Love - The Rasa
- VAK Ranga Rao, Chennai

April 4, 2010 

Over the last seven decades, say from the forties till now, the presentation of Bharatanatyam has undergone a sea change.  Apart from the rare ‘Sarabhendra Bhoopala Kuravanji’ and the dance dramas put up by Rukmini Devi through Kalakshetra, most were regular item wise performances following a particular order: alarippu, jathiswaram, sabdam, varnam, keertana, padam, javali, slokam and thillana; a little later, Andal or Kurathi were being done as the last item.

Slowly, the alarippu was tagged on to the opening pushpanjali; jathiswaram and sabdam disappeared and in the second half, bhajans, stotras, abhangs, sangam poetry, oozed onto the card of items gradually.
Thematic presentations like Padma Subrahmanyam’s yardstick to measure others by, Sri Krishnaya Tubhyam Namah, as a solo and others in group, came to the forefront in the last fifteen years. Then there were fusions of many kinds at various levels with foreign and Indian ingredients, of music, dance, instruments, motif etc.  As dictated by logic, none of these were good or bad because of the changes.  A group production can be trite and boring; a solo, exquisite and riveting.  An iconoclast might weave a web of enchantment and traditionalist   gets trapped in clichés.
For a person observing dance for the past sixty-five years, first as a mere interested onlooker and then, for half a century as a critic striving to grasp the holy grail that is this art, the answers are far from clear-cut.  What is classical, what is contemporary? What is tradition, a stream, a river defined by the two banks of changing practice and unchanged science? What feeds them, acid rain or a cloud burst of crystal clear water?

Some surely are unchanging, adherence to the sruti, keeping to the rhythm etc., the basis so to say.  Almost everything else is prone to change. The question remains: what is achieved by the ‘newness’, the changed contours, the music presented with a contemporary flavor, slickly presented spectacle? Does it interest the audience, inform them with good tastes? Here’s a production that did.
A First Xpressions Studio production, ‘Love - the Rasa,’ sub-titled ‘Kadhalagi Kasindhu’ presented at Sri Mutha Venkata Subba Rao Hall (Chennai) was a sumptuous production, filling the eye and pleasing the ear.  I was entertained, engrossed and impressed through its length of two hours.

One stunning aspect was its thoroughly rehearsed corps du ballet.  Every dancer, from different schools of dance, melded into a streamlined whole.  No matter what was being presented, it arrested one’s attention. The episodes, most about romantic love, were taken from known mythology; some, like Usha’s Dream, not so familiar.  The script and dialogues in English were by an old stage-hand of Madras, Mithran Devanesan; his expertise did not ‘show’ but held the show together with translucent, silken threads.  The Tamil dialogues and songs by Revathy Sankkaran merged without creating any unnecessary ripple.
The show started with a mime group-mactrics.  Yes.  It was like a menu card printed on velvet, not for mughlai dishes, but for a South Sea spread.  No matter.  It gave an inkling of the up-to-date leavening that made the show contemporary. The entry or the Kattiyakaran (Jagan) and Bhagavathar (Aparna Gopinath) introduced the main feature.  And their popping up every now and then, more or less as Natisutradhari of the Sanskrit Drama, was welcomed by the audience, not only for the purpose they ostensibly served, enlighten the audience, but also for their rib-tickling parrying of romance.  With impeccable English delivery, stage presence, svelte and spruce looks Aparna Gopinath conscripted the spotlight.  Jagan’s Tamil was fluid, and his fluid English was Tamil; it didn’t matter as it was the skin of his character.
Most of the incidents had Krishna as the leavening.  The magic of his character gave a veneer of appeal to the episodes.  The romantic interludes were buoyed up literally by a swing that took the high into the sky, and figuratively by lovely costuming. As Parvati, Devaki, Usha, Draupadi etc., Aparna Pillai was a stand-out.  Beautiful both in looks and dance.  Kavitha Ramu fitted the bill as Chitralekha, magical painting or the lover seen in a dream and all that but as Siva, a show-stopper.  Without trying to be overly macho, something many female dancers mistakenly do when enacting a male role, she made Siva come alive.

The dancers were students of many teachers, KJ Sarasa, Revathi Ramachandran, Anita Guha, Mutharasi, Muralidharan, Parvati Ravi Ghantasala, Adyar K Lakshman, Vijay Madhavan, Kalakshetra, CV Chandrasekhar, the Narasimhacharis and a Kalari artist Vasanth, but on their on-stage dance demeanour, a smooth and shining unity.

BV Balasai’s music and orchestration, was melodious and more importantly, totally dance-drawn, so much so that it became a part of the choreography.  The rhythm quotient was keyed in through the artistry of DA Srinivas, the more illustrious son of an illustrious father.  The Jathis gave a polished pedestal for Nandi (Nanaswinin Ramachandran) to hoove it up, separately and in combination with Siva (Kavitha Ramu), a mesmerizing display of tectonic grandeur.
Aparna Pillai’s vivid conception was realized with an easy grace by Kavitha Ramu’s choreography.  Intricate patterns were woven and pulled off with a seeming ease that was deceptive.  A rarity in such gorgeous productions, the choreography was character oriented.

Sivakumar (Pari, Duryodhana), Madhusudanan (Krishna, Aniruddha), Ranjith Babu (Kalinga), Jayakrishnan (Dussasana) impressed in big and small roles. 
Victor Paulraj’s stage lighting and Subhasri Ravi’s stage management were the seen and unseen merits of this production that left the audience happy during the show and elated afterwards.

VAK Ranga Rao is an eminent critic and dance scholar.