Click here for all links

Social media links

Evam 2024
- Rajiv Rajamani
Photos: Suresh Muraleedharan

March 6, 2024

Keerthana Ravi presented three unique ensemble performances of dance for the seventh edition of the Evam festival in Mumbai on Feb 4, 2024.

Thyagaraja Ramayanam
(Dr Ananda Shankar Jayant and Neha Sathanapalli)

For millions of Indians, the saga of Rama and Sita is neither myth nor magic; it is perhaps just a means of channelling our energies. Dr Ananda Shankar Jayant's Bharatanatyam gave expression to that energy through the musical medium of Saint Thyagaraja's compositions.

The voicing of Thyagaraja's lyrics in lilting Telegu was complemented by the grandeur of classical Sanskrit of Valmiki. Each kriti provided a very different temperature, reflecting the different moods of Thyagaraja's relationship to Rama, which in turn echoed some sentiment or incident in the Ramayana.

Thyagaraja Ramayanam

The duo of dancers performed in tandem - through natya or mime and nritta or pure dance. Ananda Shankar Jayant's choreography of the nritta interludes was dazzling and very lively. The steps and movements actually pointed us clearly to what was happening in the story: the sprightly maiden stringing garlands for a happy occasion at the opening, the vigour of bearing the mighty bow of Shiva in heroic alidha and pratyalidha postures, the sliding adavus as Bharata bent down to hoist the precious sandals of Rama onto his head to carry back to Ayodhya, the rhythms of the final duel in Lanka climaxing in a teermanam that ended precisely on the fell blow that slew Ravana! Every move had a meaning and purpose that was evident to the seasoned rasika and was thrilling and dramatic to the new audience at the same time.

The emotional highpoints were intensely moving. Shringara was depicted with a sense of intimacy, for despite all the political commentary in gender studies on the Ramayana it is essentially one of the greatest love stories ever told. The lajja or bashfulness of Sita when she experiences Rama's touch for the first time sent a shiver down many spines. The sense of betrayal felt by Vali was convincingly portrayed in "Marukelara" in raga Jayantashri. "Don't hide from me, Oh Rama?" - the subtle turning away of Rama when he plucks out the arrow from Vali's breast was telling. "Enthaninne" in Ahiri ragam extracted all the vatsalya in mother Shabari's heart, when she offered wild fruit to the prince. Ravana's rage at failure in Sita's swayamvara was crystallised into one lingering teardrop in the corner of the dancer's eye. The dancers conjured up the grand imagery of building the sea-bridge to Lanka by the vanara army. The majestic finale of the coronation was truly evocative - Shri Rama in rajalilasana (royal ease) shown by an ekapada sthana pose with one bended knee crossed over the other, surrounded by his family and retinue.

Thyagaraja Ramayanam

Neha Sathanapalli shone as a bright young star with near perfect form and abhinaya that was not restrained, but rather deliberate and palpable, which was in keeping with the operatic tenor of this presentation. Overall it was a holistic experience of Bharatanatyam both as a medium of storytelling and also pure dance, with Thyagaraja's music "in front" of everything that was happening on stage.

Four Seasons
(Vaibhav Arekar & Sankhya Dance)

Vaibhav Arekar challenged the audience to look within and observe inner feelings, whilst perhaps using the outer seasons as representations to experience them.

Sankhya Dance

In Grishma (Summer), abstractions were crafted in pure nritta. The vigour and synchronicity of the choreography permeated down to the smallest muscle and faintest expression of the dancers. Breathing in and out, holding back or wanting to express. Dancer Swarada Bhave was lost in the savage force of the rhythm that was a motivating impetus driving her on and also holding her back.

Varsha (Rains) was prefaced by a beautiful sonnet with fecund imagery of lovers united and blooming life. But seeing and experiencing the rain, is also tinged with the pain of remembrance of a relationship that seems to be over. Rajashree Pathak sang "Dadur mora" in a languorous rendition of Desh raag.

Shishir (Winter) depicted the disconnect and barrenness of our modern lives. Digitally connected but socially disconnected! The instrumentation was telling - a discordant low pitched bamboo flute to cue discontent. The dancers' mastery of weight transfer and control of momentum was amazing. It was synchronised with the movement but also infused with staccato stops and turns that deliberately went against the flow.

In Vasant (Spring), Swarada Bhave and Poorva Saraswat unfolded the potential of a traditional Javali - "Yera ra ra" with a tongue in cheek depiction of an aging courtesan egging on her young daughter to solicit clients!

Rasa flowed from the clicking of fingers and new grammar seemed to emerge from the clapping of hands. Unfamiliar dissonant motions leaned into comforting jatis. The asynchronous was thrilling and the accustomed teermanam was never cloying! At which point did "free" dance give way to adavus or vice-versa? This liminality is the real triumph of Vaibhav Arekar's choreography.

Vaibhav Arekar
Vaibhav Arekar

Perfect aharya or costume in muted skin tones rendered the torsos genderless. A recumbent figure splaying and closing its bent knees like a sighing accordion, pleating and unpleating - was it a saree or a dhoti? Perhaps only the glistening sweat on Manmatha's sinewy torso revealed his gender. Gautam Marathe as the God of Love danced with flawless form, whirling on his feet like an intoxicated flower, petals unfurled, spiralling down to spin on his knees as if on an ice skating rink!

The music by Aalap Desai created a match of sophisticated textured soundscapes for the range of emotions. Sushant Jadhav's lighting was pure genius. It was figurative and yet intangible too - the paradox of dancers lost in the glare of light but revealed in darkness!

Naachiyar Next
(Dr Anita Ratnam & Arangham Dance Theatre)

Dr Anita Ratnam's choreography and savvy theatrical sense infused "Naachiyar Next" with mesmeric tableaux and inexplicable emotions. Embodied as sutradhar, mother and dancer, all rolled into one, she straddled myth and metaphor with a clear exposition.

The opening paces depicted the discovery of Godhai as a foundling under a tulasi bush by a temple priest of Srivilliputtur, Vishnuchittar. The dancers captured a botanical image of a quivering basil plant which melded into lovely female forms. The dance went on to portray the young girl's growing attraction to Lord Ranga - awakening her slumbering friends to bathe in the river with verses from the Thiruppavai and wearing the tulasi garland meant for the deity, much to the horror of her father.

When Godhai addressed the White Conch or Shankh in "Karpuram naarumo" it was playful at the start but it soon became evident that a very adult note had been infused into the otherwise cozy scene. Anita held the conch and Godhai approached it in a trance with all the longings of a maiden on the cusp of womanhood. By an enigmatic confluence of bodily and emotional suggestion, the Shankh almost transformed into a fetish.

Naachiyar Next

Godhai lost her self-consciousness. She began singing her own song. The dancers too stepped into the song. They moved as one body of feeling. They held up gold rimmed mirrors that reflected Godhai's emotions as brassy beams that seared the darkness - poignant, arresting tableaux employing lights, props and stagecraft masterfully.

The astonishing line and placement of the kolattam sequence and the palanquin scene when four dancers processed the Lord was superb. But what was most memorable, more than the precision, was the lushness of the dancers, who performed with a complete lack of artifice or pretence. Nandini Ganesh Subbulakshmi as Godhai had an absorbing and vulnerable quality.

An all-woman orchestra provided expressive accompaniment. The music was interpolated with a soaring, pining cry of unbridled longing, intimations of self-annihilation through love - "Ranga Ranga!" The impetuosity of writhing bodies bearing Godhai receded headlong into the darkness. The brush of peacock feathers against her inflamed body evoked the ecstasy of St Teresa of Avilla as the Angel pierced her heart with a golden tipped arrow. Anita Ratnam's vision was as daring and risqué as Bernini's sculpture!

Naachiyar Next

The red bridal canopy over Godhai's head was like a fragile hymen insinuating the advance from girlhood to womanhood; or was it maidenhead to Godhead? The gossamer fabric transformed into a curtain covering the garbhagriha, the womb-like innermost sanctum. A conch blew stridently. The curtain dropped to reveal Godhai deified as Goddess Andal!

The stentorian voice and pompous bearing of Madhusudanan Kalaichelvan as an Araiyar brought to the urban stage the rare Araiyar Sevai, a ritual dance performed by priests at select Vaishnava temples. Shridhar Vasudevan made an impression as the diligent priest and garland maker of the Lord, as also a distraught father in quandary. These two strong "male" characters represented the conservatism and patriarchy which tried to sublimate Andal's passionate poetry through the filter of devotionalism, and even performed her "Pran Pratishtha" as a temple icon! While orthodoxy may have veiled the sensual within the sacral and sought to desexualise her passion through deification, it has also helped to preserve Andal's poetry and cultural memory in society. Andal's hymns and her short life's journey have been included in the liturgical practices of Vaishnava temples, as explained by Anita Ratnam.

The salient feature to modern exegetes of Andal's life and poetry is perhaps its eroticism while for the conventional laity it is its devotionalism. Anita Ratnam, abetted by the nuanced pen of poet Priya Sarukkai Chabria has played with this exciting dichotomy. Hers is a richly layered and intensely personal take on Andal as a free spirited woman.

The dancers invited the audience to join in the singing of the Thiruppavai verses at the curtain call. My nonagenarian father obliged happily and continued to sing all the way on the long drive back home! This is precisely why I love Evam so much. Almost a decade, Keerthana Ravi has offered up a rich and variegated classical dance fare, wholly crowd-funded, that touches Mumbaikars in many different ways.

Rajiv Rajamani
Rajiv Rajamani is a film maker, author and connoisseur of classical music and dance based in Bombay, Auckland and Chennai (during the season).

Click here for all links
Reviews | Home | About | Address Bank | News | Info Centre | Featured Columns