Academy of Music’s annual dance festival
- Veejay Sai, Bangalore
Photos courtesy: Prithvi Krishna

September 8, 2011

Bangalore’s cultural scene is incomplete without the Academy of Music’s annual dance festival. Thanks to the efforts of Dr. Suma Sudhindra and her efficient team, Bangalore gets to witness some of the country’s finest dancers perform for its ever growing population of art lovers. This year’s festival titled ‘Nritya Vaibhava’ was conducted from the first to the third of September at the Chowdiah Memorial Hall.

Seductive Satyabhama enthralls
None of us will ever know how the great SiddhendraYogi, the primeval author of the famous ‘Bhama Kalapam’ ever imagined the role of his protagonist, the amorous and arrogant Satyabhama, to be portrayed. But if there is any female dancer who can do absolute justice to that role and bring life into the character, it is none other than the actress and dancing diva Manju Bhargavi.  On the first evening of the festival she performed a condensed version of the great dance-drama. Though centuries of improvisations have made the original text totally unrecognizable, Manju stayed close to the popular version, retaining the various intricacies of the majority of the sahityam and pulled off an excellent show without losing out on the richness of the composition. Right on from the opening daruvu ‘Bhamane Satyabhamane,’ walking majestically like the arrogant Bhama to several parts later like ‘Siggayenamma,’ one felt as if it was no character being portrayed but a real Satyabhama on stage. With such a strong stage presence and flawless abhinayam, few could fail to be entranced by Manju’s dance. In days when dancers less than half her age gasp for breath after doing five-minute pieces on stage, Manju gracefully performed for close to two hours, engrossed in her role, without batting an eyelid or showing any sign of fatigue.

Manju Bhargavi
Vedantam Venkatachalapathi, Manju Bhargavi
Opening the show and donning the role as both the Bhagavatulu and later as Bhama’s confidante sakhi, Vedantam Venkatachalapathi displayed his versatility and vigour effortlessly. The ease with which he slipped into both the roles could make any other male dancer jealous. After all, Kuchipudi dance and the title ‘Vedantam’ are almost synonymous. The only flaw in the whole show was the male vocalist Suryanarayana who maintained a constant apashruti, causing much irritation though the female vocalist Sudharani tried hard to balance it with her singing. One felt sad that the era of famous singers like Varaalu and Kanakadurga is history, rarely capable of being repeated these days. Thanks to Manju who was a positive distraction with her dance.  A dancer of her stature certainly deserved a better male vocalist. 

Abhinava’s assortment

Nirupama and Rajendra

On the second evening of the festival, dancer couple Nirupama and Rajendra regaled audiences with an assortment of their dance productions. Calling the evening ‘Kathakitathom,’ the range of productions varied from Kathak to contemporary. It was an eclectic mix of good and a few lackluster productions.
‘Shakuntala,’ a dreamy group production had an excellent music score. With Nirupama playing the role of the protagonist Shakuntala and Rajendra portraying king Dushyanta, this came across as an experimental piece. Using different narratives without distorting the original story, they managed a decent show. A noteworthy item was their production titled ‘Utsaaha.’ As the name suggests, it was filled with energy. While Nirupama and Rajendra undoubtedly performed some excellent tatkaar flaunting their footwork, sustaining interest was a little difficult with the piece being performed to an abstract musical composition. The excellent music was provided by Praveen D Rao, one of the most talented dance music composers of our times. ‘Yuddhavira’ depicted the young warrior Abhimanyu fighting his way through the Chakravyuha in the Mahabharata. Somashekar’s satisfactory portrayal of the role was evenhanded by the brilliant group choreography in the production. Last but not the least, the piece titled ‘Kathakitathom’ was the grand finale of the evening. Opening with an admirable dialogue via tatkaar by Nirupama and Rajendra, one felt as if one were listening to a taniavartanam interlude in a music concert. After all dancing for twenty three years together has its positive effects on dancer-couples.  Eventually the piece demanded the audience participation with clapping and took the shape and intensity of a workshop. If not anything else, Nirupama and Rajendra must be congratulated for teaching a hall full of mixed audience one bol to remember. However the piece could have been longer and one felt a sense of it being incomplete without a suitable ending. Nirupama and Rajendra must surely be applauded for the commendable energy they bring to the stage and to the audiences every time they perform: something that very few solo or group dancers can achieve these days.

Two graceful dames
The last day of the festival had two senior dancers performing. The evening opened with senior Odissi danseuse Madhavi Mudgal and her niece Arushi Mudgal’s various dance productions.

The best of the lot was Madhavi performing Jayadeva’s Ashtapadi ‘Priye charusheele.’ The poignancies of the Khandita nayikabhava overflowed as Madhavi elegantly moved about effortlessly on the stage as the lyrics demanded. It makes a world of difference to listen to the Ashtapadis being rendered by the musicians from Orissa and no one can take that credit away from them.  Madhavi’s excellent team of musicians had the audience awestruck with their rendering one after the other through the course of the dance. For all those who have been fortunate to see the legendary Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra perform Ashtapadis, Madhavi certainly proved herself a worthy disciple. One must thank the festival organizers for bringing such a fine Odissi dancer to dance lovers of Bangalore.
Madhavi Mudgal
Vani Ganapathy

The second and last dance for the festival was an assortment of Bharatanatyam pieces by Vani Ganapathy. Vani opened her performance with a ‘Ganesha Supabhatam’ set to a composition by eminent Sanskrit scholar Dwarki Krishnaswami. Paying tribute to Lord Ganesha of Mangalapuri (what is now called Mangalore) Vani swung gracefully. Out of the other pieces she performed, her dance to ‘Shivapanchakshari mantram’ was noteworthy. Taking choreographic liberties without distorting the original dance form, Vani maintained an elegant poise through the course of all her items. The highlight of her assortment was her performance of Oothukadu Kavi’s ‘Vishamakaara kannan.’ It might have been a sheer coincidence or a positive conspiracy of the universe that Carnatic vocalist Aruna Sairam, who popularized most of Oothukadu’s compositions on the concert stage, was there to witness this kriti take the shape of a dance production. Looking pleased, she couldn’t stop praising Vani’s efforts.

Vignettes of brilliance and a good measure of classical purity marked this edition of the three-day dance festival setting hopes high for the next one.

Veejay Sai is a writer, editor and a culture critic.