P3 - Panchavaktram, Purvajanmam, Prabhu
November 27, 2022
Rarely, if ever, there's one production that leaves one mesmerized for its complete artistry. Rarely, if ever, a group of 25 dance equally well on stage. Rarely, 5 Indian classical forms merge seamlessly and simply, like a bunch of blossoming flowers. Rarely, all other aspects of a huge dance drama work - music, costumes, colors, commentary, contexts and concepts - become one wholesome canvass of arts and aesthetics. R for rarely and R for Reva University on outskirts of Bangalore, just 10 years old. Its Performing Arts and Indic Studies Dept. has put up this all-students production Panchavaktram and thereby hangs a tale.
The tale is about student power and ability. Nowhere in India, in recent decades have I seen such an excellent dance department. And I've been to some, all over, in the last decade. Either they are asleep, or doped out or plain time pass. Govt ones are worse off because they have job security, so why even bother? 30 years' salary is assured and no need to prove anything. Why even teach? Private ones are so luxurious that students at some seem to be in slow motion, like budding armchair intellectuals.
Which is why when one sees a college in Trichy or a private university in Bangalore or in Tanjore, one feels all is well. Visiting them over decades gives a perspective also on how they are evolving. What proficiency students have achieved. And are they EMPLOYABLE in future. Moot point. Do these courses in arts, especially performing arts, get them jobs later? In any parallel industry, be it art or film or even teaching.
Reva's Panchavaktram shows all of above is doable. Youngsters are well trained and exposed. They are groomed and mentored and seeing such a production, one can say they have a future. Of course, when such students come to join a B.A or M.A course they already have some basic training and ability in an art form. They are mostly nearing 20s or plus, so they come with basic skill in an art form. How to mould them and make them shine, then becomes the university's job. It is this job Dr. Vidya Kumari, head of Reva Performing Arts and Indic Studies, is doing well. Of course, without her peers' support, the VC Dhanamjay and the Chancellor Dr. Raju, this is not possible for they set the tone of the university, still Dr Vidya is giving vidya to all.
With a team of youngsters, she has come up with a solid production of 25 on stage, in 5 forms. What was worthy was the grand scale. So when Kathak talent Somashekar, with cute smile lurking through his moustache and fish crown, sits majestically in the opening scene, one feels one is indeed in the presence of Shiva. The backdrop visuals are superb (some look like from Nat Geo! And one hopes these students are aware of copyright issues) and each of the five Shivas acquit themselves with dignity and depth. Even a scary, shamshaan Aghora one, skulls and all, looks real. Each of the 5 main dance styles of India are carefully used with supporting dancers.
Bharatanatyam in red, Kathak in blue, Kuchipudi in black and so on, the colorful canvas rolls by to Odishi and Chhau. Each form is ably depicted - by Rahul Baiju in Mohiniyattam, Subashish Acharya in Odissi, Harshavardhan K in Bharatanatyam, Devesh Nair in Kuchipudi and Somashekar in Kathak. Matching shaktis accompany them in each form and cameos and tableaux roll quickly. The production will benefit by some editing, as after a while it becomes predictable to see each form elaborate to include extra dance portions. Not necessary. The whole production is dance drama with ample opportunity to see or show dancing ability.
To think this is a show by students? It is better than any professional repertory one has seen from any of the established institutions, bank rolled for decades by tax payers' monies. This then is Reva University's biggest achievement. Excellent music by singer Raghuram, mridangam by Vinay Nagarajan, tabla and pakhawaj by Gurumurthy, flute by Jayaram Kikkeri, rhythm pad by Prasanna Kumar, nattuvangam and padanth by Prasanna Kumar and Sharath TS shows creativity at its best. Studio credits go to Ananya Bengaluru. It was team work at its best.
Team work in choreography came through even on the small Seva Sadan stage, when Minal Prabhu's students ably showcased their art. What fine formations. Everyone these days is in a hurry to show off their students, but Minal Prabhu gives each time to flower and grow. From Singapore came Gayatri Sriram, especially for the festival her Shrutilaya with Ananya hosted. Over 20 dancers were platformed in 3 days. Gayatri brought a budding boy talent from Singapore - Varun - and he breezed through his performance. Looking like a deer, jumpy in parts too a la Kalakshetra style, he shows potential. He must however eschew lip moments. Either he sings the whole song or keeps his lips closed! His bio reads like an old, established dancer and if he is already so accomplished at 16, then what will he be at 40? Hope not a burn out.
Burning stubble of Delhi notwithstanding, one forgets realities of urban scape around us when one looks at art in confines of halls. So, does art relate to reality? Do our performing artistes do anything else, socially? I mean not socialising but make time for any cause? Not lip service or tokenism or seasonal promos but a sustained one? Pune is far ahead in such concerns and Rujuta Soman is a shining example. She has for decades worked with the spastics, differently abled and the disadvantaged. This, when she has a full time career in Kathak. Putting up shows and festivals and generally helping fellow artistes also reach out. On a recent visit, she introduced me to a far flung arts space, the Rithwik Foundation - where Shankar Mahadevan, the popular singer-composer has his Pune branch of teaching. A real artiste shows right at entrance. The steps are painted like piano keys! It's a huge flexible hall with a fine stage, ideal for mehfils and solo shows and workshops. Especially workshops. Rujuta does lots with music too and helps many. Pune folks are a contented lot. Busy in what they like to do. Like Bangalore. To achieve goodness in art in itself is a big plus these days with so much jealousy, gangs and groups in operation in most metro India. Art ought to bring out the best in us, not the worst.
Looking at eleven year old Aditya Natraj at his debut at Jagriti theatre, one was fulfilled to see the art of guru K.J. Govindarajan of Sikkil then Delhi, come alive in Whitefield, Bangalore. Aditya is pure perfection without affectation or affliction of ego. A most sorted, stable, sensible lad. Hard to believe he is just 11. His artistry is from a previous or purva janmam. In guru K.J. Govindarajan's senior disciple Deepa Krishnamurthy's tutelage, Aditya shone like a finely cut diamond. The only time he showed any youngsters' emotion was when in the end, his maternal grandfather announced a gift of one lakh to him for his splendid debut for which he got a standing ovation. Seniors rarely get it. The 11 year old perhaps didn't even know what it meant to get a standing ovation. His father Natraj compered the show with a voice that's fit for radio, while an excellent "dream team" (as chief guest Praveen Kumar said) of musicians mystified the evening. Each one in top form. K Venkateshwaran on vocals ably supported the first rate mridangam playing by M.V. Chandershekar backed by effective and evocative violin of Nandini. Ragini Chandershekar, current paviour of Deepa K, came especially from Delhi to be a guest of honour adding much sheen and substance to the evening.
The boy wonder did a whole margam from Pushpanjali followed by Alarippu (what economy of movements), then Jatiswaram followed by Sabdam. By then it was an hour and not a sign of sweat or fatigue or huffing and puffing. With elfin charm and a smile that lurked in a corner, this angel of dance then undertook a 35 minute varnam that proved he is more than a professional or star material. Each portion was well articulated and well etched. No hurry or worry. There's an unhurried quality of dance in him reminiscent of my mother, late guru M.K. Saroja, who used to perform the item he performed after the varnam, Idadhu Padam Thooki...guru K.J. Govindarajan was my mother's singer-nattuvanar for almost 30 years during Delhi days (1960s to 1990s) so it was nice to see how items travel. Even the Jatiswaram and Sabdam took me back 50 years.
Aditya proved to be the find of 2022. A delight, it is difficult to say if he is meant for dance or dance is meant for him. Both meet and merge. He has a deep stage presence and command, even if he is just 4ft tall. His talent stands tall. Gods seem to have chosen him specially to dance. Hope Saraswati continues to be kind to him and bless him more. What more to say?
Ashish Mohan Khokar is a senior critic, author, historian, archivist and an artivist. Active in mainstream media in last 40 years of writing, teaching, filming, mentoring makes him an original voice in dance documentation field. He is devoted to Indian dance.
Pranam to you, Ashish ji, your articles are always enriching and connecting to the artists' world. Nice to hear about Reva University - would love to visit and contribute. And thank you for giving coverage to Rithwik Foundation.
- Rujuta Soman (Nov 30, 2022)
Ashish ji, your reviews always give a real insight of the program and your experience and observations reflect your command in impartial comments and straightforward attitude. Aditya must be a blessed artiste… born to dance.
- Meera Das (Nov 29, 2022)
Reading your article is like going on a beautiful journey, getting to know about the talented dedicated artists. Eager to know more.
- Vijaya (Nov 29, 2022)
Your articles always make for excellent reading, intersting too for a layman like me. Thanks
- Vishwadeep Shukla (Nov 28, 2022)
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