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Arpanam Festival (Episodes 4-8) - An online ocean of art
- Suja Pillai

March 7, 2021

Fresh into this New Year, the winter blues were nowhere to be found as the online Arpanam Dance Festival series continued warming our hearts and minds. With presentations galore from artistes extraordinaire, the Founder and Artistic Director of Sunanda's Performing Arts Center (SPARC), Dr. Sunanda Nair continued to provide a platform for art and artistes to traverse borders virtually.

Arpanam 4

Archana Raja began with a Pushpanjali, where surrounded by the concrete, straight lines of her environment, her energetic execution of the piece with such clean, crisp lines was aptly complemented. She followed this with the padam Indendu Vachithivira, showcasing the strength of her bright and varied shades of abhinaya, much akin to her now flower-filled green setting.

The Goddess Kanyakumari was the subject of the next presentation by Prateeksha Kashi. Delivering on the foundation of being a theatrical art form, Prateeksha immersed the viewer in a true production, telling the story of Kanyakumari with beautiful abhinaya, graceful movements, grounded nritta and spoken interludes which were innovative and added depth and drama to this unique item.

If anyone ever questioned the emotional depth of Shoorpanaka, the next item presented by Shruti Gopal puts all doubts to rest. Supported with minimal instrumentation and a strong vocal accompaniment, the emotions of Shoorpanaka filled the screen, as Shruti portrayed her within the context of the navarasas. Such a thoughtful presentation pushed us to examine the bias we may have of boxing in certain characters that we think we know.

Next, Vrinda Chadha's traditional Odissi presentation, using a Meera Bhajan to bring the beauty of the rain during the monsoon season to life, was highlighted by the overall pleasantness she oozes while performing. Smooth and simple to the viewer, it shows years of hard work by the dancer and Vrinda has that type of ease to her dancing.

A sea of red encompassed the final presentation based on Goddess Durga from Vidha Lal. Her footsteps fast and fierce, she was a combination of strength and grace from head to toe. The second item from her, Taal Basant, showcased her undeniable talent within the hallmarks of Kathak's eye, hand and foot striking, all within the cycle of nine beats.

Arpanam 5

Arun Sankar gave an auspicious start to Arpanam 5 with Pranavakaram Siddhi Vinayakam and showcased his solid foundation as a Kalakshetra alumnus. His full use of the stage, sculpture like poses and energetic movements were noteworthy.

Ajith Bhaskar presented Karpooram Naarumo, a part of the Nachiyar Thirumozhi verses written by Andal. With a conch in view, Ajith embodied the emotion thoroughly asking the question, "How sweet are His lips? Like the aroma of camphor or the fragrance of the lotus?" Ajith did not need large and elaborate movements, yet the desire and devotion was divinely presented.

Kalakshetra was again represented by the duo of Hari and Divya Padman in their presentation Gopalaka Pahimaam Anishyam. The choreography, especially for a duo presentation, played heavily on lines, crossings and symmetry, all adding pleasing facets for the viewer.

Avijit Das in style of Kuchipudi, presented the classic Vempati Master choreography, Shivashtakam. Taking a well-known piece is no small feat but executing it with tradition intact yet with freshness unique to his own strong, grounded movements is an even larger accomplishment. This makes Avijit one to watch.

Ajith Bhaskar returned to present the famous lullaby Omanathingal Kidavo. Again, with his focus on the emotion and less on vast movements, Ajith was able to convey the love and adoration that any mother...or father has for one's own child. Arun Sankar presented an ashtapadi and with plenty of importance to abhinaya, Arun flourished in this item while still bringing in his quality of strong balanced movements to complement his abhinaya. Finally, Hari and Divya Padman returned presenting a Thillana. Dancing in unison and in small solo snippets, there was ample space for eye pleasing movements and synchronicity in this choreography, which was a fitting finale.

Arpanam 6

The rhythmic presentation of a piece on Surya Deva by Manju V Nair started Arpanam 6 with a spark. She has an innate confidence in her movements that keeps your eyes fixated to her. And this is not limited to faster paced items; in fact, she presented a second piece, Samayam ide ra ra, where her abhinaya flowed freely and subtly, yet maintained a confident grace.

Sharanya Chandran presented Jaya Jaya Shankara Jaya Tripurari beautifully using opposing sides of her body to demonstrate Shiva-Parvathi. The intricate choreography was fast paced and at times even with her back turned to the audience, it was clearly evident which side was Shiva and which was Shakti, such was her embodiment.

The divine male and female energies were the focal point of Rajashri Praharaj's Odissi performance as well. Her strength and agility were on full display while portraying both Shiva and Shakti, and her focused and subtle abhinaya shifting through the entirety of this piece, were the standout moments of her presentation.

It was a treat to watch Parvathi Ravi Ghantasala's eyes speak volumes as she dances. Her art comes from the inside out through those kind, expressive eyes. That energy seems to travel to her feet, which tap and move so joyfully. The joys of her own dance and the joy of Shiva's dance, were all tangible and free to soak in, as Parvathi moved.

The established sister duo of Kathak exponents, Nalini-Kamalini was the finale performance. The bond shared is evident in their synchronized feet, hands and stance. The entire performance was balanced between the duo and each perfect swirl was applause worthy. Although two, it was as if one set of ghungroos completed all the mesmerizing rhythmic patterns.

Arpanam 7

T Reddi Lakshmi has a strong stage presence with an air of sophistication to her Kuchipudi performance as seen in the opening act of Arpanam 7. Presenting Shringaralahari, her emotions were on her sleeve and contagious. When combined with her spontaneous energy it made her an absolute joy to watch.

The energy continued with Sathvika Shankar's entrance with a Mallari, demonstrating her command over the quick movements and postures. She segued into a series of shlokas on the trinity of Devis, gracefully executing the attributes of each, leaving us wishing to see more.

Indu and Nidheesh Kumar, a Kalakshetra dancing duo, presented a delightful interaction through their presentation of Paname, unnaal enna guname. With an abundance of abhinaya potential they took full hold of their ability to interact with one another on this theme. They remind us through their dance, to question what true wealth is, a lesson pertinent even today.

Sharmila Mukerjee is a very visually appealing performer in the Odissi style, whose abhinaya was front and center in her presentation. Story telling seems to be natural to her and absolutely translates into her depth and knowledge in this field. She appeared to be at home, and at peace on the stage. As a rasika, this calmness enhanced our viewing.

With Jaya Jaya Durge, T Reddi Lakshmi returned and it was easy to accept her abounding energy once again. As an exuberant piece, she maintained the tempo throughout and proved her skill as a strong Kuchipudi dancer. The finale for Arpanam 7 was a unique presentation from Dr. Radhika Shurajit's shishyas. They presented a beautiful thillana, filled with creative group patterns and intricate formations, which was a true treat to watch. Their teacher's love of dancing and teaching was on full display by the talent demonstrated in these shishyas.

Arpanam 8

Who could have imagined a full Arpanam series with just Mohiniattam artistes, but with the eighth in the series, we got just that. The entry of Mamata Vasant Kumar with an invocatory Ganesha piece set the bar high. Continuing the legacy of her teacher Dr. Sunanda Nair's Nalanda bani, Mamata has absorbed the art form and presented the unique sways and stances of this bani with the confidence of a dedicated dancer.

The diversity of Mohiniattam presentations continued with Malavika Menon, shishya of Vinitha Nedungadi. She, with a piece based on Lord Shiva, demonstrated that strength of movement is not absent in Mohiniattam, but instead a facet that joins with the lasyam in this style to create a complete movement vocabulary. The rhythmic sections where Malavika enacted the damaru and mridangam were showcased beautifully with that grace and strength mixture.

Dr. Dimple Rajesh, a disciple of Dr. Kanak Rele, and also an exponent of the Nalanda bani, brought the lyricism of this style to the forefront with her presentation of Madhu Masa. Dimple aptly conveyed the beauty found among the changing seasons, and her enactment of the five flowered arrows subsequently giving rise to human emotions at different levels was wonderfully depicted.

Again with a piece rich in poetry, Kalamandalam Dr. Nikhila Vinod, disciple of late Guru Kalamadalam Leelamma, presented a strong thematic item based on freedom. Depicting one who is confined to the shackles of their situation in the first frame, Nikhila took us through a journey of emotions until there was no fear left and only the courage to be free remained. Her abhinaya strength carried the item through with each emotion being heartfelt.

The finale brought Rubina Sudharman, disciple of Pallavi Krishnan, to present Shiva Tatvam showcasing again the creativity of how a masculine energy can be visualized when the grace and strength come from within a dancer. Rubina captured the devotional undercurrent of this piece with us slowly closing our eyes in the tantric chants of Om Nama Shivaya that faded into the distance as the item concluded.

Being just a few months into 2021, and already having witnessed the enormity of talent right at our fingertips, I can only imagine what future episodes of the Arpanam Festival will have in store for us. May the artistic ocean continue to flow and heal us all, like only art can.

Suja Pillai is a Mohiniattam dancer as well as an avid reader, orator and writer about all things dance. A physician by profession, she devotes every spare moment to her dance training under Dr. Sunanda Nair and has co-founded the Mohiniyattam performance group Sakhyam.

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