Photos: Lalitha Venkat
December 21, 2008
discovering Rama across the shores
In his innumerable
travels across the world, Dr. Sunil Kothari, dance critic and historian,
has painstakingly documented his observations for over three decades now.
For the present Natya Kala Conference, Kothari brought out one such paper
based on a Ramayana performance at Minneapolis. The screening of the footage
shows a unique open air platform for an audience of 2500 people. Weaving
through the masses, over a hundred Kecak dancers of Bali climbed the stage,
personifying the monkey military of Ramayana. What surprised was the entrance
of a group of petite Bharatanatyam dancers headed by Aparna Ramaswamy dancing
to numbers such as "bhavayami raghuramam..." This fusion Ramayana saw the
very tribal like monkey dance of the Kecak performers as against a refined
classical idiom of Bharatanatyam. Despite the contrasting elements, complementing
each other or not, the critique's observations were basically based on
dancers branching out in further lands to discover newer forms and celebrate
the epics by juxtaposing against their own technique.
movements of Sonal
Odissi diva, Sonal Mansingh, clad in a pleasant yellow costume staged the
unforgettable episode of Sita Swayamvaram. Backed by the soothing lyrics
from Ramcharitamanas, Sonal Mansingh danced to her choreography created
in 1973. In the monumental yet subtly penned poetry of Tulsidas, Sonal
endorses his metaphorical language with her expressive dance. For instance,
at the Sita Swayamvaram, Lakshmana's displeasure is symbolized with the
Seshasai (the multi hooded serpent seat of Lord Vishnu) whose rising causes
an earth shake, until Rama is signaled to proceed towards the mighty bow
of Shiva. Not to mention Sonal's intermittent pure dance that complimented
the choreography. In fact, the dancing of this episode was itself fulfilling
in the present symposium based on Ramayana, where every other presenter
explored varied other facets of the epic.
showed how the befitting queen of the ten headed Ravana would have been!
The dusky doe eyed Kuchipudi dancer from Hyderabad, won over the hearts
with her lucid portrayal of the queen. The traditional Mandodari Shabdam
of Kuchipudi actually tells a fairy tale of a frog turning into a gorgeous
young woman, wooed by the omnipotent Ravana. This sprightly rhythmic Shabdam,
had the dancer also reciting the stylized dialogue drama, giving us a sample
of the evolution of Kuchipudi from the Yakshagana tradition. Alekhya proceeded
with the contemporary poetry of Mallemala where Hanuman in his search for
Sita, mistakes the divine looking Mandodari as Sita herself, while the
heart rending last narrative shows the queen contemplating over the lifeless
body of the mighty Ravana. Alekhya made a picture perfect Mandodari!
Way to Rama
Ra ra...," with a deep throated voice, O S Arun made the audience sit up
and sway to his devotional renderings. With "Thumak chalet Ramachandra...",
and more such gems from the poets of the Bhakti movement, the much acclaimed
singer was a delight to listen to.
energetic, dynamic and the like (!), this year' Natya Kala Conference rose
to a different level. I congratulate Ananda Shankar Jayant for her excellent
synergy in bringing out the theme. In fact, I predicted the same in advance
by knowing Ananda’s enthusiasm and dedication towards art. There is so
much of beauty in treating the conference as a whole, including the lovely
backdrops, excellent catalogue, this very newsletter... all that takes
the conference to an international standard!"
- Y Prabhu,
Secretary, Sri Krishna Gana Sabha
"I am happy
to see a lot of NRI dancers participating in the conference, but missing
the local dancers, especially youngsters. Well... talking of today's screening
of excerpts from Aparna Ramaswamy's video, I thought it was patchy
to put a refined classical dance against Kecak monkey dancing. This diaspora
collaboration should have been to the Kecak rhythms itself which also have
thisram, misram, khandam etc. instead of pushing the pure art of Bharatanatyam
and Carnatic music against a tribal like idiom..."
"Most of us
are busy during the December art season in Chennai. And we happen to choose
from the varied programs offered on the platter. The word has passed across
that this year's Natya Kala Conference is quite happening. I have come
today to attend only to have repented for missing the earlier sessions."
Sridhar, Bharatanatyam teacher
Sagar is a cultural commentator and critic based in Hyderabad.