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Virtual Prayer Concert by Arts From India
- Tapati Chowdurie

May 17, 2020

Art is a reflection of life itself. Therefore reality and art are inextricably interwoven. In trying to save the world from the dreaded virus many other fatal problems that have cropped up as a result, are beyond anybody's perception.

Are dancers seeing the world merely through the prism of their particular learnt pieces from their gurus of their respective art forms? I would have expected to see a reflection of the times that came in the wake of Covid 19, followed by possibly a prayer through the finely composed pieces by their respective renowned gurus, paying a tribute to the departed. Considering the fact the dancers were all very accomplished, the Virtual Prayer Concert by Arts From India based in New York, held on May 9 by its Founder President Ajayveer Chapotkat with the help of Bangalore based Kathakali artiste Prabal Gupta, anchored ably by Sadhna Shrivastav, had many unexplored possibilities.

Prabal Gupta is mainly a solo Kathakali artiste. He has a strong stamp of his guru Sadanam Balakrishnan, known for his larger than life stature as a Kathakali exponent of the Kalluvazhi style, who to this day stays true to the style. In the best of hands, Prabal has blossomed to be a good dancer. He chose to perform Shiva Stuti from Markandeya Charitam, a beautiful dance composition of his guru. Shiva who was responsible in making the impossible, possible was entreated by Prabal, with a superb translation of the metaphors of the shloka in dance, to rescue mankind. The intricacies of Kathakali replete with its sophisticated expressions, was seamless in his rendition. The beauty of ragams Neelambari and Mohanam to the beats of Chembada and Triputa talams could not be savoured, because the music played truant.

Pavitra Bhat's prayer dance Kamakshi Suprabhatam was to Shiva Shakti. His Thillana with the literature of Shiva-Raksha Stotram provided him with full scope to show his mastery over the difficult to maneuver poses of Nataraja, which is best seen on a male body. Pavitra Bhat is one of the best rising Bharatanatyam dancers with a superb grip over its rhythmical aspect.

It was also interesting to see dancer Sinam Basu Singh go into raptures about the manifold aspects of the Shiva philosophy in Manipuri dance style. He chose to perform to Shiva Panchakshara stotram by Adi Shankaracharya in the virile tandava style of Manipuri dance, using the various facets of the art forms of Manipur, like Thang-Ta and Sankirtan Cholom, choreographing it himself with the supervision of N.Tiken Singh. He used Daskuch taal of 7 beats and Brahma taal of 25 beats, adding also dui theka of 12 beats. The music composers were Mahanta and Bhagat. His performance was noteworthy for its excellence.

Bhavana Reddy, the daughter of the illustrious Dr. Raja Reddy, who has risen to fame at a very young age, sought the help of Devi for the containment of what besets us. Her performance of Devi Stuti in ragam Sindhu Bhairavi set to adi talam - Dr. Raja Reddy's choreography - with all the different and intricate units and aspects of Kuchipudi has been learnt to perfection. Her rendition of Vrscikakuttitam Karana was utterly charming. Her postures and use of angas spelt beauty. The Tarana which followed in raga Nata Bhairavi - a composition of Pt. Ravi Shankar - began beautifully, where the dancer was a frozen piece of sculpture on the temple wall that came to regale our aesthetic taste and joyously danced, only to go back again to her frozen status, a charming concept.

Odissi dancers Arupa Gayatri Panda and Sattriya performer Anita Sharma addressed Krishna rather than Shiva.

Anita Sharma prayed to omnipresent and omnipotent Krishna , who is worshipped and hailed by all animals and birds, gods and demons, nullifies every kind of evil and comes to the aid of the weak and the devastated, with beauty and grace, in the Sattriya form meticulously imbibed from her guru Jatin Goswami. Her rendition of 'Mati akhara' at the outset was unique. There was Sattvik bhava in her rendition to a composition of Bhaskar Jyoti Ojah in raag Suhai and Dhanashree and taal Ektaal and Rakta. Anita Sharma composed the dance herself.

Arupa Gayatri Panda chose “Madhurashtakam” to capture Krishna's madhur bhava, bringing out the miracles he performed through innovative sancharis. If it were not for her mettle as a skilled dancer - the episodes of Krishna's life repeated umpteen times could have become heavy on the onlookers - the topic would have fallen flat. An excellent dancer to look out for.

USA based Kathaka Shambhavi Dandekar, the last performer of this festival, extolled the power of compassion personified as Divine Mother, the Mother of this bhuvan (world). Call her Bhavani, Durga or by any other name. Human beings sing paeans and dance to her greatness and glory, to give solace to the needy. There were no technical glitches to mar her neat performance.

Tapati Chowdurie trained under Guru Gopinath in Madras and was briefly with International Centre for Kathakali in New Delhi. Presently, she is a freelance writer on the performing arts.

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