Text & pics: Lalitha Venkat, Chennai
January 14, 2011
After a two day break, it was back to my current state of sleep deprivation! January 2 saw me camping in Sivagami Pethachi Auditorium from 3.45pm to 9.15pm in a marathon dance watching session. The first occasion was the DVD release (Swathi Soft Solutions) of Gopalakrishna Bharati's Nandanar Charitram performed by Bharata Nrityam exponent Bala Devi Chandrasekhar from New Jersey. A few excerpts were screened from the DVD and from what one could see, Bala looked gorgeous and the music was melodious. The DVD was released by her guru Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam, who said she was proud that her students were doing well wherever they are settled. "However much we do modern themes, old themes live in time and are timeless too," she said. The dignitaries present were Cleveland Sundaram, Usha Ananthasubramanian (GM of Bank of Baroda who received the first copy) and Natarajan of DD fame, all of whom kept their felicitation to a couple of minutes each. (They had ample reminder by the next performer A Lakshman stomping behind the curtain, his ankle bells jangling, all set to start at the earliest!).
Two audio Cds for dance are part of the package. It is distributed by Kalakendra and available in many of the outlets in Chennai. It's the dream of every performing classical Indian artist to perform in Chennai during the December music and dance season. There could not have been a better place and time to release the DVD, says Bala Devi. It was a short and sweet function, the briefest DVD release function I have ever seen. The only irritant was a photographer, who actually pulled a chair in front of the first row, stood on it (unbelievable but true!) so he could be on level with the people on stage and took pictures, blocking the view of everybody! 'Height' of insensitivity. What was the necessity for this when he was already standing right in front?!
It was good to see A Lakshman perform after a long time. Apart from being a fine guru, he is also a fine dancer and his performance that evening charmed the audience to the edge of their seats, all of them beaming in response to his every naughty glance, or come hither look, or pout! The audience came out of his performance smiling, sighing delightedly that he was better at these coy moves than even female dancers! An absolutely delightful performance. As soon as Lakshman finished, rose petals and green leaves were strewn in a border in front and rear of the stage, with candles burning in little transparent holders lined along these borders. The beautiful garlands were already hanging from the top of the stage, a rather novel decoration for a dance program. This was for Indance's second performance of 'Fallen Rain' in Chennai. Apart from Hari Krishnan and Srividya's items, Hari's student from Toronto, Nalin Bisnath presented a kurathi item. They covered the space well and it was nice to see the sheer energy of the duo right through the performance, just as in the first show at Spaces, which somehow had a better ambience suited to the theme.
Though there was little nritta in the presentation, his evocative depiction of the various episodes was absorbing in its execution. The recurring sounds of the temple bells and the conch gave a very temple atmosphere. (I just visited Srirangam, my landlord told me after watching Zakir's first show!) The music was by Gomathi Nayagam, script by Revathy Sankkaran, and scholarly guidance by Krishnamachariar. The orchestra comprised of his student Lakshmi Venkatesh on nattuvangam, Ganesh on percussion, Nataraj on flute, Kaushik on vocal, and special effects by Saravanan. A little less jewellery and little less gilt on the costume would have been easier on the eye.
Veteran dancer Sucheta Chapekar, a disciple of Thanjavur Kittappa Pillai and Acharya Parvati Kumar of Maharashtra, is well known for her presentations of Marathi compositions. In 1969, she had presented a full program of Marathi compositions by Serfoji. She performed compositions of the Maratha rulers of Thanjavur at Music Academy on the morning of Jan 6. She first heard "Tandava nritya kari gajanana" in a Yakshagana program in Andhra and the artistes themselves had not realized it was in Marathi. Sucheta recalled how she had performed that item in Music Academy 35 years ago, with Dr. V Raghavan presenting a scholarly intro before every item. The next item was "Pahile Krishna" from the manuscripts of King Shahji, set in keertana style composed by Kittappa Pillai, another 35 year old composition, which she thinks is his masterpiece. In Shahji's works, one does not find varnams, but in Serfoji's, one finds many varnams, she said. Sucheta Chapekar ended with the Jakkini daru, a forerunner of the tillana, by King Shahji that had choreography and music composition by Kittappa Pillai. "I have never changed even a little bit of this in all these years. Simplicity is sometimes very beautiful. Complexity is not always beautiful" she said to applause! The accompanying artistes were N Sivaprasad on vocal, KN Venkateswaran on mridangam, Arundati on nattuvangam and SR Balsubramaniam on violin.
In Music Academy, one has to go through security. Plus photography is not allowed inside. Had I known that, I'd have been spared the embarrassment of three volunteers breathing down my neck and admonishing me for taking a few pics of Sucheta Chapekar! There are watchful volunteers all over the hall. I was told I had to get permission of the committee members in order to take photos! The minute any cellphone camera or camera is whipped out anywhere, at least 2 volunteers make their way across people and wag their fingers - no photos! So, I asked Praveen to pose for me on stage after the show! He was happy on many counts. For him, performing at the Academy is a privilege since that stage has a special something. He said it was the first time a sabha had taken such good care of him and his troupe, train fare by a/c class for the whole group, a car at their disposal, a volunteer meeting them at the station and being with them through their stay, taking care of their food, and good hotel accommodation. Plus a decent fee that at least took care of the accompanying artistes! And the artistes are also given free passes for the evening programs. (The well attended morning programs of the dance festival are free).
As I hurried the next morning back to Music Academy to watch the Dhananjayans present Nrityopaharam, I noticed the sign in the parking lot that read 'No parking for canteen visitors'!! (Must be the result of more people flocking to the canteen than to performances!) The 80 minute full length program was choreographed way back in 1978 by the Dhananjayans, and ran to almost full house. A Padavarnam on Ramayana in Kharaharapriya ragam composed by Tenmadom Narasimhachari (a contemporary of Thyagaraja) was set as a Nrityopaharam (an offering of narrative dance). Khara and Dooshana (supposed to be cousins of Ravana) are two demons killed by Rama. Khara haran, the one who killed Khara, that is Sri Rama; his priya is Sita or the raga liked by Rama - Khara hara priya. The chanting of Rama naama expels the six enemies of the human mind - kaama, krodha, moha, lobha, mada, maatsarya. The second half delineates Rama as the ultimate god dwelling in the creations as life itself. The episodes in the Ramayana are narrated in a nutshell, from Rama's birth to finally traveling in the pushpaka vimana and coronation. The episodes were presented alternately by the duo as solo pieces - an elaborate 'ekaahaarya lasyaangam.' The Dhananjayans were accompanied by N Sasidharan on vocal, S Sunil Kumar on flute, M Venkatakrishnan on nattuvangam, R Kalaiarasan on violin, KP Ramesh Babu on mridangam and R Lakshminarayanan on tambura. Sitting two rows in front of me was this season's newsmaker, "paper thaatha," an elderly gentleman who comes armed with his newspaper, and leaves after he's read the paper! Hopefully he enjoyed reading The Hindu Friday Review that morning!
Next was a pleasing Bharatanatyam performance by Lakshmi Gopalaswamy. She presented Devi stuti to Goddess Kali, "Velanai vara solladi" composed by Dandayudhapani Pillai, a padam "Vadiga Gopaluni" and a thillana in Khamas composed by Lalgudi Jayaraman. The soulful singing of Murali Parthasarathy, the elegant recitation of jathis by Kiran Subramanyam who has composed the jathis for the morning's recital, flute by Jayaraman and violin by Natarajan was much appreciated by the audience. But the deep mystery voice (what we would call 'sexy' voice!) making the impeccable announcements caught one's attention. It was the guy "with the golden voice" - Govind! If only dancers would get someone to announce properly instead of getting people who get their pronunciations - of the items as well as names, especially foreign names! - all wrong.
That evening, Bala Devi Chandrashekar, senior disciple of Padma Subrahmanyam, gave a Bharata Nrityam recital at Sivagami Pethachi Auditorium. Bala thoroughly enjoyed performing as one could see from her happy countenance. When it was announced that the Nritya Margam would be favorites of ML Vasanthakumari, a gentleman commented, "Then it must be nice!" The items presented were an invocatory mallari, sloka from Shyamaladandakam, a varnam in raag Khamas composed by Harikesanallur Muthiah Bhagavathar, "Baro Krishnayya" in ragamalika, "Dikku theriyadha kaatil" by Subramanya Bharati and concluded with a thillana by Swati Thirunal in ragam Dhanasree tuned by Lalgudi Jayaraman. The complex rhythmic patterns were specially created by Karaikudi Sivakumar. On nattuvangam was Pandanallur Pandian, Padma Shankar on vocal, Aarti Shankar on violin, Ramana on flute and Sudhaman on mridangam. I could hear some people singing or humming along through the program. The best was for the last. After the thillana, everyone in the audience waited for the mangalam. It did not happen. The orchestra started to wind up and could not believe that no one was leaving! The people were not even standing up to leave, they were all still sitting! The orchestra took the hint and only after the mangalam did the people file out!
The dancer started with a mallari danced to nadaswaram and thavil. Rodin's sculpture 'The Thinker' signified the immortal love of Dante for Beatrice, a man who elevated his lost dead love to a goddess status. "Paayum oli nee enakku" went the lyrics of the song. In 'La Sommeil' Francesca recalls her love for Paolo in the Divine Comedy and yearns to be reunited with him. 'The Kiss' is about Paolo and Francesca who lived in love and died in love and found a parallel in the song "kaadhal kaadhal kaadhal poyin saadhal saadhal…" Camille Claudel was inspired by Shakuntala's story and the pangs of feelings she underwent came forth in the lyrics of Maraimalai Adigal and Kalidasa's Shakuntalam. After seeing a sculpture of the Thiruvalangadu Nataraja at an exhibition in Europe, Rodin was astounded and called it the perfect amalgamation of life and after life. He even wrote a poem in French on the 'Dance of Shiva' and with "kunitha puruvamum…" connected with Patanjali stotram, Shanmuga Sundaram concluded his interesting presentation. A slide show projected the sculpture in question with a brief well written narrative in Anusha Narendra Kumar's voice, followed by the dance item with the dancer freezing at the end of each item into the respective sculpture's pose. The music is composed by Shanmuga Sundaram with help from his guru KJ Sarasa. The beautiful soulful singing by Kuldeep Pai and Preethi Mahesh was supported by NK Kesavan on the mridangam, Shanmuga Sundaram and L Narendra Kumar on nattuvangam, plus nadaswaram and thavil artistes from Thanjavur. The text was originally written in Tamil by Shanmuga Sundaram and on his request, the ever helpful scholar TS Parthasarathy had translated it into English, and even typed it himself. He passed away a week later, recalls the dancer with emotion. A project that took five years to evolve, it was presented at the French Film Fest in Malaysia last May and very well received.
The way he held his aramandi, going down on his knees and rising smoothly, bending to the floor level and then springing up effortlessly was admirable in a man his age when much younger dancers would have been panting and puffing. He maintained his balance doing sculpturesque poses, wisely choosing those that suited his age. The ever melodious Hariprasad on vocal, Manjari and Renjith Babu on nattuvangam, Sashidar on flute, Vedakrishnan on mridangam, Kalaiarasan on violin and Lakshminarayanan on tambura gave him wonderful music support. For CVC, the performance was precious because his alma mater Kalakshetra completed 75 years on Jan 6, he turned 75 last year and his own guru Sarada Hoffman was in the audience! So was Kunhiraman who had celebrated his 80th birthday a couple of weeks earlier in December, Vyjayanthimala Bali and a host of dance luminaries. The audience gave the maestro a 2 minute standing ovation. When CVC uncle had mentioned the earlier week that he was nervous about the performance, I did not know that he would be performing these items for the first time. That such a great teacher ("Don't call me 'guru,' not even 'Prof.' I want to be called just CV Chandrasekhar," he told me during an interview) is still nervous about a performance shows that he does not take his audience for granted. "It was heartening when people came up and told me 'It was not only your experience, you made us experience it.' It is not my energy alone. I draw my energy from the audience," he said about what keeps him going.
Next followed a brilliant Mohiniattam recital by Jayaprabha Menon from Delhi. She wore a beautiful costume of cream with maroon border. Tha thom-Bhaja Govindam showcases the journey of a human life from cradle to the grave; there's no other salvation but Bhaja Govindam. It was set to music by Kavalam Narayana Panicker in ragamalika, chembada tala. In the padam, as Siddartha he is the beloved husband of Yashodara and as the Buddha, he is a person to be revered and worshipped - written and composed by Kavalam Narayana Panicker and set to sopanam music. The final item was about the mysticism of the number seven, the traveling of energy from the mooladhara chakra to the Sahasrara, composed by Kavalam Padmanabhan and choreographed by Bharati Sivaji. The accompanying artistes were Kottakkal Jayan (vocal), Thrissur Muralikrishna (veena), Irinjalakkuda Nandakumar (edakka) and Swati Das (maddalam).
I missed the canteen fare at the sabhas. I visited the Krishna Gana Sabha canteen just once when in the middle of an evening performance by a large troupe, I came out and met two senior dancers who were so 'depressed' with the quality of the production, they invited me to help them drown their sorrows in yummy kichidi and hot coffee!
Seasons' pics 2010-2011 by Lalitha Venkat
Lalitha Venkat is the content editor of www.narthaki.com