Sri Lalitha Nruthyaarchana 
- Shyamala Krishnamurti, Chennai

April 19, 2009 
Actress-dancer Manju Bhargavi, along with a troupe of dancers from Bangalore, presented 'Sri Lalitha Nruthyaarchana' recently in Chennai. The presentation was based on the Telugu translation of the Lalitha Ashtotra Shatanaamavali. The translation was the brainchild of renowned Ashtavadhaani, Dr. Rallabandi Kavitha Prasad, with music by DSV Sastry and choreography by Manju Bhargavi. 

The program began with an introduction by Dr. Kavitha Prasad, who was present on the occasion. The dance was presented to recorded music, with DSV Sastry and Nithyasantoshini leading the male and female vocals, respectively. 

With an experienced team behind it, the presentation did raise a lot of expectations, especially among connoisseurs of Kuchipudi dance. Though the quality of sound recording was faultless, the same could not be said of the singers. Surprisingly, Sastry sounded a tad unpleasant in the opening 'Amba Paraaku,' managing fairly well in the ensuing parts, though clearly ill at ease in the higher octaves. Nithyasantoshini, on the other hand, possessed an excellent pitch, but seemed a little too shrill in certain instances, diluting the bhakthi element. The music composition consisted of certain 'stock' ragas of Kuchipudi, like Arabhi, Hindola, Panthuvarali, etc., giving the listener a 'heard-this-before' feeling.

Given that a group presentation, as opposed to a solo, does enjoy certain advantages, one certainly looked for creativity in interpretation and execution. But the presentation merely followed a linear pattern, with mere word-to-word mime of the various names (naamaas) of the Devi, by Manju Bhargavi separately and later a mention of the 18 (Ashtaadasha) Shakthipeetams by 2 dancers posing as the Devi, with 4 more dancers (2 male and 2 female) posing as devotees. As this exercise was done alternately, the presentation suffered from predictability. Also, one failed to see the purpose of two dancers, both dressed as Devi. Their narrating about the Shakthipeetams, in Pravesha Daruvu style, instead of the surrounding dancers (dressed as devotees) doing so, did not seem judicious. Also, the mention of the Shakthipeetams was made in Sanskrit verse, while the dance followed a Pravesha Daruvu pattern as mentioned earlier. Thus, true blue admirers of Kuchipudi could feel the disjoint. Also, the prop used was very amateurish. Carrying a powerful symbol like the Sri Chakra on and off the performance area was highly improper. The dance of the young dancers, though, was of consistently good quality. One however missed the role play associated with Kuchipudi, where the dancer(s) narrates a story/episode, donning the mantle of the character(s) therein. As the presentation was a ballet, one expected a higher level of action, which was indeed conspicuous by its absence, shadowing the program in insipidity.

In veteran Manju Bhargavi's dance, the Kuchipudi element was palpable, but was marred by a lack of depth in nritta and a masculine approach to dance, rather than a graceful feminine outlook, which is more becoming of a dancer glorifying the Devi.  Involved and deep felt abhinaya would have lifted the standard of the fare remarkably. But this too, was found wanting - an irony for a dancer who is an established actress. It is however to her credit that she warmed up easily after a brief technical hitch in the audio. The costume, make-up and lighting supported the program adequately.