Godavari by The Spilling Ink Project
- Aparna Rao
e-mail: aparnarao.is@gmail.com
Photos: Jim Darling

April 28, 2011

It was Maximum India week in Washington, DC at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: a coming together of world-renowned Indian artistes, larger-than-life productions and the Indian diaspora. In such a context, Godavari, with lesser known names, a less prominent venue and a modest scale, was fighting the odds. As a dancer and avid kutcheri enthusiast who is a regular at the Chennai sabhas and the Kennedy Center, I assure you this piece made the quality cut at several levels. It is safe to say that tradition lives on among the grand spectacle that is now considered to be art, and it offers the most to a small but committed audience.

The Spilling Ink Project, a professional dance company based in Washington DC, presented Godavari as a part of Intersections: A New America Arts Festival, at the Atlas Performing Arts Center. The presentation featured Nalini Prakash, Vijay Palaparty and Sonali Skandan as lead dancers, with Anusha Venkatramani and Sneha Radhakrishnan providing support.

Nalini Prakash, senior dancer and choreographer, debuted Godavari as a solo at the thematic 'Teertha Bharatham,' Natyarangam's annual dance festival in August 2008 at Narada Gana Sabha. Identifying with the theme at a personal level, to find her roots given her mixed German-Indian heritage, she played the role of river Godavari, journeying across the Deccan landscape.
Nalini Prakash
Anusha Venkatramani and Sneha Radhakrishnan
Vijay Palaparty, Nalini Prakash
Vijay Palaparty, Sonali Skandan
Flowing from the sacred Bhadrachalam where Rama rested, to the Western Ghats where the river is considered to be a healing force, the piece was creatively choreographed to encompass the diverse moods of the river, cultures of people and mythology. The format followed a traditional margam presentation without overtly appearing to do so through a creative combination of narrative and music. The varying emotions of the river, as she traverses through the Deccan, were captured well with a mixture of Bharatanatyam, folk and freestyle forms.

Nalini has a tremendous stage presence and was instrumental in weaving the varied pieces of the Godavari's story as one flowing tale. Neat and precise, Nalini showed a rich repertoire: delicate when she depicts the love between Rama and Sita, joyful as she crosses the valleys, and ultimately peaceful when she discovers she is Ganga, flowing from Shiva's matted locks. Vijay Palaparty, co-founder for the Spilling Ink Project, excelled in his clean adavus and involved presentation, proving a strong partner to Nalini's graceful portrayal. The piece "Ishvaku kula thilaka" deserves special mention with Vijay's compelling depiction as the frustrated, angry and apologetic Ramadasa. Together, the duo effectively built off of each other's strengths and showcased a strong traditional foundation. Sonali Skandan was graceful and effective in her portrayal of Sita in "Vandu."

Costumes were creative with apt color combinations and dress technique to suit the presentation. However, one did miss the traditional richness of silk and stiff brocade, with cotton skirts and synthetic dupattas not sitting well on some of the dancers. The choreography fell short of expectations in the context of a group ensemble and was geared more toward a solo presentation. Incorporating visual and spatial patterns along with attention to uniform execution of the jathis would enhance the overall experience. The narrative could have been more explanatory, given the heavy lyrical content of the compositions. The music was put together well and the rich combination of instruments made up for the absence of live accompaniment.

Godavari promises to be a powerful theme that can be adapted into a far larger production.

Aparna Rao has formally trained in the Bharatanatyam with Guru Sudharani Raghupathy where she also learned both dance theory and music. Her formative years of training were spent with Mahalakshmi and G Narendra, well-known artistes of the Kalakshetra bani. Currently residing in Washington DC, she continues to prune and refine her repertoire under the tutelage of Charu Narasimhan, a senior disciple of late Dandayuthapani Pillai.