Aesthetic innovation within the traditional boundary
- Probal Gupta, Bangalore 
Photos: Srivatsa

March 17, 2010

Nirantharam, a music and dance festival in Bangalore of national stature recently conducted a week-long festival showcasing various forms of classical dance mainly concentrating on Kuchipudi, Bharatanatyam and Kathak along with Carnatic kutcheri and musical ensembles. Curtsy to P Ramaa for successfully conducting this major festival a week long. 

The third day of the festival featured a phenomenal amalgamation of Bharatanatyam with the musical score of Yakshagana which one may definitely define as "innovation within the traditional boundary." 'Panchali,' as named after the main protagonist of the entire episode of Mahabharata, is an ekaharya presentation conceptualized and choreographed by Dr. Vasundhara Doraiswamy, one of the country's leading exponent of the Pandanallur tradition.   After the initial invocation to Lord Ganesha and Goddess Saraswati by the musical ensemble, the dancer's entry using the concept of the traditional pravesha daravu of Yakshagana with Bharatanatyam nuances, mesmerized every aficionado and set an expectation of high standards for the evening. 

Vasundhara has carefully used her Bharatanatyam knowledge to imbibe the traditional musical score and various theatrical elements of Yakshagana. Being a dancer of Bharatanatyam genre, she uses hasta mudras and abhinaya to bring out the effect of the dramatic monologues as uttered fabulously by Prof. Acharya, the playwright of this theatrical piece, leading one to definitely genuflect this choreographer's brilliant work.  Her usage of vigorous movements to depict the pyre and excellent depiction of Panchali's birth deserves special mention. Vasundhara's wonderful manodharma showcasing the falling of the leaves, the singing of the birds, the humming of the bees on flowers to suck nectar, the movements of the deer through the musical accompaniment of Chende, the dance of the peacock, the charis to describe movement of the chariot using the jathis concurrent to Yakshagana, will linger in the minds of the rasikas for their execution of high order. 

Vasundhara's quick transformation using various cloth pieces as angavastrams to portray various characters, depict her thorough knowledge of drama. For example, usage of white cloth to portray suave Arjuna and the successive episode to marry Draupadi by looking at the water being executed through correct hasta mudras as mentioned in Abhinaya Darpana, concentrating through the water on the eye of the fish and then hitting it correctly with his bow, deserves praise.  For a dancer not limiting herself within the boundaries of choreography and extending her brilliance to usage of idols as a metaphor for Arjuna is what is expected from such a senior dancer like Vasundhara. Panchali's shy gait thereby making him wear the garland, earned a huge round of applause in the auditorium.  Usage of a black cloth with chess symbols to portray Shakuni came with a pravesha daravu, with the subsequent usage of the musical instruments congruous to Yakshagana that brought out the crudity of the character; the denouement of the scene came with the Pandavas losing the game of dice. The scene moves towards Panchali in her room dressing herself, opening her hair, the beauty of the scene aggrandized by the usage of similes like " Sharadotpala Patraksha" (eyes like lotus) and "Sharadotpala Gandhaya" (the smell of lotus). Dushasana entering her room and dragging her into the court filled with men and untying her clothes, with Panchali crying for help to Lord Krishna, were dramatically portrayed. The crux of the plot came with the Pandavas winning the fight being portrayed through the usage of Shankha and Bhima tearing Dushasana's belly and tying Panchali's hair with his blood. Dr. Vasundhara Doraiswamy's mesmerizing abhinaya skills enwrapped the audience so much that every scene she executed brought tears to the eye and here lies the credibility of the artiste to evoke rasa, thereby making her art saturate with the audiences' soul.

The overall slow pace of this theatrical piece with tremendous support by Prof. Acharya on the dramatic monologues, Ganesh on vocal, Krishna on Maddala and Sudheendra on Chende enlivened the performance.

Probal Gupta trained in Kathakali under two legends, Late Kalamandalam Govindan Kutty and Guru Fact Padmanabhan under whom he is presently continuing his specialization in Stree Vesham genre of Kathakali. He has also been a student of Bharati Shivaji. He is an empanelled artist of Doordarshan and has established a Solo Margam for Stree Vesham Kathakali under the able guidance of his Guru Fact Padmanabhan. Probal is a graduate in English Hons from the University of Kolkata. He is the dance critic for The Hindu, Bangalore.