December programs roundup  
- Lalitha Venkat, Chennai 

January 15, 2009 
Praveen Kumar from Bangalore gave a refined recital for Narada Gana Sabha on Dec 15. After the invocation item, he performed a special Varnam "Ennai marandanalo" in ragam Abhogi and talam adhi, specially written, composed and choreographed by his guru C V Chandrashekar. Since it was in Tamil, it was easy to understand the lyrics, sung very clearly by vocalist Srivatsa, accompanied now and then by guru Chandrashekar himself, who did the nattuvangam. In this rare Varnam, the basic theme is of a nayaka pining for his beloved. Generally, for male dancers the choices are limited, as they have to stick to bhakti items. But here, it was based on one of the shringara aspects. Usually a nayika is depicted as pining for union with the Lord, but CV Chandrashekar thought it was not aesthetic to have a counter example of the hero pining. So, he chose the theme of a young man thinking with nostalgia about his childhood friend.  The hero is struck by Cupid's arrows and wonders as to how his beloved girl has forgotten him. "Has she forgotten those good moments we spent right from childhood?!" His restrained abhinaya as he pines for her and elegant, precise footwork were highly appreciated by the audience comprised of prominent Bharatantayam gurus and many dance students.  

Another enchanting item was the devaranama, "Maneyolagado Govinda" composed by saint Purandaradasa. Here the vatsalya bhava was portrayed from a father's perspective. Krishna's father wonders why his son has to go to the neighbour's house to play and in turn be titled as the prankster of the gokula. After all, he is said to be Narayana himself, is it not? Many present felt that these two items were so captivating that Praveen should present them at other venues too. He concluded with a melodious Thillana (Simhendra madhyamam) marked by impeccable footwork. At a time when very few male dancers are performing solo, Praveen Kumar is one to watch out for!  

A chance visit to the Iyappa temple in Mahalingapuram that evening and there was a Mohiniattam recital by Kochi based Shyamala Surendran and her students, as part of the Makaravillaku Mahotsavam. I had time to watch 3 items, the Vinayaka Sthuthi, followed by a solo item by Shyamala for the beautifully sung ashtapadi "Yahi Madhava yahi Keshava." The popular Pandhaattam was a group item. Looking at the audience who watched the show with rapt attention, I thought there were more people here than in regular auditoriums!  

Malavika Sarukkai presented 'Kasi Yatra, the journey of a courtesan of Benaras' at Narada Gana Sabha on Dec 21. The program is about a woman of taste, her journey in a male dominated world as a courtesan, how she bedecks herself on the banks of the Ganga and ends in her joining the flow of the river of pilgrims. Somehow, the mood did not communicate to the audience and it seemed as if the dancer was rather detached.  

On Dec 24, Ananda Shankar Jayant and her troupe from Shankarananada Kalakshetra, Hyderabad, presented 'Darshanam an ode to the eye' at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, for Kartik Fine Arts. What started as a brief presentation for an eye conference in 2005 has been developed into a full length work. Darshanam explored the myriad hues and shades of depiction of the human eye in Indian literature. How the Devi felt when she saw Lord Shiva danced to excerpts from Adi Shankara's Soundaryalahari, poetic descriptions of pretty women as having beautiful eyes like a fish or doe, Shiva's opening the third eye to destroy evil, the story of Kannappa who offers his eye to Lord Shiva's idol that has a damaged eye and finally the visually challenged Surdas imploring Krishna for a vision of his lotus eyed countenance these were all strung into a continuous presentation broken by a brief English narration between segments by Ananda. The static disturbance from the collar mike every time she spoke jarred the otherwise smooth presentation. The green laser light used in a segment gave a rather disco effect. The excellent orchestra comprised of Venu Madhav on vocal, I V Renuka Prasad on nattuvangam, T P Balasubramaniam on mridangam, Sai Kumar on violin. "I enjoy performing in Chennai and every year I bring a production that has not been seen here. This year, it is Darshanam. I got a good response for my 'Thyagaraja Vaibhavam' in Krishna Gana Sabha, the Natya Kala Conference also went off well, so I'm quite happy," said Ananda.  

It's now time to visit the Kalakshetra festival. On Dec 27, the first part of the program was an Odissi recital by Aruna Mohanty and her troupe from Bhubaneswar. After Aruna's invocation number on Durga, was a pure dance item by 6 male dancers, a choreography of guru Gangadhar Pradhan, that brought alive the sculpture of the Konark temple. Choreographed by guru Pankaj Charan Das, 'Madhurashtaka' depicted the beauty of Lord Krishna. Choreographed by Kelucharan Mohapatra, Pallavi was pure dance movements of lyrical grace. Another item choreographed by Kelucharan Mohapatra was 'Aahey Nila Shaila,' an Oriya song written by Muslim poet Salabeg and set to music by Raghunath Panigrahi.  The final item was 'Srishti and Pralaya' choreographed by Aruna Mohanty, inspired by the tragedy of the 1999 coastal hurricane and tsunami of 2004 that devastated Orissa. Being subject to an overdose of Bharatanatyam in Chennai, it was nice to soak in the soulful music and the lyrical beauty of Odissi by the accomplished troupe, but they exceeded the time limit by not a few minutes, but a good half hour.  

Instead of 7.30pm, the next part of the program commenced at 8pm. With 33 Manipuri drummers from the Sri Govindaraj Nata Sankirtan from Imphal, Astad Deboo had recently performed 'Rhythm Divine' at the coronation of the King of Bhutan one day on a large football field and the next day on a stage comprised of 3 levels where excerpts were interspersed with performance segments of other artistes. Because of budget constraints, he was accompanied only by 8 dancers for his Kalakshetra presentation. The scene opened with the 8 dancers lying in a foetal position and in the centre was a strange shimmering white mound. In near silence and stillness, as the forms go through their stretching movements like inside a womb till they are released, the centre mound also expands and through the plastic, one gets tantalizing glimpses now and then of a shadowy form inside. Something like now you see him, now you don't!  

The soundscape was quite minimalistic, with an intermittent gong sound or the dancers themselves clapping or slapping their hands on their bodies to create varied rhythms sometimes simulating the playing of drums. In one sequence, the dancers move hypnotically holding shining cymbals suspended on sashes and the surprise element was their gentle movements and their using the cymbals only to punctuate a movement phrase than to make clash, bang noises. Apart from a couple of brief solos with Astad's trademark controlled movements and poses of body defying gravity, the group movements were imbued with varied manifestations of joy, especially the whirling movements sufi style in which we almost wondered if Astad had forgotten to stop! In the last segment, the Manipuri dancers bounced on to the stage to perform their drum dance pung cholom, attired in their traditional costume. The quicksilver drumming and twirling around the stage while playing their drums, was highly enjoyed by the audience who could not have enough of it. The dramatic production ended with Astad (clad in a Manipuri style costume with turban!) crouched on the centre stage and a figure standing on his back, blowing a conch. The end. The applause went on and on with none of the audience even getting up to leave!  

Pics: Lalitha Venkat
Prof. CV Chandrashekar presented students of his institution Nrityasree in 'Arohanam' choreographed by him and his wife Jaya, at Bharat Kalachar on Dec 28. As a student of biology in Varanasi combined with his deep interest in nature, he has always been fascinated by the evolution of life, from mollusks to animals like turtle, monkeys and lion, to homo sapiens, to enlightened man. With some additions and omissions, the avatars like matsya, kurma and Narasimha were depicted not necessarily in order and ended with the Buddha avatar. "For the first time, we have used recorded music," said Chandrashekar. There are advantages and disadvantages. In recorded music, one can have any number of rehearsals, but live music brings in a different feeling for the dancer and singer."  The dancers were Renjith Babu, Sheejith Nambiar, Parvathy Sheejith, Nitesh, Ashwini Viswanathan, Shafiquddin and Nirmala. The music accompaniment featured Hari Prasad and Nandini Anand on vocal, Sashidar on flute, Ananthanarayanan on veena, and percussion by Haribabu. The music was composed by the guru himself.  
Pics: Lalitha Venkat
On December 30, Anita Ratnam presented 'Faces,' a presentation of "some of the most familiar and loved personas from our cultural tapestry," for Kartik Fine Arts at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan her only performance of the season. Portraying varied sentiments, these Faces together traverse a spectrum of emotions, to finally surrender to infinite bliss. Though I have seen it last year, it was like seeing a new program, for the music as well as presentation has evolved over the year. As is Anita's practice, a few minutes of instrumental music before curtains open, conveyed the mood of the evening to the audience. The 5 pieces were The Face of Compassion (Raga: Sama) on Annapoorni, The Face of Rage using traditional Sanskrit chant (Raga: Punnakavarali) on Durga, The Forgotten Face (Raga: Jhonpuri), Timeless Faces (Raga: Brindavana Saranga), The Face of Blissful Surrender (Raga: Brindavani) on Meera. The brief spoken dialogues between items were also part of the recording, thereby avoiding any lapel mike scratchy sound problems! This is wise, especially since most auditoriums here don't really have great sound systems/equipment.  

"Along with the light effects and superb audio, the evening was delightful with Anita's amazing expressions and graceful movements. Aasai Mugam marandhu pochae brought tears to my eyes and the Ramayana was so well portrayed just with music. We watched in awe at the different approach and enjoyed the Neo Bharatham style," said audience member Sathya Nagaraj, an appreciation that echoed what most of the viewers present felt.  

Pic: Lalitha Venkat
On Dec 31, GS Rajan gave a flute recital for Brahma Gana Sabha at Sivagami Pethachi Auditorium. He was accompanied by T V Gopalakrishnan on the mridangam and Vijay Anand on the violin. He completes 25 years of his concert career. He is a sought after composer of dance music and the force behind the dance and music portal Having recently finished a tour of the US with Bharatanatyam dancer Rama Vaidyanathan, he observed that the main reason for dwindling visitors this season was the recession in US. Hundreds of NRIs they met in the various cities had told them that much as they would love to be in India during the December season, they would not be able to because of the recession.  

The same evening, there was a music program Melharmania for New Year eve celebrations at the Gandhi Nagar Club, Chennai. Chitraveena Ravi Kiran and his young ensemble were accompanied by violinist Akkarai Subbulakshmi and pianist Anil Srinivasan in a scintillating performance that actually had most of the audience sitting glued to their seats, reveling in the melodies instead of chattering loudly and concentrating on refreshments! The highlight of the concert was the ragam Keeravani played symphonic style. What a nice way to usher in the New Year!