shining on stage
- Dr. Natarajamurthy
(Indian Council for Cultural Relations) has recently presented to four
countries embracing the Mediterranean Sea, a bonanza of as many as 19 programs
of the vibrant Kuchipudi dance form performed by well known dancer Vyjayanthi
Kashi and her troupe. Audiences of these countries (Israel, Malta, Tunisia
and Egypt) some of whom were highly mature (we could find them so by their
questions after the performances) and some consisting of public in general,
reacted with a thunderous applause to all these shows. There were demonstration
sessions after some of these performances.
were conducted for the prestigious occasions such as:
festival 2008, Israel; 3 evening shows for St James Cultural Center, Malta;
Sbeitla summer festival, Tunisia; Gafsa international festival, Tunisia;
Sidi Bouzid summer festival, Tunisia; Programs at Kairon, El Fahs, Dogge
city, Tunisia; Hammam Lif Boukerin summer festival, Tunisia; Alexandria
Center of Arts, Alexandria, Egypt; Marsa Matrough Cultural Palace, Matrough,
Egypt; Open air theatre program at ‘Shallalot’ Garden, Alexandria, Egypt;
Algenina,Cairo, Egypt; Kafr Shukr Cultural Palace, Egypt; Qawmi Theatre,
Cairo, Egypt; Arish Cultural Center, Arish, Egypt; Port Said Cultural Palace,
was the planning of ICCR?
ICCR has planned
the programs strategically to fall into the slots of these widely publicized
festivals around the Mediterranean and have even scheduled some of these
in a few open air theatres and makeshift stages for the benefit of audiences
in now remote, but very splendorous locations in distant past. For example,
take Matrough. It was a place where the ever beautiful Egyptian queen Cleopatra
(around 30 BC) rested for a while and took her bath. Shakespeare praises
her in his well acclaimed drama, ‘Antony and Cleopatra’ (Act ii, scene
ii) as “Age cannot wither her nor custom stale her infinite variety.” And
Sbeitla in Tunisia, where Romans constructed a temple for Jupiter and their
typical circular open air theatre in front of it. And Port Said, in Egypt,
where the man made Suez canal originates in the Mediterranean Sea and extends
up to the Arabian Gulf to reduce the marine distance between them by a
few thousand kilometers. And Arishi, a town north of Mt. Sinai around which
the epic “Paradise Lost” of Milton revolves with Satan saying, “The mind
is at its own place. It can make a heaven of hell or hell of heaven.” In
some places, the stages had relatively poorer lighting than required for
our classical dances which necessitate highlighting of facial expressions
than negotiating a few bodily movements. But that did not deter enthusiastic
Vyjayanthi from bringing out the best of a Kuchipudi performance from her
though she longed and aspired for a better stage.
so remarkable in her performances in these countries?
some free locations in the world where we can exhibit whatever we want
to express, there are a few limitations in most of the regions where the
performances were conducted. Firstly, they have altogether a different
cultural background though in no way less rich than ours. Secondly, their
strict adherence to ideologies would not allow viewing things in a different
perspective than what is stipulated and ordained hitherto. In order to
overcome these limitations Vyjayanthi chose to harp the strings that are
common to the heart in all humans. For example the emotions we, the humans,
undergo. The divergence in the nature and qualities of man and woman.
The boyhood pranks of a mischievous boy who could grow to be the ultimate
teacher and preached a proper balance of mind to overcome challenging situations.
The fundamental elements of which the universe and man are made up. And
finally, a humble salutation to the universal elements.
Only once the
Ramayana Sabdam was touched, coincidentally, after visiting the Mummy room
in Egypt where the mummy of the great warrior-king, Ramses II, (13th century
BC) was preserved. The tradition of Kuchipudi was not however given less
importance. It was strictly followed with a Purva ranga vidhi with Deepa,
Dhupa and flowers whatever is permitted on the stage for safety reasons,
the Kshreerasagara manthanam and the performance ended with Mangalam.
the response of the audiences?
For the benefit
of the audiences who could not follow English, the corresponding key words
in Arabic were picked up. They were pronounced with a good clarity. Hence
audiences could appreciate what the dancer wished to communicate and the
ingenious ways followed to express the same. Viewers in Malta appreciated
all the three shows and wished to know more about the hand gestures. At
an open air theatre in Tunisia originally constructed by Romans in 3rd
century AD, a boy was found to imitate the dancer in hand gestures and
bodily movements through out the program much to the wonder of the viewers
and the supporting team. In Tunisia, in one of the towns, a publicity drive
was carried out in the morning to give a taste of the performance scheduled
for the evening. Vyjayanthi opined it as a cheap tactic but I was personally
reminded of the early Kuchipudi presenters who made a sample show around
the town in the morning for attracting crowds in the evening. During the
last performance of the trip where the hall was not at all meant for performances
but was designed only for handling conferences, Vyjayanthi, with the aid
of an interpreter could mesmerize the audience to the extent that children
loved the dance and even learnt some rhythmic expressions and some hand
the support team?
The team constituted
of the artists who firmly believed in the very definition of ‘sangeetha’
and followed it with reverence. Ramya Suraj, a dancer cum musician,
gave nattuvangam support and female voice. Young Suchetan was on male vocal.
Sarma from Hyderabad supported on mridangam. The humble writer of this
article, Dr. Natarajamurthy followed them on violin.
the highlights of the performances?
was a grand success. It stirred the emotions of the audience, made every
one involved especially children. It made the foreign audiences feel closer
and even learn Indian dances. One eventful moment was the independence
festivity celebration marked by a spirited dance by Vyjayanthi for the
equally spirited national song Vande Matharam.
is the team grateful?
ICCR and the
Indian embassy of the respective countries have coordinated for a flawless
schedule and arranged for stay, transport within the countries and sight
seeing trips to places of historical, religious and cultural importance
some of which were requested by Vyjayanthi like the Nile cruise, entry
into the Mummy room etc., in addition to visits to highly revered Jerusalem,
Pyramids, Sphinx, Suez Canal, mosques, cathedrals, citadels and the temples
built by ancient Romans. The impact of the trip is still effective. Recently
when I traveled to Chennai in AC 2-tier compartment and showed the Egyptian
half pound coin with Cleopatra’s face on it to my musician friends, a crowd
thronged to have a look at the coin.
It gives great
pleasure to note that even heavenly blessings were there for the trip.
What a strange coincidence it is: On a Jupiter’s day (Thursday falling
on 31st July 2008 ), a scintillating performance took place in front of
the Jupiter temple constructed by Romans in 3rd century AD, and was blessed
by a shining Jupiter just up above in the sky.