- Tapati Chowdhurie
Photos courtesy: Kim Aham
May 26, 2023
The artistic director Avijit Das of Kim Aham who is an accomplished Kuchipudi dancer, presented Saranagati in which he celebrated an evening of Mohiniattam, Kathak and Bharatanatyam with artistes of excellence. In these days, where self-promotion is the order of the day, this seemed rather odd till he explained that true teaching of one style, should broaden the vision of the disciples and expose them to seeing the very best in other genres too. Thus Dhwani auditorium in Kundalavalli, Bangalore, was bursting at the seams with his students of Kuchipudi and Bharatanatyam, their parents and well-wishers, aficionados, established dance practitioners, gurus and mentors. It was a powerhouse and what with a chief guest like Vedantam Pasumarti Ramalinga Sastri- a doyen of Kuchipudi hailing from Kuchipudi village - who is a storehouse of theoretical and practical knowledge of the dance form of Kuchipudi and an alumnus of Kalakshetra to boot.
Roopa Rajesh's group
Kuchipudi mentor Roopa Rajesh's enthusiastic repertory members of three female and one male dancer clad in stage fitting coloured costumes opened the evening leading the audience to enjoy themes associated with gods and celestial beings. At first they took up the Ganapathy theme to praise and appease him for the success of their programme. Annamacharya's kriti "Deva deva bhaje divya pravaham" urges the worship of the glorious lord of all gods, who is the enemy of the King of Lanka, whose navel is like the lotus and who has as his vahana Garuda, the enemy of the snakes. He is Sitapati, who established dharma and reclines on Adisesha; one who is worshipped by Brahma and above all is the lifter of Janaka's invincible bow and the great Lord Venkatesha himself. It was a good choice, as was the beautiful music composition in the sweet and powerful strains of Hindolam raga with the rhythm of adi talam. Followed by Kuchipudi genre's unique Tarangam from Krishna Leela Tarangini, which is on the life and events of Lord Krishna, it spoke much of the choreographic abilities of Roopa Rajesh; it is the technicalities of the genre that needs to be worked upon.
The eagerly awaited Mohiniattam presentation was by one of the leading exponents of the style. Trained by Kalamandalam Sugandhi among others, Pallavi Krishnan was applauded right from the moment she entered the proscenium stage, creating an instant rapport with the audience with the swaying movements that is typical to the lasya style-the predominant emotion of Mohiniattam. Chollukettu, the first number in a Mohiniattam repertoire, was performed with grace. Having established herself as a performer par excellence she retold the ancient tale of Pingola, the courtesan, imaginatively with her own choreography bringing out the emotions of Pingola. Pingola the beautiful, but proud courtesan, arrogant to the hilt, filling her coffers while treating her clients like dirt, crestfallen when the fortune of her physical existence did not smile on her, displaying her emotion of dejection and disillusion and the ultimate realization of her eternal soul and the temporary quality of her kind of life, leading her to seek the lotus feet of Vishnu was excellently emoted. She won hearts.
In spite of many odds dogging Kathak guru Uma Dogra's life from her beginner days, she has been as constant as the Northern Star in the firmament. She had to switch over from the Lucknow Gharana to the Jaipur Gharana of Kathak under the tutelage of the legendary Durga Lal, who passed away early in life, leaving her as the main torch bearer of his style. She is a rare combination of the aesthete and a popular celebrity who besides being dedicated to her genre of dance has drawn profusely from other genres too, especially from Odissi legend Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra's art of abhinaya, which the learner in her, has managed to imbibe, when in Bombay the great guru took workshops in abhinaya for his Odissi students - as she confessed.
Uma Dogra and disciples
Uma Dogra - the newly appointed Director of Kathak Kendra - performed "Dheera sameere Yamuna teere", from poet Jayadeva's Gita Govinda. Her transformation as the sakhi urging Radha to go to the banks of the Yamuna to unite with her lord was remarkable. Radha is schooled in all earnestness, not to keep Krishna, who is adorned with the choicest flowers of the forest, waiting. Uma's description of the sweet and soft breeze was intense as was the metaphor of his flute music literally calling his beloved Radha to be with him. The similes of the astapadi was made to blossom in the emoting of bhakti sringara by its adept handling. In this ashtapadi, Uma managed to bring out the hidden meaning of the sakhi in the role of a guru in preparing the mortal soul of Radha to be one with immortal soul of Sri Hari.
Uma Dogra presented her well trained young disciples Sarita Kalele, Vinita Venugopal and Kartika Unnikrishnan in the very first dance piece. They set the mood of the evening with "Shiva Ananda", which was in praise of Shiva in raag Bagesri and taal Chautal. With a firm grip on the rhythmical aspect of Kathak, the dancers' rendition revealed their skills. Astamangala of eleven beats which followed next was rather challenging, with dancers sailing through it in Úlan. The short Tarana which concluded their recital was composed by Pandit Durga Lal himself almost five decades ago, which Uma chanced to find. The theme of the piece was one of joy.
Bangalore based Soundarya Srivatsa, a disciple of the late Guru Narmada, is a front ranking Bharatanatyam performer in the country, who even in this age of self-publicity keeps a low profile. Her presentations give the programme an altogether different dimension. Guru B. Bhanumati initiated her into the art of abhinaya, in which she excels. Nritta, nritya and natya are all her strong points. Soundarya and her husband music composer D. S. Srivatsa, are a team which has innumerable classy productions to their credit. Her presentation of "Amba" from the epic Mahabharata is the story of a powerful woman who through the power of her meditation and penance overcame the strongest of the strong hero Bhishma. In modern times when women empowerment is 'the' thing, Amba avenged the wrong done to her in a man's world with her austerity and penance, thereby gaining the boon from Shiva to annihilate the one who was the cause of the tragic events in her life. It was a powerful theme connected to contemporary times. To follow the story in short, in the Adi Parva of the great epic as per custom, Amba and her two sisters were going to choose their own husbands in the swayamvar sabha arranged by their father, the Raja of Kasi. Amba was to choose Salva with whom she was in love. But Bhishma, who had taken the vow of celibacy, abducted all three with the intention of getting his step-brother Vichitravirya married to them. When Amba told Bhishma about it, Bhishma allowed her to approach Salva for her marriage to him, but Salva's repudiation made her ask Bhishma to marry her only to be rejected. The angry Amba armed with a boon was born as Sikhandi who was the cause of Bhishma's end.
Soundarya's solo rendition of the piece made her switch roles with the dexterity of a complete artiste. Sringara rasa and grace reigned supreme when Amba was with Salva; Karuna rasa when she pleaded with Bhishma; Roudra rasa when faced with reality and the grace of a devotee while practising penance to win Shiva evoked the feelings of the audience, who got a glimpse of her ability to orchestrate Santam rasa in Bhishma's attitude. Flawless nritta and the use of space were truly captivating till the end. Soundarya ended her recital with a Marathi Abhang displaying madhura bhakti between the hunch back Kubja and Krishna.
Tapati Chowdhurie 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.