IDA’s Natya Samyoga festival
- Lalitha Venkat, Chennai
August 11, 2011
International Dance Alliance (IDA) celebrated its 26th anniversary with its annual fest on August 3 and 4 at Narada Gana Sabha, Chennai. On the inaugural day, veteran gurus Krishnakumari Narendran (who turns 60 this month) and Lakshmi Viswanathan were honored. The theme for this year’s fest was Natya Samyoga, unity in dance. Each group came up with its own concept, some clicked, some half clicked, and some did not. The first presentation ‘Shakti Prakriti’ featured Vidhya Subramanian, Navia Natarajan and Samyukta Narayan, all from the US. It explored the connection between Devi, the feminine power of annihilation, and the earth we live on as represented by the creative – the growth of plants and trees, the animals, fish in the water - and destructive powers (fire). The music was in Charukesi and Ratipatipriya.
‘Vasantha Prabhavam’ choreographed by Rajeswari Sainath, featured Vyshnavie Sainath, Krithika Shurajit and Manasvini Ramachandran, daughters of Rajeswari Sainath, Radhika Shurajit and Revathi Ramachandran respectively. The concept for this piece was by sakuhachi maestro John Kaisan Neptune and mridangam maestro Guru Karaikudi Mani. The movements were a celebration of nature’s beauty - the evocative hues of a sunrise, the dramatic tones of a falling dusk, the shimmer of rain on the leaves, the dance of the peacock, the race of a deer in the rain, the change from one season to next, from night to day, from planting of seeds to sprouting of new leaves to profusion of blooms in springtime. The item was performed to instrumental music. Vyshnavie was very supple like when she depicted the snake. The dancers were good, there were some new movements, but the music was too loud (not their fault!).
The concept, research and choreography for ‘Kaikeyi’s lament’ was by Sulakshana Jayaram who was accompanied by Sathvikaa Shankar, Supraja, Sweetha, Nivedita, Sinitha, Smriti, Shravanti and Kirtana (students of Guru Anitha Guha). Based on Ayodhya Kandam with verses from Arunachala Kavi’s Ramanatakam, the piece explored the role of Kaikeyi in the Ramayana. Her unconditional love for Rama was in contrast to her cold and calculating move in having Rama banished to the forest for 14 years. Later, Kaikeyi is grief stricken when Manthara's true motives are inadvertently revealed. Sulakshana’s abhinaya sequence in the lament was good. The flashback of a cherubic young Rama taunting Manthara was well done, but while one dancer essayed the role of Manthara, we suddenly saw Sulakshana needlessly doing roles of both Kaikeyi and Manthara. The thirashila/length of material (supposed to personify destiny enveloping the character) was too transparent and ineffective when switching of dancers took place, and the entries and exits need to be refined as well. Nattuvangam was by Pandanallur Pandian and mridangam by Mayavaram T Viswanathan. Janani Vishnu, who also composed the music, was singing for dance for the first time and her discomfort showed. As it is, the music was loud and the vocal was rather hard on the ears, and when violinist Vijayaraghavan actually asked the sound engineer to raise the volume right in the middle of the program, we in the audience were quite aghast… definitely not done! As an expert observed, the piece was about Kaikeyi’s lament and hence should have been softer.
During the Cleveland aradhana, Sulakshana heard Sudha Seshayyan speak on 2 different days before a concert, on an episode of the Ramayana. In one story, she said Rama as a lad threw a ‘kal urundai’ on Manthara’s back not to make fun of her, but in the hope that it would cure her hunch. In another lecture, she spoke of Ahalya’s story interpreted by a modern writer. For Ahalya, Sita and Rama are gods and till then, she would refer to Rama with great respect, but when Sita tells her how Rama makes her go through agni pariksham, Ahalya comments, “avan appadi pannaanaa?” and shocked that Rama has treated Sita like that, she turns to stone again. The Ramayana is such that one can make interpretations of the various stories and yet remain true to the characters. “Connecting these two, I felt Kaikeyi has been vilified through centuries. She was like a tragic hero. It had to happen as Kaikeyi was chosen to set in motion the fulfillment of the Rama avataram. The flashback is an innovation I came up with. The young Rama tells Kaikeyi, ‘I did this as a child but I hope she is Ok now.’ I showed Kaikeyi as somebody who almost went crazy but destiny did that to her. She was but a puppet, playing a role meted out to her. She lost all – her husband, her son, her beloved Rama. The past two and half months has been a journey through Kaikeyi’s heart for me, vatsalyam of a mother, one who lived through the stigma of all the disasters, a classic case of destiny played out. But her cry is lost in the black hole. This is the first time I have connected to a character that I believe in. There is serendipity that you chance upon such a concept and for that to be converted into a tangible voice through dance is a personal achievement.” For Sulakshana, this is a work in progress that unfortunately did not come together as a group presentation. She plans to present a refined full length production of at least 45 minutes as an English narrative in the near future.
Devotion to the sun was central in Indian religion and there are many references to Surya in our epic works. Urmila Sathyanarayanan’s ‘Sauram’ was by far the best performance of the evening. The invocation to Surya as he emerges on his chariot of seven horses saw the stage slowly brightening up from dark to a golden orange glow of the early morning and Urmila doing the surya namaskaram. Devotion to the sun god and the effects of the sun on life on earth was portrayed through evocative movements – the water evaporating, lightning, the resulting rain followed by cultivation, from planting the seedlings, ploughing, the growth of the crops and reaping the harvest, ending in the feast of Pongal. Swamimalai Suresh on vocal and nattuvangam was a good support as was the rest of the orchestra.
‘Mihira,’ salutations to Surya who is the Supreme Being, the procreator of the universe, and to Shashi who brings joy and love to human hearts, was the offering by Swarnamalya Ganesh along with her troupe members Deepika Vaidhyanathan, Karpagaveena, Dhanalakshmi and Smritika. When darkness pervaded the universe, from a blazing shell came the earth, the Brahman, sun and the moon, said Varahamihira in his Brhadsamhita. The sun and moon are supreme souls, the natural ornaments in the sky. The planets revolve around the sun, the sun god resplendent on his 7 horsed chariot and sorrow disappears once the moon reappears. Nila Kavuthvam is referred to in ‘Silappadhikaram.’ With so much beauty and life around him, why doesn’t man alone be happy? The words of Varahamihira, Ilango Adigal, Muthuswamy Dikshitar and Bharatiyar featured in this ode to Mihira (sun and moon). Nithya and Vidya were the two vocalists. The dancers wore a headdress with sun and moon on it, making it look like a high school production. Swarnamalya’s costume was slightly different from her co-dancers’ as it was like a below knee length sari in front but like a panchakacham at the back!
The final performance of the evening was ‘Ennamey Ayyanaai’ with concept by Mayavaram T Viswanathan and choreography by Pandanallur Pandian, music by Randini and Roshini. The dancers were Archana Narayanamoorthy, Murugashankari, Sridharini Sridharan and Aarabhi Badri. The piece was about Lord Shiva and his various cosmic forms depicted through mythological stories connected to the five elements. For bhumi (earth), it was the Sita story. Rama wanted to do pooja for Shiva and asked Hanuman to bring an idol of Shiva. As Hanuman took some time to bring the idol, Sita made a lingam out of beach sand which Rama worshipped - Rameswaram. Vayu (air) was the story of Markandeya, who was revived by Shiva from the clutches of Yama and blessed with pranavaayu forever. Jalam (water) was the story of how Ganga flows from Shiva’s matted locks. Agni (fire) was about the argument between Vishnu and Brahma fighting on their greatness. Shiva interferes and asks them to find his aadi and anttam. On their defeat, Shiva takes the form of agni at Thiruvannamalai. Akash (space) was the story of Shiva destroying the arrogance of Daruka by coming as a Bikshandar (Chidambara rahasyam). The orchestra had Randini on vocal, Pandanallur Pandian on nattuvangam, Kalaiarasan on violin, flute by Devaraj, mridangam by Mayavaram T Viswanathan.
Day two commenced with ‘Aham, Thvam, Vayam’ choreographed by KB Madhusudanan and performed with an all male ensemble featuring Renjith Babu, CJ Ajeesh, LR Nidheesh Kumar, KM Jayakrishnan and MR Sreenath. Though the item was rather like a brisk, energetic thillana, there was never a dull moment and the audience showed its appreciation with frequent applause. In the last segment, the dancers danced with diyas signifying the flame of unity and the item ended dramatically in darkness lit by only the diyas. Fortunately, the lighting worked well throughout! How did this choreography evolve? “Radhika Shurajit asked me to develop a concept on unity in dance. There is normally no unity among people; the attitude must match with others or a compromise has to be made to maintain unity. Whatever the relationship, if you don’t feel internally, it won’t work. But our body parts work in unity and because of that there’s coordination and understanding between the senses and organs for the body to function well, though this varies from person to person,” said Madhusudhanan. He used padha beda, drishti beda, greeva beda, shiro beda, mandalas, utplavanas, brahmari and chari bedas, since all these in combination comes together as dance. Music was taken from different tracks and the whole work was put together in two months, with suggestions and help from fellow dancer friends.
Apart from the performance itself, Madhusudhan spoke on some issues troubling young dancers. “If people expect a quality performance, proper support for best lights and acoustics are a must. Our leaders and seniors who have traveled all over the world have seen umpteen auditoriums, stages, light designs and light directors. So why do they tolerate what is available in Chennai, which is so active with dance programs through the year? The quality of an artiste’s performance also depends on quality lights and music. Fortunately, having worked with Murugan before, he knew what I needed, made arrangements and improvised according to what was at his disposal. This was a victory for me, for the lights director and my dancer friends. I love to create and work on new concepts that relate to life. What I did today came through my experiences of working with so many people and I am thankful to all of them.” Well said!
For a change, it was nice to see Kuchipudi style in ‘Tejo Maya’ choreographed by Sailaja, who was accompanied by Arthi Jeyaraj, Aarthi Vasudevan, Varshini, Sivapriya, Sreshta and Janani. Her focus was on Surya who symbolizes life giving energy and Jaganmatha as the destroyer of evil and protector of the universe. She combines the energy of all the gods including Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. The presentation had verses from Suryashtakam and Mahishasuramardini stotram. The orchestra comprised of Srilatha on nattuvangam, SR Veeraraghavan on vocal, Naagai Sriram on mridangam, PV Ramana on flute.
‘Arpan’ featured Smitha Madhav clad in a beautiful turquoise and purple costume and her troupe of dancers. A day at the lotus feet of the lord of Thirumala is a boon bestowed upon a devotee. He is at once a child, a youthful hero and a trusted godhead. This presentation takes us through a day at Thirumala - the lord and his consort partake of various offerings like suprabatham, thirumanjanam or holy bath to the singing of pasurams, kalyana utsavam in the verses of Annamacharya, sahasra deepalankaram, and the day ends in lullaby putting the lord to sleep. The accompanists were Sailaja Sivakumar on nattuvangam, N Ramakrishnan on mridangam, Karaikal Venkatsubramanian on violin, vocalist N Sashidaran who had a huge paper with the lyrics held in front of him at arm’s length at eye level throughout, and special effects were by Eswar. The on and off clashing sound in the background was harsh on the ears!
Conceived and choreographed by Gopika Varma, ‘Radhe Yevide’ in Mohiniattam style had Gopika in the central role, accompanied by students of Dasyam. ‘Where is Radha’ is based on the poetic interpretations of Sugatha Kumari. The world of Brindavan is filled with stories of Radha, Krishna and sakhis. Radha is the soul of Krishna, the rani of Brindavan who nurtures the river, soil, plants, trees and birds, spreading the message of love over hatred. The trinity and three worlds bow at Krishna feet but he bows at Radha’s feet, yet she remains simple and innocent. When Krishna leaves Brindavan, what happens to Radha? Soulful singing by composer M Jayachandran and Sujatha Mohan reverberating through the auditorium would have been more effective if it had not been… so loud!
Contemporary dance by Ramita Ravi, who has been learning western dance in Pennsylvania for the past 11 years, was short and sweet and well received. She performed 2 items ‘Paper Skin’ about overcoming difficulties and ‘My name is Anne’ about the story of Anne Frank, both choreographed by Julia Coxon.
The finale was a special varnam ‘Nada Laya Nritya Sangamam’ with lyrics and choreography by Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam, music by B Kannan, and jatis by mridangam maestro Umayalpuram K Sivaraman. The dancers were ABHAI members Roja Kannan, Parvati Ravi Ghantasala, Priya Murle, Gayatri Kannan, Sivakumar and Sailaja Sivakumar. The item was about religious unity and harmony. The first segment showed Saint Ramanujar climbing on Lord Venkateswara’s temple tower to call the devotees to prayer. Next was the story of Muslim princess Thulakka Nachiyar who developed great devotion to Ranganathaswamy after being given his idol to play with as a child. There is a special shrine for her in the Srirangam temple. The third segment was about 19th century Muslim poet Salabeg, who composed devotional songs for Lord Jagannath. His greatness was revealed by Lord Jagannath appearing in the dream of temple authorities and declaring that the chariot would not move until Salabeg was brought to Puri to join the devotees in pulling it. The orchestra comprised of Sasirekha on nattuvangam, Chitrambari Krishna Kumar on vocal, B Kannan on veena, KR Venkatasubramanian on mridangam.
It was a well attended show, put together efficiently by advisory members Radhika Shurajit and Revathi Ramachandran. The announcements were to the point and helped throw light on what was being presented, without which it would be sometimes difficult to understand the presentations, since these were thematic! As expected, the super quick changing of orchestra for each program was done so fast and smoothly that there were absolutely no delays. The stage decor was kept simple. If only the volume had been more ear friendly on both days, the festival would have been more enjoyable. Dance is a visual art and some dancers should pay more attention to getting fitter and shapelier, otherwise they stand out in a group production for the wrong reasons!
One did wonder why only 2 presentations had unity in its concept (Surya was the most popular!). Radhika and Revathi clarify the point. The main idea of IDA over the years is to bring dancers together to share the artistic spirit. They learn to appreciate each other’s work, learn from each other’s work process and are motivated to attend shows of other dancers. Unity in dance was thus achieved through bringing together on stage, artistes of different dance forms, from different dance schools and even different banis of a dance form.
Lalitha Venkat is the content editor of www.narthaki.com