NADAM turns ten 
- Ashish Mohan Khokar, Bangalore 
Photos: Srivatsa Shandalya 

November 17, 2009 

Turning ten means one has survived struggle, strife and sustained an idea. When an organisation devoted to dance (and music) achieves that, it means the intentions were good and even if the going was tough, the tough got going! Two such “toughies” are Murali Mohan Kalva and Nandini Mehta, Kathak dancers of Bangalore, who have striven hard for their art. NADAM ( Nartan Academy of Dance and Music) turned ten and put its best foot forward by mounting a 2-day festival at the huge Chowdiah Hall (on14th and 15th Nov), that was a feast. 

It was a feast because going beyond their own noses, they presented other artistes from outside Bangalore. Thus, one got to see the exquisite artistry of Kala Krishna from Hyderabad in Andhra Natyam and the joy of Jaipur gharana of Kathak, courtesy Uma Dogra from Mumbai. Locals groups like Nrityagram and Nadam Ensemble complemented this feast while soloists Mantap Prabhakar in Yakshagana and Dr Seshadri Iyengar-Preeti Sunderajan added to the occasion. 

First things first: the shows began on time! With no excuses or margins for using Bangalore’s bad traffic snarls as excuse for starting late, the organizers did well in doing so, as there were three artistes billed each evening, many chief guests (some who failed to show up!) and long drawn announcements and audio-visual promotional materials. 

Chandana, the compere, looked and sounded every bit sandalwoody, pleasing and perfumed in her peppered speeches with pontifications and pleasantries! Murali of course has a deep, resonant voice and for effect, pauses and mulls over his mostly impromptu lines. He is after all, a kathakaar, story teller! Both held audience attention, so critical in these days of short attention spans. Some elders (speakers) (the worst part of functions in south India are when those plastic chairs come out on stage and all serious looking folks have to climb on stage and be seated and look at each other and try and smile while the compere runs to organize for clues!) are so stood in time, they carry on and on.  

The stage itself was an aesthetic delight; so beautifully mounted and used. Satyanarayana Raju is of course a permanent fixture in helping with that in Bangalore and excellent lights and technical inputs by Shirish Mohan, whom Murali introduced very affectionately. 

That the hosts, Murali and Nandini  honoured each input, by calling them on stage and giving mementos, shows true appreciation of all those who make a show. Even the photographer Srivatsa Shandalya - “the photographer with passion” as his byline says! - and the oldish videographer got this honour. Even because, generally they are very important but never given their due. After a show is over, only their documentary recording of the event stays etched in memory, forever. 

Seshadri Iyengar, Preeti Sunderajan
The starting day had two jumping dancing beans in the garb of Preeti Sundarajan and Dr. Sesahdri Iyengar. Both were full of sprightly steps and unbound energy. Seshadri also duplicates as a homeopathy doctor, so some pills must have helped them be more energetic, as not for a minute did their energy levels falter! Preeti is pleasing on stage, almost a Shatabadi version of Malavika Sarukkai and in her neatness and delivery, impressed. Dr. Seshadri Iyengar is an old dance horse who gallops everytime he appears. His technique is impeccable and his pleasing stage smile, just about enough, helps him connect with his audiences. There is something mischievous in his countenance, all through. Both set the tone of the two day festival and mindless of the late comers who strut about senselessly looking for seats, showed the nearly full hall what good art is made of. 

Murali Mohan next followed by partner-in-crime Nandini Mehta showed some basic Kathak and their aesthetics were high. Murali has strong footwork and his stamping is clear, Nandini has the elfin charm of a nayika. Both try as a pair, although individually they excel  better. Their group, comprising of a motley lot of talents of varying stages of artistry, or its acquisition thereof, fit in a wholesome offering. The lone boy, Tushar Bhatt, credited with all costumes and off stage attires too, has the most genuine stage smile ever seen on a Kathakaar! His delivery is firm and his form is excellent. 

Murali Mohan, Nandini Mehta
Nadam ensemble
Kala Krishna, the uncelebrated master of Andhra Natyam, was pure delight in the simple beauty of joy of dancing itself. Andhra Natyam is the ancient Andhra temple dance revived and promoted by Dr. Nataraja Ramakrishnan, now almost 90 plus. Kala Krishna is his Arjuna, though if his softness both on and off stage is anything to go by, it is evident why his stree vesham patra is so convincing. Without making it gimmicky, cheap or undignified, his projection was so masterful that anyone who did not know he was a male dancer would have thought of him as a bewitching woman. Beautifully articulated small steps, no jumping or impressing, his whole being suffused with an ever flowing art from deep within. Kala Krishna uplifted a true rasika’s mood and regaled all. The singing by Uma, high pitched as ever, showed complete mastery in lower octaves too. Sheer bliss that offering was and Kala Krishna remains a true and great artiste in these times. 
Kala Krishna
Mantap Prabhakar
Next day too, the festival began on time! Mantap Prabhakar’s Yakshagana showed why in absence of understanding of language by those viewers who may be outside coastal kannara belt, is not easily accessible though his depiction of Surpanakha left no doubt he was Surpanakha. Masterful manipulation of audience interest and moods by engaging overtures of tongue and dancing talents made his depiction first rate. Dr S Ganeshan’s scholarly introductions helped contextualize the presentation and his deep knowledge of the shastras helped all understand the depths of this traditional dance drama, easily. 

Nrityagram ensemble is a well-chiselled stone - a diamond or ruby, as you will. Three girls, all in excellent physical forms, well-tuned bodies and angashudhi showed why it continues to be an appealing Orissi dance ensemble that appeals to all audiences, especially western audiences (as they are mostly abroad, performing). Surupa Sen has a rather sad face and a stolid countenance, but her technique is what Malavika Sarukkai's is to Bharatanatyam. There is no joy in Surupa’s dancing, an almost mechanical rendition. Bijoyini Satpathy has fortunately cut on all her extra smiling she had gotten used to of late and is the delight of the pack, and a natural daughter-of-the-soil artiste. Clearly, Bijoyini ranks as the best Orissi dancer in India today in her generation.  Pavithra Reddy adds to the threesome ensemble and in all they undertook together there was beauty, geometry and perfection. The lone solo item ashtapadi, Yahi Madhav, needs more experience and seasoned artistry, not just a linear translation on stage as Surupa showed.  The music was of high order but then Sanjukta Panigrahi’s best half, Raghunath Panigrahi composed it. 

Nrityagram ensemble
Uma Dogra
It was left to senior Kathak dancer Uma Dogra of Mumbai to bring spontaneity and natural charm to the festival. She showcased specimens of Jaipur gharana as taught to her by late Pt. Durga Lal, the star of the form who died young and she showed that even 20 years after his death, his art continues. Her layakari and tayari was so firm that not for a minute did it falter. Kathak is the art of natural delivery. Even when rehearsed (those fake tabla-dancer encounters!) it ought to look spontaneous and impromptu. The ability to link up with audiences and engage them is critical for this dialogue of dance. Kathak is the one form where the dancer sometimes talks more than actually dances! Uma balanced all aspects well even if, by definition, the Abhinaya items are lost on a big stage, especially to audiences sitting beyond the tenth row, though those closer to the stage could savour it and soak in the detailed depiction of vatsalya rasa of the item shown. Powerful music, live, was a feast and Bangaloreans enjoyed the two days offering and went home hoping Nadam lasts another ten years or more, so good artistes come Bangalore's way. 

Reputed scholar-critic-historian Ashish Mohan Khokar attends special shows and shares what he observes.