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Dancing duos

November 21, 2023

Archana-Chetana are their names. Dance is their game. Born in an SOS village, they had it hard but thanks to a genuine guru like B. Bhanumati and her sis-in-law Sheela Chandrasekhar of Bangalore, they have blossomed into fine twin talents. Their show at a spiffy chamber theatre called Shukra was full of delightful surprises of maintaining perfect symmetry, speed and substance. All through the evening they kept up a sweet smile (sometimes not necessary ALL the time while dancing) but it was genuine. They were happy to be on stage.

Archana & Chetana
Archana & Chetana

The show started on time and that itself is a fine achievement in metro India! The compere for the evening - Ishwarya - senior student of Guru B.Bhanumati herself, enunciated each word clearly and with feeling. She has good energy on stage, unhurried and gentle.

Pushpanjali is a generally routine opening and in this garden city, dancers often don't even bring flowers to offer in that item by way of propitiation of the stage or if they do, it is plastic! The twin towers of talent brought fresh petals and offered to Bhudevi and the Varnam established their credentials as consummate dancers. Vidwan Dandhayudhapani Pillai used to stammer when speaking normally, but while reciting jatis, he was a Shatabdi express. He was my mother's singer too in the 1940s and went with her from village to village, singing while her guru tatha vidwan Muthukumaran Pillai conducted as nattuvanar. Something about these two sisters - Chetana and Archana- reminded me of that era. Their simplicity, nothing out of place and a very sincere attitude to art. To maintain symmetric finesse in a short item is challenging enough but to dance 30 minutes of a varnam and do that is a feat. They then undertook one solo item each and except for the way the costume pyjama was worn by one of them (one leg over the ankle bells!) one could tell they were two different dancers! On the whole, both acquitted well and proved to be consummate dancers. Shabash!

Ananda Shankar Jayant & Neha Sathanapalli
Ananda Shankar Jayant & Neha Sathanapalli

Shabash should be her middle name. Ananda Shabash Shankar! Shabash (means well done or bravo ) for having worked hard in the field and come up despite no real support in initial days, coming out of Kalakshetra and taking up a full-time job with the Railways, survived cancer, and continued to be counted in the over-crowded world of Bharatanatyam and train many students in Hyderabad through her Shankarananda Kalakshetra. Having seen her on stage from the days she was coming up in the field and write inland letters inviting us (critics) to her shows in Madras in the late 1990s to now being a star and much decorated dancer, she carries on smartly setting items that call for less stress to herself and have students dance duets with her to gain experience and be seen on stage too.

To show the entire Ramayana milestones in under an hour - through the lens of Thyagaraja's bhakti - was a remarkable feat because how the hour passed reasonably quickly, showed their true stage worth and artistic ability. All of Bangalore seemed to have turned up (and most want to sit in front row, even if they can walk to other rows which some elders can't easily make to. True culture also comes through in small things we do as humans in art field and Indian halls and seating patterns itself is a social study in behavioural sciences) to see her offering on Thyagaraja. It was an hour long rendition, with intro by the dancer from the wings but the scenes moved quickly enough not to lead to ennui. The young student Neha Sathanapalli had a jump in her step and suited well some of the roles like Hanuman that demanded this sprightliness.

Lighting by Surya was superb. The small Seva Sadan hall has such poor air circulation that adding more smoke puffs from machine made it very stuffy. The staff didn't even put all the fans on. Seva Sadan needs exhaust fans so it is fit for humans. Despite all discomfort, Ananda has an ability to jamao (as they say in Hyderabadi Hindi) a show. Ananya Samarpana is a festival featuring upcoming and established names but if the organisers inform or whatsapp invite just one day before the actual festival starts, in metro India, one cannot easily plan or attend. The card also was so cluttered with photos of all and names that the real message was lost.

Shrutilaya partnered Ananya and Gayatri Sriram and Minal Prabhu proved to be good hostesses for the evening. The compere Supriya got carried away and started giving instant reviews! This is happening in Bangalore increasingly. Stick to the task at hand. Announce. Don't qualify. Let the audience decide for themselves, they are not dumb. Hooting from back benchers looked seemingly planted and more appropriate for a college function or the cricket match going on in faraway Ahmedabad at the same time. Though results of the match later didn't lead to any hooting nationwide! If only point one percent of the monies that go in sports events in India can go to classical dance and music, India would be a truly cultured place. Acche din ayenge?

Ashish Mohan Khokar
Critic, connoisseur, historian, author, artivist, archivist, administrator and more - editor, columnist and mentor Ashish Khokar remains true to his muse.
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Constructive criticism is the only way classical artistes can benefit by, while seeking excellence. Truly appreciate Mr Khokar's assessments...
-Sheela (Nov 22, 2023)

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