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Performances at the 2nd Nartanam Conclave
Photos: Pranay Rupani

October 13, 2018

Along with the day-long discussions on Music for Dance, evening performances were organized for four evenings of the 2nd edition of the Nartanam Conclave from Oct 5-8, 2018 at Hyderabad. It was in fitness of the things, as the participants and audience got a better understanding and appreciation of music for dance.

On the opening night, Pune based Shama Bhate's four dancers presented traditional Kathak dance to recorded music of a very high order. Each of the four dancers displayed a thorough training in Kathak and sound understanding of music. Parampara Ke Pada Chinha, the impress of footprints of tradition, was revealed in Shama Bhate's group compositions. In Shiva Vandana, the use of Om Namah Shivaya was imaginative. The rarefied atmosphere was evoked. Isham Ganesham, Gunatita rupam, Bhasvaram bhasmanga bhushita - five aspects were explored artistically. It was followed by Tarana in Todi raga. The synchronization was perfect. The use of tatkar, footwork, in seven beats Rupak tala, amad, paran, uthan ke tukde, expressions of body line, upaj ki tatkar, in Natwari the dugun ki bandish, were highly enjoyable for technical excellence.

Tarana in Malhar with bandish Sananana megha explored the mood of monsoon and its association. The abhinaya to stanza Bahon me pritam, in embrace of beloved, had the delicacy and subtle joy of being with the beloved. The proximity was suggestive with minimal gestures. Prabha Atre's Kajari bairan bhai barkha had all the nuances of nayika's plight, to go and meet the beloved in rain, on the way overcoming obstacles, serpent crossing the path, striking of lightning and so on, the mood was evoked poetically with enchanting music. To Bhimsen Joshi's Baje muraliya, the dancers displayed complete immersion in the sahitya and appropriate bhavas. In Ladi Tatkar, the technical command over the form, understanding of footwork and the complexity were highlighted.

Kathak as a dance form is very different from a format of say Margam of Bharatanatyam. Kathak dancers dance a particular taal and display its complexities in their exposition. Dhrut teentaal offered it in ample measure. In the finale in Bhairavi Chaturang, the four major aspects were woven. A variety of chaal- walks, incorporating variety of ghunghats and anga vinyas were a delight to watch. Shama's choreography of rare items like Chaturang remains etched in memory, the use of Bhairavi raga, svara prastar, and abhinaya to Aaj Radha Braj ko chali were absolutely captivating. The dancers concluded the performance with Gita Govinda shloka Krishnaya tubhyam namaha. Avani Gadre, Shivani Karmarkar, Bhargavi Sardesai and Esha Nanal were invited at a short notice as there was a change in the program. But it turned out like a bonus for the audience to see such excellent group work in Kathak.

Disciples of Guru Shama Bhate

Vamsi Madhavi

On the second evening, local Bharatanatyam dancer Vamsi Madhavi from Kalakshetra presented a regular Margam of vintage Kalakshetra, which evoked nostalgia and also a certain sense of relaxed manner in which Bharatanatyam needs to be presented. Having watched Bharatanatyam over so many years, as a dance critic I have started feeling uneasy. Is it speed with which dancers need to impress audiences with their prowess? Innumerable teermanams in a varnam win rounds of applause and it has become a norm. Therefore, watching Vamsi Madhavi's Bharatanatyam performance was like a whiff of fresh air. The opening shloka in praise of Lord Ganapati set the mood, followed by Jatiswaram in Ragamalika and misra chapu tala, a composition of Tanjore Quartet. The choreography was by Rukmini Devi. It had old world charm. Both in its musical value and execution of lines, it had distinct Kalakshetra stamp. Madhavi had selected Huseni Swarajati in rupaka tala, Ye Mayaladi raa, as a central piece and excelled in its exposition. Attributed to Sri Varadarajaswami of Achyutapuram, a composition of Melattur Venkatarama Shastri, whose dance dramas known as Bhagavata Mela Natakam are performed at Melattur and other five villages in Tanjore District, this particular number was taught by Mylapore Gauri Amma to Rukmini Devi. The nayika, a devotee, begs of her lord not to be swayed by the rumours of some jealous lotus eyed woman trying to distract him from her love for him. While enacting sancharis she reminds him of their childhood friendship and the promise given by him to her. She entreats the Lord not to behave in a manner which does not become him and not to be so indifferent to her.

The padam by Kshetrayya, Etuvanti vade vaadu in Kalyani and mishra chapu tala choreographed by Bragha Bessell, offered Vamsi Madhavi scope to display her ability to convey feelings through appropriate expressions about Muvva Gopala - asking her sakhi about him, who is handsome, clever, talks sweetly, would he pass by this way? What kind of person is he, who brags that he knows me? There was restraint in her abhinaya as Bragha brings out in her interpretation of this padam.

The javali Apudu manasu niluchunate by Patnam Subramanyam Iyer was in Khamas and rupaka talam. In a light hearted way the nayika says when such a handsome fellow makes advances to you, with such swagger, demanding love play, Kamadeva shooting his flowery arrows, how can I desist him. He is none other than Varada Venkateswara. Madhavi was less restrained in the depiction of state of nayika as taught to her by Bragha Bessel. The final tillana in Hindolam and khandaeka talam, the hallmark of Kalakshetra bani was for die hard Kalakshetra fans a bonus. The periya adavus before tillana ends as choreographed by Rukmini Devi, I enjoy even today. For the last stanza by T. Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar mentioning Rukmini Devi is one who established Kalakshetra, one could see almost most of the dancers singing it along with the musicians. Nattuvangam by Anupama Kylash, vocal by Sweta Prasad, mridangam by Renuka Prasad, violin by K.L.N. Murthy and flute by M. Uma Venkateswarlu, enhanced the appeal of the performance with excellent music. Madhavi Puranam had spotted Vamsi Madhavi in one of her recitals and decided to bring to our attention, the old world charm. I am sure with more opportunities, Vamsi Madhavi will succeed in drawing attention to fast disappearing pleasant elements of Bharatanatyam.

Kalamandalam Gopi and group

Kalamandalam Gopi as Nala

Third evening was the highlight of the entire Conclave. Legendary Kathakali asan Guru Kalamandalam Gopi presented excerpts from Nalacharitam Part I. He has crossed age 80 and still the magic he casts never diminishes. The entire troupe with Kalamandalam Vipin playing the role of Sage Narada and Kalamandalam Adityan playing the role of Hamsa, the Golden Swan, had these two dancers rise to the occasion and give their best. The other artists / musicians were Kalamandalam Babu Namboothiri and Kalamandalam Vinod (singers), Kalamandalam Krishnadas (chenda), Kalamandalam Rajnarayanan (maddalam), Kalanilayam Saji (chutty-make up man), Panamana Arun and Rameshan (aniyara), Kalamandalam Gopalakrishnan (team manager).

The scene opens with Sage Narada visiting King Nala and describing to him the beauty of Princess Damayanti. Listening to Sage Narada also mention her other qualities, Nala makes up his mind to marry her. He imagines her beauty and is struck by the flowery arrows of Kamadeva. His imagination runs wild and his passion for meeting Damayanti increases. He imagines her long silken tresses cascading on her shoulders, her eyes like lotus; her incomparable beauty makes him feel as if she is present there. The exquisite mukhajabhinaya through the face and the eyes, the torment Nala suffers from Kamadeva's arrows were enacted with great artistry. Nala begs of Kamadeva to stop tormenting him with his customary five flowery arrows. He requests him that after the third arrow, the fourth arrow be struck on Damayanti in her heart, so that she would also experience the agony of love.

Nala becomes restless and goes to the garden to divert his mind. He is unable to concentrate on the administration of his usual royal duties. The garden with its flowers and creepers, the birds like peacock dancing, the cuckoo bird singing, nothing gives him comfort. He takes a veena, tunes it and plays it but it does not lessen his pain and one watches his condition with sympathy. Then he suddenly sees a golden swan arriving in the garden. He is drawn to its beauty and wants to capture him. The swan is frightened and begs him to let go. He tells Nala that he has his old parents to look after and if Nala kills him to take his golden wings what will his parents do? Nala assures him that he has no such intentions, except to be a friend. Assured by Nala and his noble intentions, the Swan relaxes. Nala embraces him and tells him his present plight about falling in love with Princess Damayanti. Listening to Nala's plight, the Swan promises to carry his message to Damayanti and takes leave of Nala. Nala looks in the direction till the Swan disappears.

The entire presentation and soulful singing by the two musicians, the playing of chenda, maddalam, gong and cymbals was commensurate with the enactment of the abhinaya by Gopi. His face was the playground of various emotions. Now in his twilight years, though in great demand for performances in Kerala, he has limited his travels. But once he is on stage he casts a spell on the audience, such is his powerful abhinaya. It was a rare performance. Many were watching Kathakali for the first time in Hyderabad, and some were seeing Gopi perform for the first time.

One is beholden to K.K. Gopalakrishnan for making it possible to bring Gopi asan and his troupe to Hyderabad and to Madhavi Puranam for arranging the performance. A special issue of Nartanam devoted to Gopi was released on the previous evening in the presence of the maestro. It is a collector's item and makes fascinating reading on a great artist. Credit is due to both K.K. Gopalakrishnan and Madhavi Puranam for bringing out this excellent issue. Nartanam as an art quarterly has created its own niche with a foresight to record the art of such great masters. For some of us 'Kathakali mad' known as 'Kathakalibhrantan,' this was the highlight of the four day Conclave.

Poet and critic from Bhubaneswar, Kedar Mishra posted his appreciation on Facebook which merits sharing. Writes Kedar Mishra: 'Swan messenger's song and Kalamandalam Gopi's magical gestures. I can't imagine an archaic story of Nala and Daamayanti's love can be so interesting. It was literally following as an old tradition of Kathakali, yet making a striking note on contemporary sensibilities. A swan can be a messenger of love or can be a mischievous go between for two unknown lovers and that too in the time of cyber super speed. Octogenarian Kalamandalam Gopi's presentation of Nala Charitam in Kathakali style at Nartanam Conclave was a piece of pure bliss. An act of love and celebration of divine passion for mankind. For almost two hours, I was mesmerized by his hand gestures. Two palms, ten fingers and a pair of superbly expressive eyes can really create extraordinary magic. It's a simple narrative, soaked in brilliant musicality and displayed by a charmer. What a group of talented musicians as accompanists to Gopi asan! For me it was a lifetime experience.'

Yamini Reddy

The finale was a Kuchipudi performance by young Yamini Reddy, daughter of Raja and Radha Reddy. Raja introduced Yamini's items and briefly spoke about the ancient tradition. Opening with Tandava nritya kare Gajanana, prayer in raga Gowla and tala adi, Yamini established instant rapport with audience familiar with Kuchipudi. Vivacious, with admirable command over technique she is a chip off the old block. The musical accompaniment and nattuvangam by Kaushalya was impeccable. The hallmark of Kuchipudi as Raja and Radha have developed was seen in full measure. Clean stances, speed, right pauses, dramatic effect, and youth are all assets that Yamini has inherited from her parents.

Presenting excerpt from Usha Parinayam dance drama, in Ragamalika and tala adi and rupakam, as young beauteous princess of demon King Banasura, Usha had a dream where a handsome young prince made love to her. She was overwhelmed and on waking up from the dream pined to be united with the charming prince of her dream.

Kaushalya announced that the sahitya was set to music for the first time in the piece that Yamini performed. That created confusion in minds of Kuchipudi scholars and dancers. Usha Parinayam is a dance drama and has traditional format and text, including the pravesha daru where Usha says she is Banasura varasuta. I was also confused. A young academic scholar came to me and expressed his unhappiness for such announcement. Raja is a great dancer and has authority to introduce the text that is relevant to Usha's role. I am sure he would have a proper answer to satisfy the young academic professor.

Swami ni Rammanave is a well known composition of Thyagaraja and was performed as padavarnam in Kedar raga and in rupaka talam. The nayaka here in this composition is Lord Shiva who is Samaganalolu, fond of Samagana. The nayika asks her sakhi to bring the lord unto her. She describes him as Bhoomivelayu, ruler of the universe, Sri Adi Puramuna, Nilakonna, Sarasa Thygaraju. Raja while introducing this padavarnam explained that the special features are chittaswara, sahityam and chitta pallavi. The nayika is virahotkanthita. Yamini depicted the madanavastha, the nayika being harassed by Madana showering arrows on the nayika. Circling round the stage shooting flowery arrows, her dance was scintillating. Showing the full moon, the gentle breeze from Malaya mountain, the right time to be united with the lord, Yamini conveyed the agony of the nayika in a telling manner.

Raja has titled Tarangam Marakata manimaya chela as Rasa Sabdam. Oothukadu's composition is engagingly woven, but to call it Rasa Sabdam created confusion, because the Sabdams are a special independent class of items in Kuchipudi. Therefore to term this composition as Rasa Sabdam may appear inappropriate. Krishna is expert in Rasa dance. Is it because of it that it has been titled as Rasa Sabdam? This is purely an academic inquiry on my part. Yamini's presentation in particular while dancing on the rim of the bass plate was excellent, like jugalbandi between recitation of sollus by Kaushalya and executing the same dancing on brass plate by Yamini. As usual it brought down the house. Standing on the plate, she evoked image of Goddess Lakshmi. Raja and Radha are blessed parents to have Yamini as their daughter and carrier of their legacy.

The four day 2nd Nartanam Conclave offered audience a sumptuous fare, in particular that of Kathakali by Kalamandalam Gopi and also demonstration of music for Kathakali by K.K. Gopalakrishnan. The size of the auditorium was ideal as the person sitting in the last row also could see the expressions on the face of the dancers. Also, the curation of the dance forms by Madhavi Puranam was in keeping with the theme Music for Dance. The discourse during the day was augmented by the music accompanying dance in the evening.

The duration of the performance was also less than two hours. That allowed audience coming from the city to return in time for dinner. The delegates staying on the campus also found it convenient after a whole day full of activity. This year a team of volunteers was a boon. They looked after the delegates well. For most of the delegates who stayed in the same guest house or hostels, the Conclave gave excellent opportunity to discuss the proceedings and spend quality time together. The Conclave thus offered us opportunity to bond together and get to know each other; even one who lives in the same city does not get this relaxed time. Thank you, Nartanam Conclave and Madhavi Puranam.

Dr. Sunil Kothari is a dance historian, scholar, author and critic, Padma Shri awardee and fellow, Sangeet Natak Akademi. Dance Critics' Association, New York, has honoured him with Lifetime Achievement award.

In response to the comments on Usha Parinayam's dream sequence (Kala Vrittantam) presented by Yamini, we are happy to clear the confusion. In the dance-drama presentation of Usha Parinayam the Kuchipudi bhagavatulu would enact Usha's dream sequence only with mime in solo; but we (Raja-Radha Reddy) presented this as Usha and Aniruddha for the first time ever as a duet. "The Shravya Kavyam became Drishya Kavyam", commented  Dr. P.S.R. Appa Rao in Mumbai and was quoted by Kaushalya on stage at the Nartanam conclave. Kaushalya merely wanted to point out the new dimension that we, Raja-Radha Reddy as a couple, brought to this particular composition. We humbly state that our interpretation of this traditional dance-drama was well received to say the least. One would be foolish to claim credit to the original composition altogether and we are surprised that a confusion such as this has arisen and been perpetuated in the first place.

Marakata Manimaya is not a Tarangam. Tarangams are only compositions of Narayana Teertha. While, Marakata Manimaya Chela belongs to Oothakadu Venkata Subbaiyer's compositions namely Sri Krishna Ganams, this particular work (Marakata Manimaya) is in the kriti style called Rasapadam. It has a very distinctive feature mainly the employment of jathis, sahityam and sometimes even swaras (notes) to make a composite texture of lyric and rhythm that is eminently suited to translate into dance.

By definition, Sabdams are lyrical compositions with a rhythmic structure. The compositions are interspersed with jathis that are usually sung in the same raga as the song, with modulation to suit the mood. Sabdams are usually those, which are sung either in the praise of a deity or patron. Once the first line is sung, we rarely go back to it, which is unlike padams or javalis. Keeping these features in mind while choreographing we found it apt to call it Rasa-sabdam. Erstwhile during one of our conversations with the famous singers Rama Laxman, they too said Oothkadu Venkata Subbaiyer's compositions are also known as Rasapadams or Rasasabdams.

As an innovation we also added the plate dance that is usually done in Tarangams because we felt the aesthetics and music suited the plate perfectly. The name has not to do with the magnificence of the rasa dance of Krishna, rather, it has to do with the musical style of the composition.
-  The Reddys (Jan 8, 2019)

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