Dazzling Andals!
- Pratima Sagar
e-mail: pratima_sagar@yahoo.com

January 4, 2012

She emerges once and again
telling tales of her devotion, passion and desire
eons have rolled, times have changed
and yet she emerges once and again…
for she becomes the timeless goddess of love

Dancer Anita Ratnam delves into the poetic life of Andal who lived over a thousand years ago. Dancer Pritha Ratnam dons as Andal who continues to rouse love in thy heart. If one becomes the gleaming mirror image of Andal, another traverses through the mirror to fathom her inner world. Andal Andal dazzle and dance…

The warmth of oil lamps, the fragrance of flower garlands and the harmony of hymns, welcomed the winter audience of Chennai into an aesthetically bedecked Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. The Arangham Trust premiered one of its finest productions titled Andal Andal which saw the Ratnam sisters come together after 15 years, bringing the iconic Tamil poetess to life like never before!  For She emerges in double fold. The white and gold temple doors open for a spectacle as the sculpted silhouette of a goddess gently comes into the twilight of the stage… She tears apart into two to awaken her alter ego! Anita and Pritha unfurl into a lotus like choreography drawing on its outer beauty as much as absorbing into its inner densities.

Over seven dance sequences festooned together, took the viewers through a lyrical and emotive spirit of Andal’s autobiographical journey.

From this very dance theatrical, this reviewer has over seven framed descriptions to share with the readers, since the indistinguishable dancing duo fixed those images in my mind - well, moving images - more for the subtleties of expressional dance and the silken treatment of the theme. They allowed their chosen persona to bathe them with Her prose poetry so much so that one could navigate beyond the performers whose imposing beauty and grace only gave way to enter into the little sphere of Andal and Her eternal love story. Anita and Pritha coloured themselves into Andal as She coloured Herself into godhood. Now the frames…

The sisters circumambulated the stage space in synchronized step design as though chiseling the outer walls of a temple before inflowing into its internal force.  The mood for a musical lore aptly framed.

Anita sensually furling her fingers shows the conch of Krishna, and seated she whispers, “don’t you breathe in- His camphor scent…”  Frame this, for its delicately painted image of a maiden who gets envious, even by the belongings of her Lord!

They capture a parrot from the air and dangle a bangle round its neck to send a message of love, Pritha and Anita in a telling gestural dance. A child woman’s naïve yet persistent desire - framed into an imaginative visual vocabulary.

Frame 4 - A gentle dance of a peacock with its quivering feathers, as Anita looms to the fore on stage, with a simple hand gesture showing this graceful bird so dear to the protagonist of the play - her smiling face and playing fingers gives way to her partner Pritha who anxiously seems to tell this bird, “… bring me His response!”

“Of thousand dreams…,” a dream sequence woven where Andal visualizes herself as a blushing bride. Pritha in a reverie like dance showed Andal’s grandiose dream, and in another contrasting frame, Anita breathed life into a lamenting Andal who doubts her Lord for being blasé. She inflicts pain to herself and chides Him in those agonizing moments… bizarre, yet so compassionately portrayed by Anita to let slip Andal’s hidden qualms.

And the finale frame that literally resided in my eyes - the audio visual showcasing an illustration of the Lord’s feet, focused on the inner walls through the temple door decor. The dancers with their backs move in, to merge into one, One with the Lord’s lotus feet. Holding the shimmering conch and disc they turn around for one last time to be framed as though attaining divinity! “Ranga Ranga…,” the lilts fade into the air before filling the auditorium with roaring claps!

“Ranga Ranga…,” Sharanya Krishnan’s singing gravitated the mood of the verses and glibly cadenced along the dance. The cymbals and percussion support by Subhasri and N K Kesavan too were composed in a manner to blend into the linear narrative rather than intermittent pure syllabic notes that otherwise segment the cantos. And the dancers maneuvered through these metrical notes with pure dance only to flow into the tone of the next prose.  If the melodic flute of Raghuraman set an esoteric aura, the sacred chants rendered by Pradeep Chakravarthy were elevating. Interestingly, the musical ensemble was positioned down the stage directly facing the dancers like in a Broadway musical orchestra for a ballet dance. This not only allowed the dancers to step on an extra stage space, but also gave a complete view of the stage décor.

A décor dotted with traditionally crafted parrot dolls with betel nut leaves (specially brought in from the Andal temple in Srivilliputtur) was reminiscent of a forgotten craft of Vaishnavite temple rituals. Designer Rex imagines a white temple wall backdrop which opens up from one corner into another space, like in the sanctum sanctorum of a shrine. This is where we see those alluring opening and finishing frames.  Andal emerges to seek  her Lord and recoils, back into her inner globe to godhood… a metaphorical treatment by director Hari Krishnan, a proficient artist who visualizes the concept of divinity - in thy inner self - seeking the inner light.

Lighting designed by Victor Paulraj, did play a major role in painting the images. Lights - playing with light and shades, textures and colours, and sporting a dramatic beam shower symbolizing duality, divinity and more, all in peace with the tenor of music and dance. Finally, I get to mention something that is in my mind from the beginning! Costumes. The stylists behind these gorgeously bedecked dancers, clad in specially woven silks - hues of green with mango motifs… Prabha Narasimhan and Alex share the costume construction credits.
A complete team worked for this all-embracing dance choreography. Yes, there was ornamentation but nothing in excess, there was detailing all in the confines of dramaturgical aesthetics… Andal Andal, at once arty, dreamy and divine, I liked it!

Pratima Sagar is a cultural commentator and critic based in Hyderabad.