and we are no exception. 

Even as we were working towards the monthly deadline,  the lockdown was declared 
and 144 imposed in Tamil Nadu. Although completing  the work was paramount 
in our minds, we realized that as responsible citizens we had to follow 
the government directives and appeals. As Safety and Well Being are top on the 
priority list, we are all homebound to ensure that we follow the rules, 
and play our part in containing the spread of the deadly virus. 
We hope and pray for better days soon, and hope to bring to you 
your favourite magazine after the lockdown is lifted.
Be safe at home and take care. Be creative, sing, dance, 
paint, solve puzzles, listen to music, watch dance videos, 
and spend time with your family. 
Meanwhile keep reading the Sruti blog, watch our YouTube channel, 
and visit our Facebook and Instagram. Let's all hope for the best.

S. Janaki
Sruti Magazine

Saturday, 4 April 2020

The Music Academy Dance Festival Some impressions

SEASON 2019-20 - Part 1

Leela Venkataraman

The inauguration ceremony at the Music Academy’s 14th Dance Festival struck the right notes. Senior Bharatanatyam dancer Priyadarsini Govind was conferred the title of Nritya Kalanidhi 2020, and in her acceptance speech, she  thoughtfully thanked both—the legendary traditional families who had bestowed on India the great art of natya, and the later non-traditionalists who had worked to make the art suit the social and proscenium compulsions of the time, which had enabled dancers like her to take to the art form of Bharatanatyam. Chief guest Mark Van de Vreken, Consul General of the Kingdom of Belgium, Chennai, said he was working on increasing cultural exchange programmes between India and Belgium. Not the least was the thanksgiving by Sujatha Vijayaraghavan, member of the executive committee, wherein she meticulously mentioned every department contributing to the mounting of the mammoth festival.

With the scheduled 8.30 am start on the first three days, featuring panel discussions on Spirituality and classical dance, Insights and adaptations from folk dance and theatre, and The evolving classical dance pedagogy, followed by performances in the main auditorium right up to 12.45 p.m., with the newly added post-lunch break recital from 2 pm to 3.15 pm, then again the final evening recitals from 6 pm to 9.15 pm—it was a daunting timetable for even the most ardent dance lovers. That all the sessions attracted good audiences, with the evening shows demanding early arrivals to command seats in the first few rows—were pointers to an event that has caught the public eye, and hopefully will continue to do so.

From the very senior to the very young, the selection committee would seem to have cast the net wide in its search for talented dancers across the spectrum, though with some surprising choices.

Among the senior frequently featured dancers, Malavika Sarukkai’s intense recital, evinced high-quality energy, starting with Tyagaraja’s Sambho Mahadeva in Pantuvarali, the dance elaborating on the paramadayakara Gangadhara depicting Ganga during her descent contained in the matted locks of Siva. In the Karnataka Kapi varnam of Swati Tirunal, Sumasayaka, the wonderment shifted to Padmanabha reclining on the serpent bed of eternity, with the lovelorn nayika, a victim of Manmatha’s wiles, ardently waiting for her beloved. Neela Sukanya’s nattuvangam, Vasudha Ravi’s vocal support, with Nellai A. Balaji (mridangam) and Srilakshmi Venkataramani (violin), made up the involved musicians. The best of the recital came in S.V. Seshadri’s lyric Aaparcchanam with music in Bhairavi by Meera Seshadri, woven round a brave ruler’s leave-taking of his mother before setting out for war. Malavika’s visualisation of the subjects enthusiastically responding to their King marching to battle, as the lonely mother looks  on from the balcony, with pride and trepidation, made for one of the most moving scenes. With Malavika’s known relish for rhythm and footwork, C.V. Chandrasekhar’s Laya in raga Durga made a fine ending.

The audience loved having Alarmel Valli back on stage after a period of forced absence, looking fresh and taking off from where she had left. Dance inspired by poetry has to become poetic to stand out. The evening commenced with Scents of the Earth, with its dance images stirred by verses from Ritu Samhar, from Bharatiyar’s songs, from verses for harmony from the Atharvana Veda—all serenading nature in a variety of hues, set off by Rajkumar Bharati’s ragamalika score. Valli’s varnam Kana aavalanen with Prema Ramamoorthy‘s ragamalika music, incorporated the sensual and the sacred in the nayika’s love, with spring beckoning, for her peerless Lord Siva Chidambaranatha in Tillai. One salutes Valli’s sensitive selection and moving rendition of Pushpam Vilapam by Karunasri Jandhyala Papayya Sastry, describing the plaintive cry of a flowering plant.

Stage presence with the ability to communicate across cultures, are Rama Vaidyanathan’s plus points—she had designed her presentation as a beautiful bouquet of compositions in praise of Lord Subramanya. Subrahmanya bhujangam as invocation, performed to singer Sudha Raghuraman’s fine score in Chalanata, set the tone, narrating aspects of the deity, starting from his unusual birth. The concluding composition based on Devaraya Swamigal’s ragamalika Kanda Shashti Kavacham came as a soulful offering to Kartikeya, a deity dear to Tamil hearts.  Dandayudhapani Pillai’s varnam in Poorvikalyaani Swamiyai azhaittodi va, in the brilliant teermanams composed by the late Shivakumar saw Rama at her nritta best, with fine nattuvangam by S. Vasudevan. But the dancer endlessly spinning out statements like taamadam seyyalaaguma amounted to self-indulgence, naturalistic expressions and mannerisms (which all dancers have in some measure) at times overwhelming stylised interpretation. And the singer setting off on her own musical forays disturbed the togetherness of dance and music.

For choreographic originality, none could beat Praveen Kumar with his unique  interpretation of Muthiah Bhagavatar’s daru varnam Matey malayadhwaja in Khamas. His jatis were a class by themselves, each fitting with the sahitya it follows.  Equally rare were the other compositions with the Suddhananda Bharati composition in Durga, Aadum azhagai parade Ambalavan, where like a lakshana geeta, movement theory is touched upon—kaikalin vazhiyinil kangal irandum sella (where the hands go, there the eyes follow)! Subramania Bharati’s composition Teertha karaiyiniley showed for a change, the love-struck hero waiting eagerly for the nayika who fails to turn up. In the Purandaradasa devarnama Yasoda amma ettikkolamma (carry me Amma), the oft-heard cry of little ones, was sensitively interpreted. Armed with his immaculate technique, Praveen is fast evolving into one of India’s finest Bharatanatyam performers. He had a fine singer in D.S. Srivatsa, with nattuvangam by D.V. Prasanna Kumar, mridangam by Lingaraju, and flute and violin by Mahesh Swamy and Mandya Nagaraj—all in perfect agreement.

Bijayini Satpathy took the Music Academy floor on an auspicious day—the birthday of guru Kelucharan Mohapatra. She could have dedicated her recital to the great guru, instead of which she made the announcement dedicating the programme to register her opposition to the CAA. While she has every right to her opinions, one wondered if a dance/music festival which brings so many people together in like-minded enjoyment of the arts was the place to make an announcement, which in a palpable manner (even while there was clapping) brought in a feeling of the ‘we’ and the ‘they’. There are other platforms for voicing political views.

Starting with Kelucharan’s Mohapatra’s mangalacharan with Syamala dandakam as stuti, Bijayini rendered Srimati (choreographed by Surupa Sen with music by Raghunath Panigrahi) where a woman makes her beauty an offering to the Lord. While Bijayini’s Odissi is in a class of its own, I was surprised at the plain green costume with a small border which had nothing of the Odisha textile or design. The ashtapadi Sakhi he Kesi mathanam udaram, as choreographed by Surupa, was followed by the dramatic Seeta haran narrating the abduction of Seeta and the sacrifice of Jatayu who tries to rescue her from the clutches of Ravana. 

Having seen the same item performed by Bijayini ten days earlier at the Bharati Vidya Bhavan, I felt the old magic was missing, despite her singer Jateen Kumar Sahu being in better form than he was during the earlier performance. 

The standing ovation notwithstanding, for those who had witnessed the earlier performance, the best of Bijayini was, for some inexplicable reason, absent.

- to be continued in the next part.