The Fourth National Sree Sankara Dance & Music Festival 2010
- CP Unnikrishnan, Kerala

June 16, 2010

The Sree Sankara School of Dance (SSD), Kalady, Kerala, conducted its Fourth National Festival of Dance & Music, as well as the National Seminar on Development of Kalady, from the 16th to the 22nd of May. The school trains students in Mohiniattam, Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi and Carnatic music. The festival was inaugurated by Prof. KV Thomas, Minister for Agriculture, Govt. of India, presided over by Adv. Jose Thettayil, Minister for Transport, Govt. Kerala and the closing ceremony was presided over by Oommen Chandy, the Opposition leader, Govt. of Kerala. S Sharma, the Minister for Fisheries and Registration, Govt. of Kerala, inaugurated the family meet associated with the festival.

The motto of the seven day program was 'Art for Social Cause' and contained the following events. Each session, comprising of selected events on each day, ran from 4pm to 9.30pm.

KP Babudas receiving Agamananda award from Oommen Chandy
1. Dance programs and lecture demonstrations by internationally renowned artistes, on 3 days.
2. Mohiniattam solo by Sudha Peethambaran, Director SSD, on one day.
3. 3 solo dance performances and 4 classical music recitals by the upcoming artists accredited by the Sree Sankara Accreditation and Assessment Council, on four days.
4. 5 solo dance performances by selected senior students, which included newly written and choreographed productions and choreographed ones based on existing old texts by stalwarts like Aadi Sankara, Sree Narayana Guru, Thunjath Ramanujan Ezhuthachan.
5. 3 solo items from the traditional Kuchipudi repertoire.
6. Group classical dances and singing by 217 students in the ongoing training classes, and arangettam of 245 students.
7. New production, the Sanskrit version of "Sankaram Lokasankaram - A Naatyabhashya" – 10 scenes depicting the life and visions of Aadi Sankara – A classical dance drama, integrating the Mohiniattam, Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi and Kathakali styles.
8. Honouring Kalamandalam Kshemavathy for her contributions to Mohiniattam during the last four and half decades.
9. Presenting the Swami Aagamananda Award to Prof. KP Babudas for his book 'Sauryagunam' which narrates the life and contributions of late Kalamandalam Krishnankutty Poduval, the multifaceted maestro and a specialist in playing chenda as an accompaniment for Kathakali.
10. Honouring Prof. PK Madhuri for having translated the Malayalam script of 'Sankaram Lokasankaram' into Sanskrit.
11. Honouring the selected media reporters, based on their support to SSD.
12. Honouring the singer, 4 instrumentalists and 13 makeup artists who have been supporting all the programs of the SSD round the year.
13. Presenting the Sree Sankaracharya Award to: Reshmi Narayanan, for getting accredited in Bharatanatyam and Mohiniattam, Deepna P Nair, NJ Nandini and CY Gangadharan for getting accredited in Carnatic music.
14. Five sessions comprising of paper and audio-visual presentations and discussions on the action plans for the development of Kalady, with a special emphasis on the said motto.
15. A get-together of the families of the students and artists on May 16, 2010.
Sunil Kumar
On May 18, the Bharatanatyam maestros, the Dhananjayans, gave a spectacular start to the three day long guest artistes section of the festival, which in fact was the focal one for the entire festival 2010. Following the invocatory sequence by the duo, Dhananjayan presented the well known "Manaasanjarare….." Simple, captivating and tear triggering has been his deliberation. Sudha Peethambaran, director SSD, in her response session commented that she could see Lord Krishna next to Dhananjayan. The experience wasn't different for the major cross section of the crowd which flowed out of the temporarily built auditorium with a seating capacity of 1300.

The story of 'Sree Kaalahasthi', narrating how a spider, a serpent and an elephant, by virtue of their total devotion, were blessed by Lord Siva was presented by Gopu Kiran and Deepthi Rajesh. Both of them did absolute justice to the tenets of sudha nrutta as well as satwika abhinaya. "Radhamadhavam," a blend of the two ashtapathis, 'Yaahi Madhava…' and 'Vadasiyadi kinchithapi…..' by the Dhananjayans epitomized the common incident that would happen in every house. When untainted love persists between a husband and wife, there exists a Radha and a Krishna. An episode from Nandanar, presented by Dhananjayan and Gopu Kiran, in eurhythmic terms elucidated the psyche of the feudal landlord and the innocent Nandanar. The kinesics they individually chose revealed the needed contrast between the two. Micro-acting techniques were meticulously handled by the master and his student, transcending the audience across a large span of time and space. The two hour long program ended with Nrithyopaharam, a tillana neatly woven by Deepthi and Gopu. Shanta Dhananjayan (nattuvangam), Arun Gopinath (vocal), Karthik (mridangam), Iswar (violin) and Sudhakar (flute) provided a perfect audio ambience.

The Dhananjayans
In the lec-dem that followed on the next day, the Dhananjayans, assisted by their disciples explained the principles of 'the Desa Paatrapranas' and Bharata's Natya Sastra norms for constructing hastha mudras – highly useful for new attempts in choreography.

On May 19, Swapnasundari's Vilasini Natyam was a new experience. In the lec-dem, in the forenoon session that preceded the evening program, with a short video presentation and demonstration, she explained what the art form is like. There were minute traces of Odissi in the northern style and those of Bharatanatyam, Kathakali and certain folk forms in the southern style, as she explained the structure of Vilasini Natyam with commendable academic brilliance. In the evening, Swapnasundari commenced her recital with an invocation to Ganesha, Saraswathi and the deities presiding over the stage. "Sree Kaalahasthi" presented in the format of a padavarnam, narrated how Lord Siva blessed the devoted spider, serpent and the elephant. Although the same was presented by the disciples of the Dhananjayans on the previous day, Swapnasundari concentrated more on the satwika abhinaya, never nullifying the pure dance components. Maharaja Swathi Tirunal's keerthanam, "Maamava sadaa janani…," was very judiciously handled, giving it the tone of Vilasini Natyam as explained by her. A short sequence from Bhamakalapam blossomed forth the lyrical and the Terpsichorean beauty of Vilasini Natyam. Well aware of the shortage of time, to present the item in full details, Swapnasundari showed the ornaments specially assigned to Bhama in the dance drama, narrated the story and presented the sequence. This also proved her excellence in singing, her profound stamina, undoubtedly two essentials requisites for a professional dancer. The background was a neat ensemble with Rajiv (nattuvangam), K Venkateswaran (vocal), Lalgudi Ganesh (mridangam) and Vijay S Anand (violin).

Bharathi Sivaji
The comment, 'Mohiniyattam with difference' is usually appended to Bharathi's performance. One may agree that Kerala is the alma mater or the home of Mohiniattam and Bharathi uses visual linguistic norms different from those prevalent in Kerala. But, to an unbiased lover of the art, there are few lacunae in its historic continuity and absolute definitions. In fact, that is a blessing in disguise for any innovative and creative artistes. Use of the taalas, ragas, rendering styles and the accompanying instruments are significant in the structure of a well defined stylised form of nritha, nrithya and natya. Bharathi employs them to provide 'the voice culture of Kerala.' On May 20, these were evident in her recital that commenced with Mukhajaalam, an item that exposed the pure dance elements of Mohiniattam. Her disciple Vinaya presented "Pralaya parvvatha manohari….," a composition of Kilimanoor Koyithamburan, deliberated in the format of a varnam, described the beauty and the ever-blessing nature of the mother Goddess. Bharathi and Vinaya Manoj together presented "Kanakamayamaayeedum Kanakvaahanamathil…," a number from the Utsavaprabhandam of Maharaja Swathi Tirunal, a favourite of most of the south Indian dancers. Their interactions, raising the doubts as to who is seen seated on the golden vehicle, arriving at the conclusion that it's none other than Sree Padmanabha, were well dovetailed. Sadnam Rajagopal (vocal), Jayan P Das (mridangam and maddalam), Kalamandalam Sreekumar (edakka), Murali Krishna (veena) and Sankara Narayan (flute), set the right ambience to create the 'voice culture of Kerala.'

The next morning, Bharathi addressed the students, making it clear that she was talking on Mohiniattam as she has understood it. Her short video presentation supported her opening statement. Along with her disciple Vinaya, she showed examples to explain the training pattern followed in her institution. This gave the students a lesson to look at an art form from different angles. She concluded this session enacting the Ashtapathi, "Kesi hey tawa….. ."

As a part of employing nrutta as a powerful medium to deal with relevant social themes, Sudha Peethambaran presented the story of the 'marataka sivalingam' stolen away and even after great promises and a year passed by, nothing has happened. A newly written lyrical composition narrating the different aspects of Krishna, as seen by a narthaki captured the mind of many. Lyrics for both these items were prepared and the nrutta choreographed by Prof. CP Unnikrishnan and Sudha together; music being scored by MS Unnikrishnan Perumbavur, who was also on the flute. The seasoned danseuse excelled in satwika abhinaya as well as shudha nrutta. She concluded with the famous lullaby "Omanathingal kidavo…," a popular composition of Maharajah Swathi Tirunal. The vocalist Sreekumar was marvelous.
New solo productions by SAAC accredited artistes.

Ramya Varma, in the Mohiniattam style, explained how the pious Sudhama (Kuchela) met his good old friend Krishna, returned without asking him for any alms, yet found his dilapidated home turned into a palatial mansion and his wife and children bestowed with all riches. The lyrics used were selected from the works of Ramapurathu Warrier, Kunjan Nambiar and Brahmasri Muringoor Sankaran Potti.

Reshmi Naryanan, in the Bharatanatyam format, presented 'Kundalini-paattu,' a poetic work of Sree Narayana Guru, dealing with the six energy wheels in a human body and how the kundalini seated at the base of the spine is elevated through the wheels by yogic practices to open up the thousand petal lotus in the vertex of the head, when the practitioner enjoys the supreme bliss. The style of presentation relied on yogic postures and Bharatanatyam adavus with suggestive hasthabhinaya. Reshmi with her steady basics in yoga, flexible body and knowledge of Bharatanatyam, was highly appreciated by the audience. Sreelekha KV dealt well with the nine rasas through the well known story of Daksha and Sathi. She could enact the roles of all the different characters with ease with full justice to the tenets of Bharatanatyam.

Asha Hari
Athulya Shaji
New solo productions by senior students.
Soumya Varma presented Achyuthashtakam of Aadi Shankara in the Kuchipudi style in which she narrated the episodes of Poothana and Krishna, the game of dice between the Pandavas and the Kauravas and Draupathi-vastraksepam. Athulya Shaji, in the Mohiniattam format, narrated how the river Periyar is being misused and polluted by the negligence of the authorities and the common folk. Periyar, as it passes by the birth place of Aadi Shankara, is river Poorna that has tremendous spiritual and material value. Athulya ended her dance with an appeal to consider the pathetic condition of a great heritage and start endeavours to save it.

Asha Hari, a senior Bharatanatyam performer, briefed the concept and practice of education in the gurukulam days and the transitions occurred as one observes now. The message was to integrate the positive elements of both to gradually raise a generation that would intelligently work with integrity to the nation.

Avanijalakshmi, employing predominantly the satwika abhinaya techniques of Mohiniattam, in brief sequences showed the incidents like the arrival of Sri Rama and Lakshmana with Viswamithra in the palace of Janaka, breaking of the bow Shaivachapa and Rama winning Seetha, based on the selected lines from the Ramayanam Kilipaattu of Thunjath Ramanujan Ezhuthachan. Vaishnavi, blending the satwika abhinaya and sudha nrutha of Mohiniattam, quoted selected stanzas from the works of Sree Narayana Guru, to appeal to the entire humanity, the urgent need to kindle the sparks of love and compassion in every human, to save the world from all sorts of terrors and destructions.

In solo presentations of traditional items by senior students, Laksmi R presented Krishna, Pooja Mohan presented Tarangam and Keerthi Satheesh 'bho Sambho Sivasambho…..' all in the traditional Kuchipudi solo style. The Sanskrit version of 'Sankaram Lokasankaram - A Natyabhashyam' was presented on the last day. 10 scenes out of eighteen episodes from the original prepared text, comprising of 51 verses were staged by 22 female dancers, which won great appreciation by the scholars as well as dance lovers.

MS Unnikrishnan scored the music for all the solo items which were rendered in apt tone by Sreekumar Oorakam, supported by Venu Kurumasseri on mridangam and maddalam, Babu Palluruthy on tabla, Tripunithura Krishnadas on edakka, MS Unnikrishnan on flute, Baburaj Perumbavur on violin and keyboard. A team of 26 makeup artists under the leadership of Babu Manikkamangalam and Joy Potta did the face makeup for all the dancers on all the five days.