Impressive emotions and flawless rhythm
- Shubha Subbarao

July 27, 2009 

'Bahulya-Multiplicity,' a unique solo dance program conceived by Guru Prasanna Kasthuri, a choreographer and performer par excellence, enthralled audiences in St. Louis on Sunday June 28, 2009.  The Lee Auditorium at the Missouri History Museum, was a carefully thought of venue for this dance recital which marked the anniversary of Prasanna Kasthuri's nostalgic dance debut, which took place 25 years ago in India. The master of ceremonies for the evening, Mohan Madhukar, took on the task of announcing the programs and complementing each with a short description for the benefit of the audience. 

Prasanna's selection "Jaata Vedase" in Sanskrit language derived from the Maha Narayana Upanishad added sanctity to the performance. The famous bhajan "Ji Durge Durgati Balihaarini" invoked the strength of the goddess who protects everyone from evil spirits.

The next dance number was "Srishti shikhar ullase," by poet Nazrul Islam in Bengali. Nazrul Islam, as his name implies, was Muslim, yet some of his poetry is addressed to Kali, the Mother Goddess of Bengali Hindus. Srishti Shikhar starting with Mohana raga and later continued with rapping recitation was attractive with simple jatis. A deviation from the traditional Bharatanatyam routine was the Marathi song, "Maja anun dya to harin ayodyanatha." Set in a typical Marathi folk tune, but later imported Carnatic ragas while performing the sanchari bhava of Sita Apaharan. Prasanna's graceful portrayal of five characters Rama, Sita, Lakshmana, Ravana and the deer was very well received by the audience. Sandhya's violin and Seema's accent of Marathi song played a big role in making this dance a very lively one. 

The soulful Varnam of Amir Khusro's 'Mukharia,' was a special piece. For "Raat Samay vah," the music was set elegantly by Prasanna himself, describing the feelings of a heroine towards her beloved hero. Prasanna portrayed the feelings of the heroine beautifully. Humor rolled in when he compared the hero to a biting mosquito. This was a good addition to a regular Bharatanatyam repertoire.

The famous modern classic poem from Karnataka, The Bangle Man or "Balegara Chennaiah" in Kannada, came next. Prasanna narrated the conflict between the son-in-law and father-in-law which keeps the son-in-law away from his in-laws' home. His actions as a bangle man, expressing the agony of a lonely pregnant woman and her disappointment with both her husband and father, were performed with fine abhinaya. 

The next dance number was set to a song in Gujarati, depicting the story of Guha, the boatman, yet another story of devotion and humor from the epic Ramayana. Prince Rama, who is the incarnation of Lord Vishnu, is banished to exile in the forest for 14 years. During his travel through the forest, he encounters the river Ganges whom he needs to cross to reach the other side. Guha, a boatman, refuses to let him board his boat as he jokes humbly, that the dust from his feet will convert his boat into a woman. Because, previously, when Rama's feet had touched a stone, it had made the stone into a woman.  Finally he agrees and takes Rama across the river. Rama wishes to give him the fee, which Guha refuses saying that he cannot accept any fee from people in the same profession. Guha says he helps cross only river Ganga, whereas Lord Rama's prayers help everyone cross the ocean of life. Music for this was composed by Prasanna himself. 

Prasanna performed to the English poem 'My mistress's eyes' by William Shakespeare.  This as an abhinaya piece, challenges the traditional Indian dancer to portray the romantic moods of abhimaani nayaka (the hero, who takes pride in his beloved's beauty).

The final dance number was to "Aduvome pallu paduvome" of the national poet of India, Bharatiyar, praising the value of freedom.  The poet here says, "Let us dance and sing songs/poems describing how we have achieved our goal of blissful independence." This poem had both Tamil and Telugu verses interspersed with a traditional Tillana in Raga Rageshri and Tala Adi.

Seema Kasthuri, the accomplished vocalist of the evening supported the dancer with her melodious rendering of songs in all the 8 languages. Seema extracted the deeper meaning of the song very effectively, enhancing the dance presentation. Sushma Mohan from New Jersey showed a strong presence on the stage with her nattuvangam skills. She held the tempo consistently and guided the show effectively.  Violinist Sandhya Srinath from Maryland performed with ease and contributed immensely to a great musical evening. Her individual playing for the sanchari bhavas was nice.  Mridangist Srinath Bala, also from Maryland, rendered able support, be it a folk tune or a traditional classical number.  Srinath brought the Karaikudi Mani and Umayalpuram Sivaraman styles into his playing of the mridangam.  The program was supported by grants from Missouri Arts Council.