Reviews by Pratima Sagar  

Photos: Lalitha Venkat

December 19, 2008

Make way for the anti heroines... 
Clad in white satin, Sharodi Saikia, the Sattriya performer took over the stage on the third day of the Natya Kala Conference. The Assamese dancer brought in yet another illustration of Ramayana. In her own words, "For the entertainment of the commoners, Madhav Kandoli, a 14th century writer, takes liberties from the core version... for instance he explores Manthara's character only to ridicule... generally for the amusement of the commoners."  

Thus, the music and song the dancer used was almost simple and colloquial. With glib movements and subtle expressions, Sharodi could ingeniously bring out the Hasya Rasa. She depicted the shrewd anti heroine who was responsible for the change of course in the epic... she plots, she spoils and celebrates her prospects. Manthara dances joyously as a swan and nurtures a secret ambition of ruling Ayodhya, but how? By becoming the mistress of Bharata!!  

This Soorpanakha was lovely! 
Swapnasundari makes you fall in love with Soorpan-akha. This seductress emerges from Vishwanath Satyanarayana's 'Ramayana Kalpavrikshamu.' And Swapnasundari extends this Soorpanakha on stage in her very own artistic portrayals based on the poet's imagination. The anti heroine of Ramayana reveals herself neither as a divine beauty nor as a dreadful demoness, but as a compelling enchantress.  

The poetic analogies and the dancer's depiction of the same was simply dazzling, especially when Swapna sang, described and expressed the phrases "lola netre" or the one with rolling eyes, of a wanton woman! With more such metaphors and expressive imagery, Swapnasundari herself seemed to have mesmerized the audience! The auditorium roared with claps as the dancer culminated her power packed presentation with Keshavadas' (17th century poet) verses based on Soorpanakha's eccentric character with a brief expressional dance. Well done!!  

Cambodia's Reamker... where Hanuman is in love! 
Sophiline Shapiro spoke about the all pervading Ramayana in their culture and art before tracing a parallel tradition of the art of the Devadasis in Cambodia. Along with her senior disciple, Sophiline aptly introduced the technical nuances of Cambodian classical dance and its unique hand gestures, restrained facial expressions and the movement of spine as the dancer swayed across the stage. 

A brief screening of the film 'Sovann Machha' or the golden mermaid showed a dancer, beautifully clad in shimmering gold costume being enticed by a dancer sporting a monkey mask. The dance was a contrast of a graceful mermaid against a mischievous dancing monkey. This sub plot in the Cambodian Reamker is indeed an interesting facet in the evolution of Ramayana where Hanuman mates a mermaid! 

Lore galore... 
Sitting pretty on stage, V R Devika brought forth a multi media presentation for a packed audience of school children and elders who were children at heart!  

Devika blended Tamil folk dancers, shadow leather puppets and song interspersed with informal dialogue, to the delight of the onlookers. Devika also lured the children into the story telling by making them participate with all enthu!! Ramayana for children could have been nothing better!! 
What they said...   
"Here is a multi-dimensional approach to this oft repeated theme of Ramayana which showcases different facets of story telling. And as the conference is progressing day after day, it is an enriching experience... Any conference convening should evolve into this level of professionalism...," discussed young dance gurus Sreelatha Vinod, Sasirekha Raammohan and Divyasena from the forum called Prayatnam 

"We see an in-depth treatment in the present conference, where presenters seem to justify their demonstrations.  It is also an enriching experience to see children involved in a serious Natya symposium by including a special story telling session. This is how we could inculcate newer generation into the classical arts, those who are otherwise left to cinema and books for their knowledge, by including them in a few sessions. I see the conference as one of the best until today."  
- Leela Venkataraman, Dance critic, commentator

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