Reviews by Pratima Sagar  

Photos: Lalitha Venkat

December 18, 2008

Ahalya evolves... 
Contemporary/classical dancer Anita Ratnam shows the way... a way where an iconized Ahalya evolves out of the established fable to a horizon hitherto unimagined. 

The second morning of the Natya Kala Conference unfolded with an avant-garde interpretation though an abstract dance language of Anita Ratnam. She simply divided her dance presentation into three brief parts. From a gestural Bharatanatyam narrating Ahalya's story to an abstract body language dance piece which leaves an open end for the audience to imagine, Anita culminated with a rather arresting choreography which has a dialogue (excerpts from Pudumai Pittan's story of "Shapa Vimochanam"). Wearing grey and black, Anita positioned herself amongst a cluster of rocks on stage and with arresting yet subtle expressions, she chose to merge into the stone once again. As though in a silent and moving revelation and revolution. Anita's presentation of 'Ahalya, the flawless stone' was indeed an example of restrained and yet effectual way of expression. " stone she could be among the elements..." In this Ahalya, Anita immortalizes a woman’s heart and her footing. Anita is my favourite contemporary dancer, who once and again surprises in her evolving artistic journey. 

Sita, a poet's imagination 
Gowri Ramnarayan's poetic presentation titled 'Sita - a spectrum' had her reading out poems written by different poets from different periods that actually depicts how Sita has developed in their (poets') imaginations. With intermittent singing by herself and vocalist Sangeeta Shivakumar, Gowri saw through the many poets' eyes, parallels in other women from our legends like Shakuntala, Meera, Draupadi and the like.  

Poignant depiction
'Sitaayanam' by the Mohiniattam dancer Neena Prasad highlighted the humble heroine of Ramayana. Neena settled on Malayalam folklore to unwind Sita's journey in the epic. Interestingly Neena illustrated the heroine as belonging to Nature… her desire to beget the golden deer leads to a mistaken fate... her nostalgia for the life she spent in the forest during the exile also seems to put the seed of doubt in Rama yet again... she who is abandoned in the jungles with life growing in her womb, brings up the twin boys in the hermitage before she unites into the Nature that she actually belonged. Neena emoted Sita. She did stimulate the audience's heart with a poignant demonstration.  

Songs from the East 
The final show of the day saw story tellers headed by Manik Borbayan who had come all the way from Assam. The Ojah Pali, a folk narrative song and dance was thoroughly enjoyable. The Southern artists and connoisseurs indeed had a treat in this unique form of rendering of Ramayana. Simplistic in language, enthusiastic in presentation backed by echoing song, the great epic seemed to have donned a different fabric of culture. They sang, danced, narrated as though drowned in an aura of bliss that transferred itself on to the onlookers!  

What they said...   
"Thematic conferences always stimulate a dialogue and interest among the artists. Ananda  has done a commendable job in imagining a theme for the present fact when I convened the show way back in 1995- 96, I did come out with the idea of "Purush" in dance. Personally I feel if the presentations oriented more upon the Naatya or dancing and dramatizing of Ramayana than getting diverted to the dialogue on the epic itself, it would have meant more..."  
- V P Dhananjayan, Bharatanatyam guru 

"I dance abroad for a foreign audience and wonder how they relate to and enjoy my presentations. I could understand the same today when I witnessed a performance which had a different language and style that I could not follow and yet could relate to the emotive graces and the effects it releases in your hearts. Well... the audience needs to be as sympathetic as the soulful performances..."  
- Ramaa Bharadvaj, Kuchipudi/Bharatanatyam dancer 

Pratima Sagar is a cultural commentator and critic based in Hyderabad.