Scaling lofty heights
- Padma Jayaraj

November 25, 2014

The deeper you go to classical arts the higher you scale its lofty heights, is the message of Rasavikalapam 2014, an annual program of Kerala Sangeet Natak Akademi. Since Soorya Krishnamoorthy heads the institution, the Bharatanatyam series presented had the signature of the Soorya paramapara. The dancers dealt with only traditional themes. Many items showcased rose from the aesthetic to the symbolic, revealing their relevance in contemporary reality. Bharatanatyam by Sreelatha Vinod and Mohiniattam by Mandakini Trivedi were outstanding performances that fell in line with the message.

Dakshina Vaidyanathan with her beautiful expressive eyes is a talented student who has the physical charm of an ideal dancer. Hard work seems to be the backbone of her perfect training. With all the positive aspects she seems to mirror the glory of her guru and mother, Rama Vaidyanathan. Indeed, she is the promise of the future.

Swetha Prachande is actually a lively dancer. The audience waited for a dazzling performance from a young dancer only to be disappointed. Not because the dance was not good, but because the dancer failed to communicate. The lay audiences of Kerala cannot understand Tamil and Telugu. If it is a Swathi Kriti in Malayalam they could follow. Even then the choreography often goes beyond the text for the sake of interpretation. The grammar of the mudras is another hurdle for the untrained spectators. Usually, dancers help with a verbal introduction as a prelude to the visual performance. The communicative aspect is very important for the chemistry between the dancer and the viewers to reach the culminating point of rasa.  Many among the audience got up after some items not in protest, but because it was difficult to comprehend. Also, the dancer seemed to be in a hurry to finish and dash off.

Sometimes even reputed artists take the audience for a ride. Maybe they are tired or not prepared. The spectators for classical items are diminishing in numbers. Those who come, come because of real interest. They also come from distant places spending money and time. The artists should have the sensitivity to feel their pulse.

Sreelatha Vinod, a Chennai based artist, rose to the expectation of exceptional performance. One of her padams of anonymous authorship (raag Sahana, misra chapu) showcasing the psychological plight of a young woman torn between two shades of love has an eternal theme. It rises to the level of an allegory that it could well be interpreted to reveal the mental trauma of any girl in India at the mundane level and the sublimated love of women who rose to glory in human history.

A young girl whose very gait is a sprint is the picture of charming rural innocence. Playing stones alone or dancing around in her billowing skirt makes her happy. During this picture perfect innocent childhood she gets married as if playing the role of a bride. At such a tender age she could not comprehend the meaning of rituals. Years pass… on the threshold of youth, romance playing a special raaga on her heart strings the perfect lover charms her mind. For her, Krishna, the quintessence of romance looms larger than life in the cultural environs. The mind feeds on happiness in her lone world of romantic charm. Suddenly like a bolt from the blue she is told that the man who married her has come to take her away. She is torn between the stark reality of life:  of a home far away, of a man before whom she has to surrender herself. Absorbed in an introspective aura, realization dawns on her.  Love has different shades, romantic, physical, and mystical. Krishna her real lover remains unalloyed in the temple of her heart no matter what happens in the outer world. Truly, the line between the real and the surreal remains blurred in a subtler level of perception.  In real life, romance colors young love. Later when one enters into matrimony the situation is different. Falling in love is natural in the given situation of life. Life has to be lived and the mind tries to cope with the challenge. Sreelatha, who excels in pure dance proved her talent in abhinaya too.

Her third piece, a lively number by Periyasami Thooran in raag Bihari, adi talam, paints the eternal theme of Krishna teasing a Gopika. The young woman apparently protests and complains, yet enjoys the pranks played on her. Her choreography is such that the story projects the underlying symbolism, a human trait and why Krishna themes remain enchanting over millennia. The inspired orchestra rose to compete with the dancer in the quest for excellence. Kalaiarasan on violin, Vedakrishnaram on mridangam, nattuvangam by Atheena Madhu and sung by Jyothishmathi Sheejith provided short musical breaks in between items so that the mood of the audience lingered on in a rare treat of engaging music and inspiring dance.

The last day was the grand finale of the theme. Mandakini Trivedi, a Bombay based artist brought Mohinattam to Kerala, its native land. It was her brand, with slight changes in costume, hairdo and ornaments. The lasya dance throbbed with spirituality, something unusual. The interconnectedness of technique, aesthetics and philosophy was palpable.

Her Ganga Tatwam, a composition of Kavalam Narayana Paniker in raag Charukesi and chembada tala is a unique piece. The dancer sculpted the picturesque river Ganga which has been more than a river in the Indian consciousness. Her descent as if from the heavens; the ebb and flow as Mandakini, as Bhageerathi through the Himalayan terrain; her life-giving waters nourishing life, nurturing civilization, the Ganga acquires divine dimension in the subcontinent. The myth of Ganga hidden amidst the locks of Siva is a beautiful picture of the rippling waters in the wilderness, veiled in a metaphor. The two women, Parvathi to whom Siva has given his half and the Ganga, forever concealed in his locks, remain part of the Lord, the female principle inseparable from the male. And yoga is to remain united.  From the spiritual angle the descent of Ganga can be interpreted as the descent of consciousness.

Her Vasantha Ritu, adapted from Kalidasa’s Ritusamhara (music by KVK Variar, Ragamalika and Chembada tala) weaves the tapestry of Spring season. Its magical touch makes the trees bloom. The wind gets intoxicated with its fragrance. The birds chirp endlessly and human heart is aglow in passionate love. An adolescent hastens her steps to meet her lover; the grown woman is bold to court him; man and woman find fulfillment in passionate embrace. Every being is part of the seamless nature, whose sole function is creation. Her concluding piece Jeeva composed by Kavalam Narayana Paniker (raag Ananda Bhairavi, Chembada tala) displays another spiritual theme, the merging of the individual soul with the universal soul through merging of rhythms. The orchestra, maddalam and edakka, (KNP Nambisan), flute (Soorya Narayanan) and vocal (NN Sivaprasad) complimented the dance recital, although the audience in Kerala missed the mridangam.

Dancer, choreographer and writer, Mandakini Trivedi took her viewers to the lofty heights of the Himalayas, the abode of Hindu philosophical thoughts from where the classical arts of India have sprung.  It was a singular experience to be on the haloed ground of nature, music and myth gently led by a dancer. My spirit hovered there long after the dance was over.
Padma Jayaraj is a freelance writer on the arts and travel. She is a regular contributor to