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Mornings at the Music Academy
- Veejay Sai
Photos: Thanthoni

February 4, 2020

The morning slots at the Music Academy's annual national dance festival have a reputation of debuting new faces, presenting fresh talent and encouraging youngsters. Over the last decade or so, many new faces were debuted here and have grown to become good dancers in the field. This year was no different. There were some brilliant youngsters, and some who are promising with need for more work and improvement in their art.

Mahati Kannan - A new star on the block

Light-footed and breezy, Mahati debuted at the Academy on January 4th morning. 'Impressive!' would be an understatement! From the very beginning of her alarippu to the main varnam in Ramapriya, Mahati was at her best. The varnam also showed what a wonderful composer Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam is! 'Kaa Vaa Venkataramana' with music by B. Kannan showed the pining of a devotee for the lord of the seven hills. Through popular episodes like Gajendra Moksham and even lesser known stories like Salabeg of Puri, the choreography of the varnam was set in a mood of bhakti. With excellent nritta where Mahati displayed her mastery over numerous Karana Prakarams interspersed into her movements, the entire varnam was full of freshness of content and originality of thought.

The elaborate varnam didn't seem to tire Mahati. She continued into a padam in ragam Shankarabharanam by Moovalur Sabhapatayya. 'Daari joochu' narrates the tale of a young Nayika waiting for her lover, the playful Lord Rajagopala of Mannargudi. Going beyond literal mime, Mahati was an epitome of excellent abhinayam without overdoing or exaggerating the dramatic element in the padam. It was refreshing to listen to a good old Thillana by the great B V Lakshman. He is almost forgotten now. Only dancers of yesteryears remember this stalwart of a musician and a composer. From her selection of items to her final execution, Mahati's debut at the Academy was exemplary. The orchestra with her father Kannan on the veena, mother Gayathri Kannan on the vocal and nattuvangam and others further enhanced and embellished her performance.

Well known as the grand niece of Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam, Mahati is more than that. She is a fantastic ambassador to her grandaunt's art of 'Bharata Nrithyam'. Petite and unassuming in her physicality, Mahati rises as an artiste of great merit on stage while performing.

Pavitra Bhat - Better than before

One can say it was a tough act to follow for Mumbai based Pavitra Bhat. But he did put up a good show. He was now freshly repackaged to present himself better. No tacky stitched pyjama pants, no hideous suspenders like kids! And that was a good start to begin with.

Pavitra began with excerpts from Adi Shankaracharya's composition in praise of Lord Kartikeya. The long and complicated 'Subramanya Bhujangam' was set to a Ragamalika. While it was a good attempt, the whole piece didn't fall in place. It is one thing to select a famous composition and fit dance into it, and a totally different thing to understand the depth of the piece for a visual presentation. This is a piece that requires much re-thinking and improving. The Swarajati 'Sadaya ika taala jaalanura' in ragam Chakravakam, a composition of Ponniah Pillai of the Thanjavur Quartet, saw Pavitra in a better shape. With clean nritta and controlled abhinayam, Pavitra executed the Swarajati well. Kalishwaran Pillai's nattuvangam enhanced his nritta further. Whatever Pavitra presented next, didn't stand out much, either for the merit of his dance or choreography. After such a heavy item like the Swarajati which involved enough nritta and abhinaya, one would expect a performer to slow down, especially when you have less time.

A good orchestra supported his performance. A renewed Pavitra Bhat put up a good show. One hopes he can sustain himself with this quality and get better.

Meera Sreenarayanan - Lacked a punch

Meera Sreenarayanan, a student of Indira Kadambi, has grown to be a good dancer in the last couple of years. Her performance at the Academy's morning slot on the 5th January morning was yet another good attempt.

In her main piece, Meera took up the famous Husseini Swarajati 'Ye mandayaana raa' of Ponniah Pillai of the Thanjavur Quartet. This is a bit of a litmus test when it comes to performance. You can either do exceedingly well or it could fall flat. Meera's attempt at it was good in parts. While the Nayika questions her lover about who was this other woman who had mesmerized him away from her, Meera's attempt at showing the conniving nature of the other woman didn't come through. There was much more required to show the depth of the character in order to 'other' that woman. The varnam is many-layered and it would help if Meera studied it further to improve on what she performed. This was however the highlight of her performance. The rest of the pieces she presented were a light affair. Both the Purandara Dasara pada 'Jagadhodhaarana' and the Pattabhiramayya Javali 'Taarumaarulaadeveme' were mostly mechanically executed with greatly rehearsed movements. Meera seemed to lack the verve with which she began her performance. The Thillana was an out and out damp squib. Meera is an excellent dancer but she has a lot more to work on before presenting serious pieces in prestigious festivals.

Meera was supported by an excellent orchestra of musicians. Kalamandalam Charudutt's mridangam and Sujith Naik's flute enhanced her performance. However, Bijeesh Krishna needed a lot more working on his diction. At most times, he sang with his strongly accented voice, ruining the sahityam in places. Indira Kadambi's soft-voiced nattuvangam didn't help. Whatever happened to good voice projection on stage? A good nattuvanar adds energy to the nritta segments of a performance and keeps everyone alert. Meera's performance at the Academy wasn't her best.

Anwesha Das - A lifeless doll

The Academy in the past has presented America-based Anwesha Das, a student of Urmila Sathyanarayana. She is not new to Chennai audiences.

After an Alarippu, Anwesha presented the famous Navaragamalika varnam of Dandayudhapani Pillai, 'Swamiyai azhaitodi vaa'. This varnam has been presented ad nauseum and one doesn't have to go into explaining the meaning. The story is of the Nayika telling her Sakhi to convey the message of her pining for her lord and bring him to her. While Anwesha has the capabilities of being a good performer, her growth in the last few years has been minimal. If any improvement has been there, it was barely recognizable in her performance. The pieces she presented all needed working on a lot more than what was shown. When you are offered a stage in a prestigious festival, you should be conscious of the high standard expected from you. Though Anwesha had a brilliant orchestra to support her performance, her own efforts fell flat. Was it performance anxiety? This wasn't her debut in this stage or this festival. She needs to re-work her selection of pieces and then the details of those pieces themselves. Anwesha, looked all ready for the occasion like a doll, but unfortunately like one without any life in her presentation.

Veejay Sai is an award-winning writer, editor and culture critic.

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