'Navarasa: Expressions in Bharatanatyam' connects with the audience  
- Kumar Kumaranayakam, London  
e-mail: kumar_costain@hotmail.com 
January 26, 2008 

A show that promised to be a treat for all lovers of Bharatanatyam proved to be just that! Not only did audiences that follow this art form thoroughly enjoy it, but even the uninitiated were able to understand and equally enjoy the rasas portrayed with clockwork precision and complete immersion by Brindha Sridhar and Vinita Venkatesh.  Guru, choreographer, and director of Kalasagara UK, Usha Raghavan, led the orchestra with vocalist Manorama Prasad, Balachandar on mrudangam, Balu Raghuraman on violin, and Raghavaraman on the flute. The performance took place at Patidar House, London, on 2nd December 2007.   

It was an all round show with truly outstanding choreography and portrayal.  Some of the favourites among the rasas were, Hasya – where Soorpanaka proposes to Rama and Lakshmana, followed by Raudra - where Manmatha breaks Lord Shiva's penance and incurs his wrath and Beebhatsa and Bhaya - where Ambika and Ambalika are disgusted and scared by Sage Vyasa's gruesome appearance. Adbhuta, with Vamana Vishwaroopam, and Sringara, with Radha and Krishna, also provided variety and were very well received.  

The show commenced with an invocation to Lord Ganesha, followed by an introduction by the compere, Anjali Kothari, and a short speech by Usha Raghavan, giving a succinct background to the making of the performance. This was followed by an introduction of the charity organization, Veerayatan UK, for whose Veerayatan’s Sponsor-A-Child program, the day’s proceeds were given. 

The first piece of the evening, Pushpanjali in Ragam Nattai, Talam Adi, was followed by a Navarasa shloka, where the dancers briefly introduced the nine emotions. Each individual rasa was preceded by a demo in English to explain the shlokams specifically selected from the Natya Sastra and the episodes.  Each scene was additionally depicted in Ragams and Talams appropriate for the mood.  It was clear that considerable research had gone into the preparation of the show, which was presented, in a compact and easily digestible format. 

Sringara, the first rasa of the evening, portrayed the emotion of love through the interaction between a very graceful Radha and a playful Krishna. The ragam chosen here was Vasanta which set the mood of the program.  Vinita's delicate expressions as Radha with Brindha's antics as the philandering Krishna were a perfect mix for the piece. Particularly telling here was the depth in the choreography; the piece started off depicting Radha’s disappointed anger when Krishna comes to her shamelessly after having been with other women.  However, on realizing Radha’s sincere distress, Krishna pleads for her forgiveness.  The subsequent reconciliation between the two lovers was beautifully depicted through a mixture of great chemistry, interactive footwork and movements.  

The second rasa of the evening was Karunya or compassion depicted in the piece, Varugalamo, in the Ragam Maanji, which showed the low caste farmer Nandanar, who is distraught at not being able to see his beloved Lord Shiva at the temple. Here, the distinct shift from an episode to a song choreography format provided a nice change of rhythm. Vinita's compelling portrayal of a desperate and helpless Nandanar with subtle choreography carried the piece and made the audience empathize with the character.  

Adbhuta, or wonder, the third rasa of the evening, was portrayed by Bali who is humbled by Vamana’s Viswaroopam. A clear favourite with the audience, the simplicity and the excellent portrayal of this emotion assisted the audience to visualize amazing sights, such as beautifully sculpted pillars, and awe-inspiring paintings. Vinita as arrogant Bali and Brindha as Vamana were both powerful. Sue Johns, a member of the audience, was to later remark that Brindha’s expressions as Vamana trying to con the evil king Bali were brilliant. 

Possibly the two most difficult pieces to prepare may have been Beebhatsa (disgust) and Bhaya (fear). These two rasas were done back to back as part of a single story, where Sage Vyasa is summoned to bestow children upon his stepbrother's wives, Ambika and Ambalika. The surprise entry of Elayitha, another disciple of Usha Raghavan, as Sage Vyasa donning a beard and a sage’s garb aided the visualization of the two episodes.

In Beebhatsa, the audience could practically smell Sage Vyasa’s repulsive odour through Vinita’s convincing portrayal as Ambika. Brindha’s intense depiction of a terrified Ambalika, made the audience appalled at her plight in Bhaya. The episodes were choreographed aesthetically with a stark contrast between the beginning and the end; each scene commenced with the queens in expectant moods decorating the bedroom and getting ready and ending with the feeling of utter disgust and sheer fear of Sage Vyasa.  

Hasya, the most delightful piece of the repertoire, was presented next. The demo, Shloka and episode were very well received, as audiences’ laughs resonated throughout the auditorium. Brindha’s enjoyable transformation into the demoness Soorpanaka and the choreography brought out the comedic aspects of the character’s interaction with Rama and Lakshmana, both played by Vinita.  The orchestra also appeared to enjoy themselves throughout the piece with the Kamas ragam providing a perfect backdrop to the episode. Hasya was definitely the mood of the moment! 

That was until Raudra (anger), the next episode.  Brindha here played both pleasant Manmatha and furious Lord Shiva. The mood, lighting, choreography, music and performance were fantastic. Set to ragams Revathi and Amirthavarshini, apt melodies for anger and joy, the unique choreography, a formidable rendering and strong footwork by the artist, the mridangist’s expert hands all brought together the nritta and nritya aspects of the piece and struck a chord with the audience.  

Veera (valour) was portrayed next in the episode of Sita's swayamvaram. Following several unsuccessful attempts by haughty and feeble kings, Rama lifted and strung Lord Shiva's bow to win Sita's hand in marriage. Brindha, as a graceful and stoic Rama, and Vinita as a beautiful and eager Sita, were excellent. This was followed by an excerpt from Lalgudi’s Mohanakalyani Thillana, celebrating the joyous occasion.  

The final episode of the evening was Shanta depicted in the krithi, Shanti Nilava Vendum; the choreography elegantly presented the intention behind Mahatma Gandhi’s teachings as the dancers beseeched everyone to spread the message of peace around the world.  

The finesse with which the sequence of episodes was chosen was an important contributor to the success of this show. At the end of the evening, Usha's subtle, elegant, and adaptive choreography with powerful and graceful performances by Brindha and Vinita definitely left the audience with a feeling of contentment. The show’s triumph was also largely due to the comprehensible layout that brought together great episodes from Hindu literature and mythology through vast research and deliberation. Kudos to the Kalasagara UK team for skillfully bringing this to the masses! 

Kumaranayakam lives in London. He has a passion for Indian music and dance.