by G Narendra, Chennai  

January 7, 2003

For those who did not have the information and don’t live in Chennai – I have some information as well as my observations to share. A three-day dance festival was organized by Usha Vasanthakumar and Unnikrishnan under the banner “MAARGA”. According to them the unknown talent hidden in all corners of our country will be given opportunity through their festival. This understandably includes them and I hope they will continue to go on the right path regarding the selection of performances and artistes.   

Mohiniattam – Kalamandalam Kshemavathy  
This ambitious event started off with a Mohiniattam performance by Kalamandalam Kshemavathy. As expected there was poor attendance for a simple reason that Mohiniattam does not “Sell” too well in the city of Chennai. The Mohiniattam exponent did not seem to worry too much about this (thin attendance). It was evident that the dancer had the experience and involvement. She did not seem to be in any hurry to impress the audience with Angika abhinaya (which can be exerting). In my estimation the age factor and fitness level does not matter too much for a Mohiniattam dancer since it is not a very strenuous art form. In the entire programme, a dancer obviously noticed either a ‘Tha Thai Thai Tha’ or a ‘Dhi Dhi Thai’ adavu and the tempo of the dance remained the same throughout the recital. She danced gracefully which is not new for a Mohiniattam dancer.  

Like most art forms from Kerala, Mohiniattam is dominated by ‘Mukha Abhinaya’(facial expression). Lack of Nritta (intricate body and footwork) does not seem to help this art form to flourish elsewhere. Before Thillana, the dancer performed a lullaby. We didn’t need one since all the items were in ‘Vilambhakala’ (slow paced) already. I thought we needed a dance to wake up and definitely not a lullaby! Most of the time we go home totally perturbed after a performance for various reasons. In this case it was peaceful and we (audience) did not have to rack our brains. Excellent musicians accompanied the dancer.  

The organizers performed on the second day of the festival. This programme with nature as the theme had recorded commentary, music and display of video projection as the backdrop. Overall, the performance was interesting; one could witness brilliant choreographies in parts. Lots of contemporary ideas with blank expression and unnecessary Kalari movements were incorporated. The transition from the commentary to dance throughout the programme was either in a Pushpanjali or a Thillana format. It was an action packed performance forgetting the theme they had chosen.  

The dancers began with a Pushpanjali with lamps in their hands, while the projection had bright light showing broad daylight; whereas, the lighting for the dancers was subdued to give an effect to the lit lamps. Sometimes we go overboard with multimedia ideas while the audiences are confused as to where to look. Agni – one of the five elements (Panchabhootha), was depicted by the dancers showing a dowry scene, while the projection showed a rocket being launched! I wonder what the connection was? There were sequences where the dance, theme and video projection were well coordinated. Like the sequence where the video projection showed lots of birds while the dancers depicted birds too. Such sequences should have occurred more often. The video projection on its own made more sense with regard to the theme.  

The male dancer’s vigour and fitness proved that they are vital to any performance. On the whole, the effort put in by each and every one needs to be applauded. Talking about the music, it was extremely repetitive to listen to Pushpanjalis and Thillanas throughout the performance. Quality of the recording was not up to the mark as well. In my opinion, music has to be scored by a professional musician.   

NRITYAGRAM’S Odissi Ensemble  
The third day of the festival was obviously the best of the MAARGA series. Chennai audiences missed or probably overlooked NRITYAGRAM’S Odissi Ensemble. It was sad to see the turnout in audience for one of the best and most professional dance ensemble in our country. The dancers had military discipline. Precision in movements, coordination and choreography was breathtaking and it was a very refreshing experience. One could see architecture in their dance. Those who have not seen Khajuraho and Konark could see the sculptures come alive from these places. The balance in their Tribhangis and their Dhrishti was extraordinary. Even if somebody wanted to make a negative comment, it was impossible. In the Ashtapathi I would have preferred flute instead of the violin. The senior dancer Surupa Sen underplayed herself due to a back injury. The young energetic threesome danced the strenuous pieces. Lighting by Lynn Fernandez was exemplary, awesome, fabulous………..I have no words to explain. 

G Narendra is a freelance dancer, teacher, and choreographer who has started a dance ensemble AVIGNA (meaning no obstacles), along with Mahalakshmi, his dancing partner. The core group consists of some excellent professional dancers.