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Messengers of love
- Lata Surendra
Photos: Madhusudan S Menon

February 21, 2020

What is beautiful about dancers is not the aharya they are draped in but the soul they drape a profound message with. Feb 9, 2020 had dancers transform to 'Messengers of love' and champion Cupid in the perennial play of 'love and hate' making the drama called life ever so absorbing and exhilarating. Organised by Anjali Bharata Natyam Research Trust at National College Auditorium, Mumbai, it was a part of the second edition of NCPA Mumbai Dance Season 2020, with Programme Head (Dance) Swapnokalpa Dasgupta motivating the dance in the written, spoken and delineated word, in mentors of the city and their disciples.

The evening to light up love through various dance forms, unfolded with the traditional lighting of the lamp. The spotlight fell on charismatic Odissi exponent Shubhada Varadkar. She was a mural come to life, draping with artistry the love pangs of that virahini as she raised her soul's lament to the dark clouds pregnant with rain. Her agony having all elemental messengers of love transform to their antonyms - be it moonlight or sandal paste, for they only accentuated her distancing from the Lord. The climax was her realization of their innate oneness as she looked into the mirror and found none other than Vithala himself enframed within.

Shubhada Varadkar

Dr. Uma Rele

The pathway of sublime love now moved from 13th century Nath tradition of Saint Dnyaneshwar to 12th century composition of Jayadeva etching esoteric spirituality by Dr. Uma Rele, Principal of Nalanda Nritta Kala Mahavidyalaya founded by Dr. Kanak Rele. The words of Dr. Uma Rele, the multifaceted scholar, was complimented by her mirroring performance. "As a messenger in love, a sakhi has always been the indispensable mediator and a person of pivotal importance. In the concept of sublime love, the sakhi becomes the guide for the jeevatma to merge with the paramatma. But in this ashtapadi, 'Dheera sameere' the unique concept of the paramatma pining for the love of jeevatma is highlighted wherein the sakhi (the guru) goes to Radha and asks her to surrender to Sri Krishna as he awaits her presence and longs for her dressed in finery and his favourite vanamala." She awakened all with an interesting exploration of this sublime love between Krishnamayi Radha and Radhamayi Krishna.

The magic of love is such that all universe comes to life through the eyes exuding its aura and veteran Kathak performer Shila Mehta unfolded through the kinesthetic of Kathak, the beautiful message of Dawn. It was a message draped in love to Kausalyaputra - baby Ram. The dancer's fluid grace and intense abhinaya had her mirroring all nature coming to life to awaken the divine child if only to light up the light of dawn in the waiting creation all around. Shila Mehta truly enthralled all with her message of dawn through the composition of Sant Tulsidas.

Shila Mehta

Sujata Nair

Then came a love that shamed distance in being 'so far and yet so near' and it was evocatively explored through the Mohini, Sujata Nair who is the daughter/disciple of imaginative mentor and choreographer Jayshree Nair. For the famous poem "Krishna nee enne ariyilla" of renowned Malayalam poet Sugatha Kumari, Sujata Nair's eloquent eyes glazed with tears, etched the pain of that Gopi who remained in the four walls of her home and kissed Krishna's feet with her soul even as lac-tinted feet raced towards him in euphoria. "O Krishna, through heart wrenching cries, as the wheels of your chariot moved away, my heart writhed in pain but then it paused for a moment and your eyes embraced my very existence in its all- knowing light." It was simply the most poignant moment as the eloquence of the Gopika all through the poem as "Oh Krishna, you never really knew me at all" suddenly found its answer in the pregnant silence seeking no words when divine eyes met eyes and embraced her very soul. Quite simply, the 'choreographer- dancer moment' that with dexterity synergised the pliant disciple with her mentor, the poem to the poet and Krishna to the Gopika in sublime heights of oneness gathering all to the pain and ecstasy that is love.

Love is a message through an ornament shared and exchanged between Lord Rama and the chaste Seeta with the divine messenger Hanuman. Bharatanatyam dancer Medha Dixit Vellal, disciple of Guru Poornima Ashok, explored Hanuman as the ultimate definition in servitude - Dasya Bhavam with subtleness and subdued strength that comes with experience. Skillfully merging Arunachalakavi's "Kanden Sitayai" and Purandaradasa's "Enendalayua Site" the pathway to sublime through servitude and brought to life the glorious messenger Hanuman.

Medha Dixit Vellal

Dr. Sailaja Desai & Sindhuja Desai

On the one side, an ornament can bridge love and on the other hand it can be the reason towards its all humanity realising strength of love. With the sakhi in Madhavi and the jealous Satyabhama in Siddhendra Yogi's dance-drama Bhama Kalapam, the strength of love was capsuled by renowned Kuchipudi exponent Sailaja Desai (Satyabhama) and her daughter / disciple Sindhuja Desai (Madhavi). Complimenting the vachika that has Madhavi teasingly have Satyabhama identify her lord's name and seeking her nose ring in return for playing messenger, the two dancers coloured the characters with the poise of a proud Satyabhama in her defining womanhood by Dr. Sailaja and that chirpy Madhavi endearing as ever in Sinduja Desai.

Love rules the universe gathering the infinite in every finite step and Dr. Suman Badami's choice of Swati Thirunal's "Kamini mane sakhi" gave the audience an amusing twist to the messenger who betrays the heroine's trust and falls for the Lord herself. The skillfully penned dialogues between the nayika and her sakhi were explored by the dancer with the experience of a consummate Bharatanatyam artiste. The sharp eyes of the nayika reading the story of betrayed trust and pointing out to the running beads of sweat, the disheveled hair, the smeared tilakam cornering the confidante was evocative, poised, assured and elegantly executed.

Dr. Suman Badami

Manisha Jeet

The wind as the messenger of love creating a canvas with dark clouds enhancing the pangs of separation was draped by the imaginative dancer Manisha Jeet. The composition was Sant Dnyaneshwar's once again and it was interesting to see the same interpreted through Odissi earlier by Shubhada and later through Kathak by Manisha. The hallmark of a good choreographer is when she uses the potency of her style in the right measure. No excessive display of that Kathak technical virtuosity that most Kathak artists give in to but the innate essence of the saga of the virahini was what we saw portrayed here.

If love is the flower, then devotion or bhakti is its fragrance and Annamacharya's message of the divine ambience of the all pervading lord, be it in the microcosmic and the macrocosmic levels was draped gracefully through Mohiniattam dancer Ramya Verma Jagdish. Finally love came a full circle as Mohiniattam mentor Geetha Vijayshanker's committed disciple Sangeetha Rajeev, evocatively delineated the nayika pining for her Lord Padmababha and etching love in viyoga - separation. Sangeeta is fast emerging as an artiste to reckon with. Sensitive as she is, one finds her in every festival absorbing and observing the dance and dancers and it forms the basis towards the reaching of the waiting heights.

The support team had sound technician Nandlal Rele and lights by Pednekar, 'Messengers of love' came a full circle with hearts leaving the auditorium gathering romance in a celebrating month of love.

Lata Surendra is an exponent, teacher, choreographer, writer, curator and President of the Dadar-Mumbai Section of the International Dance Council.

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