Natya Kala Conference: Dec 22, 2008 
- Pratima Sagar, Hyderabad 
Photos: Lalitha Venkat  

December 22, 2008 
They came, they danced, they conquered... 
Rajashree Shirke almost surged on to the stage with a forceful rendition of the battle of Lanka. Along with four other Kathakars, the dancer delved on the emotional combat in the heart of Mandodari, the favourite queen of the ten headed haughty emperor who himself heads towards the battle ground. The thought-through choreography in spilt second successions, the rhythmic sounds of ankle bells and provoking beats of percussion...  all set the mood for this much energized theatrical dance presentation titled 'Ravana Mandodari Samvad.' Rajashree recited the preludes and interestingly linked and developed the story with the monkey military's completion of the bridge. With mixed reactions, the message is received by Ravana, who then instinctively rolls out brash words out of all of his ten mouths together (talking from ten heads at a time - a sign which foresees his death in the epic!).  Mandodari's pleas to Ravana are juxtaposed by the advancing Rama and his monkey military that leads to the crescendo of the war. Rajashree reviving the Kathakar tradition of Kathak keeps Mandodari's truthful prophesy as the spine of this brief and thought provoking narrative. Whoever missed the show... bad luck, friends!  


Ravana carved out... 
Sheejith Krishna staged excerpts from the classic and evergreen choreographic creations of the doyen of Kalakshetra, Rukmini Devi. The tall and stately dancer as Ravana swayed across the stage with dramatic dance movements. He chose episodes like Sita Swayamvaram, abduction of Sita and finally the battle of Lanka. Each sequence was neatly etched with telling expressions and grace. The choreographer dotingly blended in elements of Kathakali for the portrayal of the anti hero, a role that fit Sheejith like a glove. It's heartening to know that Rukmini Devi's ingenuity in designing these dance dramas over half a century ago is still in practice. Way ahead of her times, these choreographic productions are like reference books for the artists who succeeded and also for newer choreographers who experimented. Thanks to Sheejith for bringing out the maestro's wholesome works to light in this Natya Kala Conference. 


Revered songs of Rama 
"Okate ekantha," "Ethade Parabrahma vidhiye Ramakatha," "Entho Mahanubavudavu," "Paluke bangara mayena" and "Ea theeruga" - the timeless devotional poetry of the medieval times, rendered soulfully by Venu Madhav from Hyderabad, touched a chord in the hearts of the rasikas.  


Twinkle twinkle little star 
This 10 year old grand niece of Padma Subrahmanyam was a delight to watch. In her effortless rendition of "Bhavayami Raguramam," young Mahati Kannan summed up the whole Ramayana epic! Backed by the nattuvangam of Padma Subrahmanyam, the rising Bharata Nrithyam dancer is indeed a star in the making. 


The next generation Bhakta  
Here is the laptop, ipod and gadget savvy newer generation interested in Rama bhakti. Strumming the guitar, Vedant Bharadwaj rendered Rama bhajans of Kabir and Tulsidas. He chose "Sri Ramachandra kripalu bajamana" for it is famous among dancers as well as musicians. "This is a good way to reach out to more people. I don't go too much out of the classical, as I donít want to displease the elders!" Way to go, Vedant. 


What they said... 
"It's a wonderful symposium happening in Chennai... it's colorful, varied, informative, educative and a joyous experience."  
- Chitra Visweswaran, dance guru 

"I am coming to the conference everyday. The lectures are brilliant, and so is the theme and I am making the best of it." 
- Vidhya Subramanian (California) 

"We are teaching and performing abroad. 
It's always invigorating to come back to the roots in Chennai and participate in a conference like this." 
- Krithika Rajagopalan (New York) 

Pratima Sagar is a cultural commentator and critic based in Hyderabad.