Lakshmi Mani's outstanding abhinaya  
- Shyamala Krishnamurti, Chennai 

February 22, 2009 
Sri Parthasarathy Swami Sabha featured Lakshmi Mani's Kuchipudi dance recital in their Dance Series, as part of the famed 'arts season' of Chennai. Interestingly, this was the only Kuchipudi program in this year's line-up of the 109-year-old Sabha. Lakshmi presented a traditional Kuchipudi 'Margam,' a rarity in this age of thematic group productions. Not surprisingly, this was thoroughly relished by the discerning audience present.  

Sadly, not many Kuchipudi dancers adhere to or even know of the 'Margam,' unlike their Bharatanatyam counterparts, who seem to fare better in this aspect.  Classic examples of this state of affairs include programs where the Tharangam is relegated to becoming the last item, the ashtapadi and pravesha daruvu being performed in the first half, while the Sabdam is becoming extinct, sometimes occurring in the second half, thus making a mockery of the Margam. There is thus an immediate need for dancers to exercise proper planning of their repertoire. 
Lakshmi Mani is well respected for her luminous recital of time honoured numbers, as well as for her own imaginative choreographic inputs to the repertoire. A superb performer and an intelligent choreographer with a natural eye for detail, aesthetics and innovation, she has to her credit choreography of numerous compositions of a galaxy of composers, some totally new to the Kuchipudi idiom. Feted for her captivating abhinaya, she is regarded amongst the finest exponents of this dance form.  The recital under notice gave credence to Lakshmi's reputation as a stickler for tradition and featured mainly her choreographic additions to the classical repertoire. 
Starting on a serene note with the popular Annamacharya composition "Shriman Narayana" (Bhowli Raga-Adi Thala), Lakshmi paid obeisance to the divine feet of Lord Venkateshwara, thoughtfully depicting Him as the omnipresent Paramathma, seen in all of His creations, both animate and inanimate.  
She then went on to perform the Ramayana Sabdam, a traditional number penned by Kasinath Pandit of Melattur. Set to Mohana Raga and Adi Thala, this piece charmingly encapsulates the entire Ramayana right from Rama's birth to His coronation. That traditional items acquire new sheen when performed by seasoned artistes was a fact that came to one's mind seeing Lakshmi dance, each movement enhanced by a perfect 'finishing,' a result of her arduous training and deep rooted passion. 
The piece-de-resistance of the recital was the Tharangam "Paahi Paahi Jaganmohana Krishna." Set to Ragamalika and Adi Thala, this composition of Narayanateertha describes the enticing form of Krishna, which bestows supreme bliss to the world. Lakshmi depicted the motherly affection of Yashoda towards little Krishna, to the lyric "Nanda Yashoda Nandana." Seemingly transforming herself into Yashoda, Lakshmi Mani succeeded in bringing a smile to the audience’s lips when little Krishna rubs butter on the face of the unsuspecting mother while she feeds him - a hallmark of great abhinaya. She also acquitted herself extremely well in the contrasting roles of Dusshasana and Draupadi to the lyric "Deenapalana." Exhibiting prowess and grace, she danced on the rims of a brass plate to the lyric "Tandavalola Shri Krishna," intertwined with intricate rhythmic patterns.  
The next to follow was a Kshetrayya padam, "Chaalu Chaalu" in Mukhari Raga and Adi Thala. The nayika is indignant upon seeing her nayaka with tell-tale marks on his person and commands him to go away to that 'other' maiden. Lakshmi gave a very good account of the khandita nayika, complete with sarcasm and reproach, on sighting Muvvagopala at her doorstep. The program ended with a Mangalam in praise of Shri Balakrishna. 
Lakshmi Mani was well supported by an excellent team consisting of Sundari (nattuvangam and compering), Naveena (vocal), Venkat (mridangam), Sikkil Balu (violin), Ramesh (flute) and Sundararaman (make-up).