Pure Ananda  
- Vanitha Veeravalli, Chicago 
July 11, 2007 

This summer saw several artistes from India present their productions at various venues in the US. Among the memorable ones was Ananda Shankar Jayanth's presentation of Tyagaraja Ramayana and Gitopadesa. This was noteworthy for several reasons. At a time when group productions catch audience fancy, creating sustained audience interest through solo performance is a challenge. Ananda stepped up to that with notable creativity and maturity through two of her well-planned and executed productions that were as much a lesson in story telling, as was a brisk performance.
Tyagaraja Ramayana is an ekaharya or a solo-act, wherein the story of Rama, was told in two parts - from Rama's birth to Sita Kalyanam and from Bharata's search for Rama to his final coronation in Ayodhya – through the kritis of Tyagaraja, and verses of Valmiki. In this, Ananda's depiction brimmed with such eloquence and energy that it painted beautiful visuals. When Ravana tries to lift the bow, but fails miserably and sneaks away trying to hide his face, this was depicted with perceptible humor and good audience reaction. Sita Kalyanam, where Sita bashfully follows Rama, her hand held in his, as they do the saptapadi was done with great sensitivity. The following oonjal scene, where Sita, perched on the other end of the swing modestly, holds on to the chain, and sneaks a few glances at him, was as memorable for its visual poetry as was Tyagaraja's kriti. (In fact it was hard to reconcile that there was no swing there after all, when Ananda was done!). Vali's lamentation to Sri Rama, Marugelara, as he pleads for moksha was absolutely moving for the pathos Ananda brought to the scene through controlled display of expressions. Such scenes were happily many. The ability to cleanly delineate the characters through abhinaya and nritta, so critical to the enjoyment of a solo-act, was clearly evident in her style. Ananda's key strength was the ability to underscore each of these highly descriptive situations with creative nuances that make the depiction not just more eloquent, but very memorable. 

The other salient piece of the program showed the battlefront scene in Mahabharata, when Arjuna despairs at the prospect of having to fight his near and dear, and prepares to relinquish arms. Krishna’s advice, Gitopadesa, was the subject of this ekaharya in which the essence of the Bhagavad Geeta was portrayed. The performance was about the dialog between Krishna and Arjuna, where Krishna chides him and teaches him the Supreme truth about Dharma and Karma. Arjuna realizing that Sri Krishna is the Supreme being requests and witnesses His Viswaroopa. The self-assuredness of Krishna and the self-doubt of Arjuna provided contrasts of character development that Ananda brought out to great enjoyment. In fact, a subject matter such as this can be concept-heavy, but Ananda struck the right balance at visual story telling. Ananda's tireless performance was greatly aided by the team of musicians – Venu Madhav (vocal), Balasubramaniam (mridangam), Renukaprasad (nattuvangam), and Sai Kumar (violin) - who showed such obvious togetherness, that you knew the production was well-baked to perfection. 

All in all, it was pure Ananda. 

Vanitha Veeravalli was a student of Kalakshetra, and later studied with other teachers.