- Priya Raman, Hyderabad
Photos courtesy: Vasundhara Centre of Performing Arts

August 9, 2010

Not for nothing is Mysore always synonymous to art and culture. When it showcases culture, it does it with great aplomb. And when a veteran and Mysore's very own, Dr. Vasundhara Doreswamy hosts her festival, there are no two ways about how it could get culture aficionados to one place. One of the three major festivals conducted annually by the Vasundhara Centre of Performing Arts, Natarajotsava was held most appropriately in the vibrating atmosphere of the Jaganmohan Palace in Mysore. It was in true essence an eye opener, a curtain raiser showcasing male and couple dancers.

“Male and couple dancers constitute the smaller ratio of performing dancers today. A specific festival would give a worthy platform to cover dancers from all classical forms,” quips Dr. Doreswamy (a petite looking lady defying her age!) on her intent to do so. The festival mirrored her thought for there were dancers carefully handpicked (barring a few!) from all over India and covering most classical forms. And she surely is seasoned at her art. One could perceive perfect management and rigid cultural discipline in organizing the festival.

The three day festival had a grand opening with the who's who in the cultural sector attending, inaugurating and praising the effort! There was media diligently present at large from English and Kannada dailies, clicking the right moments and capturing the right ideas. So there was Mr. Jayaramaraje Urs, Secretary, Kannada and Culture, Krishnamurthy, a senior critic who presided over and Vasu, an art connoisseur.

Natarajotsava started with a Kathakali recital by Probal Gupta, a software engineer turned professional dancer. Hailing from Kolkata, he chose a rare art form, creating opportunities for solo Kathakali performances. He commenced with a Padam from Dakshayagam in Raga Yadukula Kamboji and Chempata Tala focusing on individualistic characterization of Sati and Lord Shiva. Through unassumingly good body movement and detailing of story, Probal succeeded in connecting this rare piece with the audience. Choosing to portray Lalitha from Kimira Vadham was a clever choice for it provided ample scope to exhibit abhinaya. Simhika's conversation with Panchali –fake admiration of her beauty and comparisons to nature were flawlessly depicted. Probal walked through this tough composition of his Guru FACT Padmanabhan from Kerala. One of his talked about research works, 'Vaishnava Janato' served a good finale. Where simple choreography gave added advantage, intercepts of 'blank expressions/face' could not be understood. He was supported by KM Mohan Krishnan on vocal, Pravin Krishnan on edakkya and chanda and Anish on maddalam.

Probal Gupta
Shafeekuddin and Shabana
Couple Shafeekuddin and Shabana were an apt elect for the festival. At the outset, kudos to these dancers for having waded through opposition to take up an art form of a totally opposite culture, scrutinize its mythology and depict it accurately. Shafeekuddin, a disciple of the Dhananjayans, has trained Shabana to make their dancing duo. All the items they chose for the day was straight out of Dhananjayan's imminent compositions.

The Natarajanjali in Natai and Adi tala gave a traditional flow to the very popular, again Dhananjayan copyright Varnam- Ninne Nambi Nanura in Raga Attana and Adi Tala. Shabana has grasped the Kalakshetra style in no less than the blotting paper way. She evinced some fine grace, amazing stamina and shrewd neatness. Surprisingly, Shafeekudin was on the lower side in comparison. Choreography for the duet could have been better. (It was predictable – each one froze by turns). Shabana again proved her mettle in the Saraswati Keerthane in Raga Lathangi with just the required elegance. But one could not help notice the rigorous boundaries that the style draws on the dance of an individual. She could have been louder and enjoyed her dance internally.

The Behag Thillana in Khanda Eka was a tough finish. They were supported on vocal by Payyanur Manoj, nattuvangam by Saira Banu (a slightly nervous Shabana's mother), Hanumantha Raju on mridangam and Narayanan on violin.

Day 2
The second day of the festival welcomed Krishnendu Majumdar from Kolkata, a student of Dr Abhijit Ray. It is always refreshing to see Kathakars from North India bringing the required extempore on stage in classical dancing. The south very rarely gets to see that in performances around. (Everything is “item” based). Krishnendu started with a brisk Ganesh Vandana and quickly moved on to the nritta aspects of counting, amad and tukdas showcasing razor sharp control over rhythm and taal, fine finishing and strong footwork. His ability to talk yet not diluting his nritta was commendable. Chakkars in the 16 beat cycle are a normal fare but it was just refreshing to watch Majumdar pirouette in extreme virtuosity.

Bindadin Maharaj's Thumri was well choreographed and superlatively performed. Majumdar as Radha dressing up Krishna was done without exaggeration. But a slightly sober make-up and thinner personality would have given him a better edge. Passionate tabla by Siddarth Bhattacharjee, harmonium and vocal by Subhasish Bhattacharjee and sitar by Bedashri provided good support.

Krishnendu Majumdar
Anil V Iyer
Anil V Iyer from Bangalore followed next with a Bharatanatyam recital. A product of the watchful eyes of veteran Late Guru Narmada, he presently continues under the caring tutelage of Guru Poornima Gururaj. The shloka conceptualizing a combination of the 5 elements and describing Shiva and Parvati was a soothing start thanks to the composition by Vidwan Gurumurthy and Bharathi Venugopal. The Todi Varnam, a composition of Ramaswamy Dixit, was an ideal choice. Carrying off 4-5 jathis before the Chittaswaram is quite a task and Anil exuded good angashuddam. His straight lines were worth watching, though his tala went for a toss quite a few times.

Chittikevesithe, the much used Sarangapani Padam in Raaga Kalyani was apt for his stature and presence on stage. Though Anil did justice to the choreography, the item could have been conducted with a little bit of humour to generate interest. (Viz. The scenes of gopikas swirling around Krishna, feeding him and comforting him). Thillana (Raga Simhendra Madyama) painted a picture of 'difference' in its adavus and usage of hastas. Presenting it with a strange vividness along with good stamina, Anil gave an adept finish for the day. He was ably supported by Bharathi Venugopal on vocal, Poornima Gururaj on nattuvangam, Janardhan on mridangam and Karthik Sathavalli on flute.

Day 3
The concluding day of the Natarajotsava had lined up three male dancers, one Bharatanatyam and two Kathak recitals. It turned out to be quite a hectic exercise for the mind and body to watch this back to back.

Suresh, a student of Late Guru H R Keshavamurthy, now pursuing under the Kirans in Bangalore, started the proceedings of the evening. Suresh is a multifaceted youngster, an entrepreneur running his own placement firm, a vocalist and a training mridangist apart from being a performer in Bharatanatyam. While his passion and zeal deserves a pat, it remains that each art requires its own time and effort to internalize, learn and present. Watching Suresh perform sent strong signals that in his busy scheme of things, his quests do not match the outcome.

He started with a KadyonKanthi Pushpanjali coupled with the very popular (of Kirans' School) Rudranamavali. Both the items required a good amount of balance and rhythm but Suresh's postures and stills were shaky. Muthuswami Dixitar's Devi stuthi offered less scope for performance, specially for a male. The Varnam in Nattakuranji (Swami Naan Undan Adimai) was handled fairly well though he fell short on his grip over the tala and angashuddhi. The Tulsidas Bhajan as the final piece was well choreographed.

What we could not definitely miss thorough the recital was the split second precision oriented mridangam by Lingaraju and the chemistry between him and Radhika Ramanujam on nattuvangam in holding the tala (Since Suresh missed it quite often!). Ramesh Chadaga on vocal and Narasimha Murthy on flute added colours.

Saptarshi Roy
A weak link of the festival was Saptarshi Roy from Kolkata. Though he started with a vibrant Ganesha stuthi, a first glance of the dancer was an inevitable 'huge' structure with less stage presence. As the recital progressed into segments of pure dance- dhaamal, chakkars, chaal, tehai etc, one discovered that the dancer had no hold over his taal too! An applause to the ensemble (the same as for Majumdar) which stuck to their seats until he got off stage (rather was forced to). He overshot his time slot to the extent that the organizers had to clear the air about the time given to each artiste and their limitations.

As we braced ourselves through this little upset for the final recital, Vineet Nigam from Banglaore was a breath of fresh air. A disciple of Satish Shukla of the Lucknow Gharana, this enthusiastic youngster is now a student of Natya Institute of Kathak and Choreography under Dr. Maya Rao. I must repeat here that Kathak dancing in the south is too structured to be true. Not everything needs to come within frames of 'items'. And Vineet did just that. Even the pure dance pieces, the uttan, thaat, amad and tukdas were too rehearsed and perfect. It's high time that someone brings some extempore to the stage. Something permissible in an art form ought to be explored (unfortunately other dance forms cannot do it!). Without taking off credit, Vineet has some great stage presence, perfect hold over tala, good spins and neat expressions. The Kannada Keerthana and the Thiruvat spelled amazing team work on the part of Vineet and his ensemble. Ganesh Desai on vocal, Keerthi Kumar on the padant, Ajay Kumar Singh on the tabla and Shruthi Kamat on sitar gave a fine touch.

Natarajotsava conducted yearly is surely one ideal platform for young male and couple dancers to travel with their art to this culture centric city of Mysore where people understand and have all the time to watch and appreciate arts. Whoever said 'Dance like a man'- Phew!! There is Tandava, true but there is Lasya too! Seven male dancers over three consecutive days with only a lone lady, I ran for my lasya touch!

Priya Raman is a Bharatanatyam dancer, who has been conducting interactive workshops on classical dance for school children as an Education Consultant with The Times of India - Newspaper in Education (NIE). Having a passion and flair for writing, Priya writes on dance and dance related issues in Ananya's monthly magazine, Abhivyakthi.