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Geeta Chandran's riveting performance
- Sunita Chowdhurie

April 5, 2024

Geeta Chandran's story of her journey which started at the age of five with Bharatanatyam as a temple dance format to a proscenium centric performing art and then to her own evolution as a thinking artist evolving her own style was unique and riveting.

Conducting a workshop in Kolkata for the very first time with a batch of eager students she was keen to impart her pedagogy to young minds. She strongly feels that her role now is one of an Acharya, shaping minds and bodies to not only imbibe technique and form but open their hearts to the immense possibilities of the performing arts.

Geeta Chandran

Her onstage performance this week showcased her eclectic training which was deeply rooted in grammar and technique but at the same time left space for exploring infinite potential within strict traditions. She chose a Margam which was almost entirely dedicated to Shiva. She started off with the Chokkanathar Kavuthwam as her invocatory piece which was a heady mix of the different personas of Shiva as he appears in classical literature and in folk tradition. So we got to see Shiva as Ishana, Dakshinamurti, Kal Maari Adiya Peruman, and Chokkanathar. The dance composition was full of vigour and joie de vivre as any composition on Shiva should be, depicting his power and grandeur as well as his untamed and reticent side. The strong performance focussed heavily on footwork perfectly captured the essence of the bhava of Shiva. This Kavuthwam was a composition of Madurai Ganga Muthu Nattuvanar in Ragamalika and misra chapu talam.

This was followed up with Karaharapriya Varnam Moham aaginen inda velayil. A composition of Dandayudhapani Pillai in whose style Geeta Chandran has also been trained post her rigorous learning with Swarna Saraswati, this Varnam has the lovelorn Nayika's ishta devata as Shiva unlike Varnams which are paeans to Vishnu or Krishna or Murugan. This interestingly makes the performer's task much more difficult, as portraying shringara rasa where Shiva with matted locks and tiger skin clothing is the object of desire rather than the charming, lotus eyed, flute playing, peacock feather waving blue God is challenging! However, Shiva here is also the dancer in the Golden Hall of Chidambaram and the heroine deeply in love is not a coy girl but a strong woman unafraid to express her deep desires. Varnam, traditionally the central piece of a Bharatanatyam repertoire where nritta and abhinaya are juxtaposed in breathtaking succession is a powerful test of a dancer's skill and agility as well as maturity. This evening's performance was a class on how Varnam is done. The joy of the jathis followed up with the sensitive abhinaya on the sahityam all the while holding the sthayi bhava of the lovelorn nayika while handling the sanchari bhavas of the various sections showed off the performer's imaginative ability and was a visual delight.

A short Ninda stuti followed which was a fun piece designed to provide relief after a long and emotion laden performance. Katana Bedana has the nayika pointing out all the unattractive features of Shiva to Kamadeva. The performance brought out the humour as well our subtlely playful relationship with the gods who are otherwise venerated beings in our traditional literature.

Geeta Chandran

The performance was wrapped up with Yo drishta. This was a short piece of Shree Bilvamangala Swami on the Govardhana episode of Krishna Karnamritam set to music by K. Venkateshwaran, this year's Bismillah Khan awardee. The piece showcased multifarious emotions through the lenses of the various characters present in the legend - the vatsalya of Yashodha, the jealousy of the Gopas, the shringara of the Gopis and the adoration of the onlookers. The music was a foil to the rich tapestry of the composition.

Geeta Chandran has been a performer, a composer and a teacher for many years now. Her training in the art of dance has provided a firm base for her to build her craft on. As she pointed out, a strong training in technique under a single dedicated teacher is imperative for a performer and may not be replaced by sparks of inspiration or creativity. Her own compositions and presentations are strongly moored in technique whilst giving sufficient play to creativity. Out of her vast experience she also elucidated that it is time for teachers, gurus and arts institutions to provide avenues for the students of dance other than that which is purely performance oriented. This approach would not only add to the pedagogy but also increase interest in the study of the subject.

It was a rich week (March 21 to 23) of discussions, workshops and performances in Kolkata with Geeta Chandran, all made possible due to Udok Performing Arts and Sparsh. Udok Performing Arts (led by Rajib and Moumita Saha) have been promoting the cause of Margam Nritya as performed and taught by our Gurus for over ten years now, through performances, workshops and seminars. May they continue their good work.

Sunita Chowdhurie
Sunita Chowdhurie interprets and analyzes performing and visual arts alongside her highly demanding corporate career. She has been trained in Bharatanatyam and Kathakali.

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