The Music Academy Dance Fest: Day 1
- Veejay Sai
Photos: Thanthoni

January 6, 2012

The first day of the Dance Festival at the Madras Music Academy started on the third of January amidst much fanfare. The evening began with the award ceremony and senior dance guru Padma Subrahmanyam was given the title of ‘Natya Kala Acharya’, the first of its kind, instituted this year by the Academy. After the ceremony the evening opened with a solo performance by Priyadarsini Govind.
Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam receives Natya Kala Acharya Award from Dr. Stefan Weckbach

The unfortunate rooster

Priyadarsini Govind

Priya opened with a Mallari and continued into a Varnam ‘Saami Ninne’ set to a Ragamalika.   Written in praise of Lord Brihadeeshwara, this is a much-performed composition of the Tanjore Quartet. The story of a love-lorn nayika who fantasizes her romance with Lord Brihadeeshwara. We all are aware of how a piece of jewelry falls off and it is perfectly ok to continue without being too self-conscious on stage. Priyadarsini was all set to be on a self-destruction mode. First a part of her earring flew off leaving a dangler stuck to her hair and as she continued to dance, her bindi went wonky and then the vankis on her arms started slipping, which she constantly kept adjusting. The nayika now looked like she could give Shobhana from the movie ‘Manichitrathazhu’ a run for her money! Following the Varnam was a Kshetrayya padam “Kodi koosenu ayyayo.” Between the two acts was not only enough time for the dancer to go backstage and announce her next piece, but also make the necessary corrections in her aaharyam. Priya decided against that and came out looking as disheveled as she left and all one could think about was the unfortunate rooster that Kshetrayya wrote about. Following that, she performed an abhinaya piece from the Oothukadu collection, “Vishamakara Kannan” made more famous by Aruna Sairam on the concert stage. Oh Bharatamuni, why did you give so much importance to aaharyam? Priya finally ended her performance with a thillana in Ragam Behag composed by Balamurali Krishna.

What an anti-climax to open the most prestigious and much-looked up to dance festival! With every senior guru in the audience and on such a prestigious slot which any dancer would be envious of, why did Priya do this to us? Who was she taking for granted? No one will ever know. Either ways it was saddening to see such a seasoned dancer performing the way she did.   

Ayyayyo, these women!
Just a few days ago ‘Mad & Divine’ conference took place under the aegis of Arangham Trust and almost everything that needed to be told on topics ranging from women empowerment to mythology was discussed. Some of those performances are still fresh in one’s memory. Dealing with a closely related topic was Mohiniattam Guru Gopika Varma’s ‘Ayonija Pancha Kanya,’ the five mythological women (Sita, Mandodari, Ahalya, Tara, Draupadi) whose stories of misfortune were interlinked.
The group production opened with a set of dancers gathering themselves on stage without much coordination in their movements. This set of girls was to come later as transition between each of these Kanyas which Gopika presented.

Gopika Varma
Gopika Varma's Dasyam
In spite of having over ten dancers in her group, Gopika decided to do the roles of all the five Kanyas and there began the disaster. The expression with which Sita made her exit in act one was the same in which Mandodari made her entry. Monotony stood fixed on the face more prominent than the aaharyam that the dancer kept emphasizing to us (every Kanya had her respective wardrobe changed in a different color!) It would have been easier if Gopika kept that sorrowful expression and stayed on to show all the five Kanyas. By the time the fifth Kanya arrived with the same look on her face, one maami turned around and asked, “Are all these women’s stories so depressing?” as the rest of the audience members looked at her equally clueless. The few members of the captive audience exited the venue with a sigh of relief wondering why the first day of the dance festival turned out to be such a non-starter and outright mediocre! 

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