Gems shine at NADAM fest
Photos: Suresh VB
December 9, 2022
When people ask me which are, say, the three best festivals of dance in India, or in each metro or region, I have a fair idea and in namma Bengaluru it used to be Kinkini, Nupura (Lalita Srinivasan) and Bangalore Habba but for last few years, it is the NADAM (Nartanam Academy of Dance and Music) festival, then others. A brainchild of Nandini Mehta and Murali Mohan Kalva, this do-gooder organization has been serving art and social causes. For 23 years, this festival has grown from strength to strength and added to the cultural landscape of Bengaluru.
I returned from an ICCR selection panel from Delhi just in time to attend the concluding day of this three-day festival. And am I glad for it, for the final day offered many fine talents in Odissi, Bharatanatyam and Kathak.
Odissi first, as it was platformed first, though in an evening of four performances in a row, the last artiste is bound to suffer low attendance with the added fatigue setting in both for the audience as well as the organizers from hosting a demanding three-day festival. A suggestion: NADAM could try and present just three artistes with a time frame of 45 minutes each. Going by the adage - two is company, three is a crowd! Then what's four? Un-necessary! Malthusian theory of diminishing returns.
Devjani Sen and group
Devjani Sen is a seasoned Odissi artiste from the Guru Kelubabu stable (Kolkata connect) who has made Bengaluru her home nearly two decades ago. Her students by number and quality are impressive in the dance that floated the tale of Draupadi with a twist. Each of her four disciples danced well. The most appealing and amazing part was that, after a Pallavi-type filler opening, each came in their own as male characters too. From the lasya of pure dance they shifted like quick-silver to the challenging macho abhinaya representing strong characters like Shakuni or Duryodhana and vacillating ones like Yudhishthira, who lost the game of dice to the cunning and crafty Shakuni. Within two minutes, a kingdom and crown were lost and in the end the common wife to five brothers - Draupadi - was lost to the gamble too. Devjani may not be the most agile of dancers but is mature and suited the protagonist best. She also can't hide her sweet smile that slips in occasionally, though unlike many others whose sthayi bhava is a pasted smile all through the evening, no matter what the theme, Devjani kept it to a bare minimum. She, however needs to edit the work, the 40-minute presentation could be easily cropped to 30 minutes.
Devjani is a thinking dancer and in the last decade, I've seen her develop as an artiste from an ordinary teacher to a first-rate choreographer, and sustained the dignity and depth of the Odissi form. Her Jungle Book in Odishi is a very good work, as is Mougli. As mentioned earlier here, this was a tale with a twist because the end was not normal cheer-vastra haran one often sees when Draupadi is disrobed and Krishna, her friend and saviour, gives her endless yards of sari so her modesty is not blazed or grazed leaving one amazed! Devjani chose the deaths of all sons of Draupadi in the battle of Kurukshetra as its leitmotif in the end. Powerful ending. Maybe this whole presentation should have gone last in the evening and Bharatanatyam presentation by Divya Ravi with live music ought to have come first because the live music needed setting up; the super fine music ensemble could have set the tone for welcoming all in the beginning by warming up and an exquisite dancer like Divya Ravi wouldn't have suffered less time she so deserved and we so wanted to see more of, too.
A gem. A finely chiseled diamond. Wow! I wondered whose student she was because the announcements were poor and casual (NADAM main festival always had seniors like Smitha, Arpita or Archana conducting in the past. Chinna Nadam, a festival hosted for under-teens kids can be conducted by young talents who need the exposure and experience to shape up). Divya, to save time, came on the mike and sort of said, "I'm cutting short my program as we are running late. I'm Divya Ravi and will start right away with a varnam...." and what a beauty of a varman she rendered. Let me qualify. In the enunciation of a varnam, which tests both the nritta or pure technique part of the form, and nritya or emotive, often a dancer is weak in one and makes up by over presenting the other. Not here. Divya was sorted, stable, substanceful and spiritual. That quality came all through the evening. There was strength and sheen, beauty and bounty of Bharatanatyam. A varnam also tests stamina to dance half-an-hour without huffing and puffing. Divya Ravi is a complete package. In long shot she dances with brilliance and in close ups, her bluish-gray eyes (contact lenses?) show each fleeting emotion well. There was firmness of form but no rigidity; there was pride of rendition, no arrogance. She reminds me of the great Vyjayanthimala. She looks like her too, in certain angles. While comparison belongs to the mind of the idiots or odious, I try to contextualize in context of dance, because like her, Divya is balanced in all departments, poised to perfection and dignified. What strength of art. Gurus Kiran and Sandhya Subramanyam stand congratulated for training such a fine talent and Bragha Bessel for polishing her abhinaya ability. There was never an over much. Just right. She thanked Mavin Khoo for grooming and mentoring. Divya is a dancer to watch and follow in years to come.
She transported us in her Jagadho... ode to Krishna next, where mother Yashoda trying to tie up child Krishna for all the mischief he did, found herself entangled in the rope act! The Ananda tillana was tame with no ananda really and was not even needed at that late hour because in the Varnam and the next Yashoda piece, she had shown and proven her mettle. The dancer got a standing ovation, and for once one saw the surprise was on her! Her singer is also her husband Dr. Sharan Subramanian, who sang as if there was no tomorrow. Divine. He was a side show by himself, so involved in his singing and so involved in his wife's art while looking at her with glow and joy. The couple are blessed to be together in art by Saraswati's grace and hope they maintain the standards. Other things being equal and if gods decide fair winds blow her way, this is the next big star of Bharatanatyam.
As a dance historian one sees each generation has had three stars or top names, in most solo forms. In Bharatanatyam, there was the first generation of Ram, Bala and Rukmini. Then Mrinalini, Saroja and Kamala. Then Padma, Yamini and Sonal. Then Valli, Sarukkai and Samson. Currently, Shobana in South, Rama in North and Navtej internationally. Add Geeta, Meeta, Seeta! There are many others too but I'm talking of star materials whose name fills a hall, are a critic's and connoisseurs' delight, sell tickets (abroad) and are shining examples or benchmark. In generation next? You decide but Divya has that star material with substance and is easily in that league of top three in Bharatanatyam. I say this with humility and experience of having watched dance 300 days a year, worldwide, in the last 50 years.
Vaishali Trivedi and group
Humility and inner peace personified Vaishali Trivedi's Kathak. All of Kumiben's senior disciples (that's Kumudini Lakhia for you, all of 93 in age) like Daksha, Aditi, Desai sisters or Vaishali and others, have taken the mould from Kumiben and made something of their own. Like the soothing concluding Sufi-infused theme (what singing, what a scale) and Kathak merged well and even the solo piece using Chaturang format (chatur=four; ang=sections or components. viz., Khayal of words or sahitya form the first; second is Tarana, sung; third, focussing on raga and fourth based on pakhawaj or tabla bols) was effectively woven in a pure abhisarika with shades of vassakasajja nayika, done with grace and depth by Vaishali herself. There was nazaakat and nakhras of yesteryears, lost now in modern times. Of course, the minute details of this piece is not easily accessible to viewers sitting beyond the fifth row in a large hall and the delicate abhinaya is best done in chamber theatre but where and what is possible these days? A lone, hefty male talent was like a Hulk Hogan or lion king hogging half the stage! When he took to dervish dance, one could see his stomach dance too! Then there was the trademark Kumiben mould of aesthetically moulded female talents, in best colours of Gujarat with its rich textiles, who made for a pleasing group work. It is possible to travel with a small group and show your best, though the presence of the entire group in all the group choreographies presented for the evening is something that beats the eye! Within one evening, where each group gets maximum 40 minutes, ennui set in watching same styles and forms. A piece of good counsel: Unless mandatory, it's more pragmatic to have just two or three in one piece and then all six, in the other. This makes for a visual appeal and palette. Gurus need to look at things from the audience point of view and not try to prioritize accommodating all students or co-travellers in this journey. Can that be possible?
Chandana Raju and Vaibhavi Shukla
Possible it is to take ready-made dough and shape into edible, tasty bread / dish which is what Nandini Mehta did with two youngsters Chandana Raju and Vaibhavi Shukla who gave a good account of their tutelage and training. They displayed clockwork precision and professional quality. The Varnam was intelligently designed with the duo executing each line alternatively. Counter-point. Saved time and monotony, not to speak of stamina which both had aplenty.
Stage lighting all through was superb. But one can't say the same about sound which was way too blaring and unbearable after a while. Perhaps the intention was noble, viz. to compete with or try to submerge the heavy traffic sounds outside, as the venue - ADA Rangamandira - is located bang in heart of the city near the Town Hall. Or there was a genuine problem with feedback monitors for artistes on stage! Whatever it be, the lacuna cannot mar the harmony on unsuspecting audiences.
This festival - Kala NADAM (main) - has earned reputation and credibility. It can only aspire to flourish further to accommodate all the wannabes who wish to perform here in the most cosmopolitan city of India today and those who actually ought to be seen and deserve a good platform and a devoted audience. Bangaloreans love art (there was a donation box at entrance with QR code and all) and good artistes. Here's hoping for the best and wishing you all a very happy and dancing 2023!
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.
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