KRISHNA GANA SABHA
Educative sessions, few takers
RISING HOPES and self-congratulatory complacency amidst organisers and art lovers about the more handsome turnout for most of the Natya Kala Conference sessions this year, were somewhat dampened by V. D. Dhananjayan's count of raised `student hands', which were all too few. Was this a platform for the already informed Kalanidhi Narayanans and Ranga Raos, or for youngsters who seemed devoid of the curiosity to know? Auchitya or appropriateness is always difficult to judge, for true to the saying one man's meat could well be another's poison. V. P. Dhananjayan was frank enough to say that societal values which guide standards of what constitutes propriety or its negation, differed from region to region and sweeping statements on auchitya, particularly in the creative field, could not be made. Looking at the subject from various angles, he agreed that Anga Saushtavam and Lakshana lent themselves to being measured, for they pertained to prescribed textual references, in classical dance. Technique, with bodyline, movement grammar and hand gesture had standard references against which to be judged. While command over this aspect gave the dance clinical correctness, the more evocative ingredient was supplied by lakshya where creativity comes into operation within the parameters of grammar. Good dancing balanced both. Auchitya which combines learning with evolving constituted training under the guru, analysing what was learned, watching and listening to seniors and other artists, and a growing awareness of self (or Swa) anubhavam. The youngsters of today had lost the art of watching and listening - attributes, which demand an inner silence, few seemed to possess.
He mentioned seeing abroad, a traditional Alaripu rendered with the dancer's back to the audience or Jatiswaram performed with dancers wearing jeans and T-shirt being labelled as `Modern dance' (all to procure the grant available only for Modern Dance) a misalliance of movement and aharya, certainly not auchitya. An evolved mind with an intuitive feel for aesthetics alone could guide the dancer's sense of proportion in appropriateness in the art. Auchitya in choreography, which in the Indian dance context marries the poetic word and music to movement, presupposes a complete understanding of the sahitya and then working on dance images to flesh out each statement in a suggestive manner.
Student of Bharata Kalanjali, Sreelata Vinod, presented evocative abhinaya to a line of sahitya from the varnam "Sumasaayaka," "Ramani mani sayane tava rati lalasa hrdaya...." The other musical statement treated through expressional dance was from the Mohanam lyric "Aadinaaye Kanna," "Eedile Azhagiya Gopiyar Unnai Thedi" visualising Brindavan Gopis going in search of their beloved Krishna.
Dhananjayan's interpretation embellished the line by portraying different attitudes of the gopikas - one seeking Krishna with motherly love, one seeking him with romantic love and one lavishly turning out obviously with the desire to attract and catch his eye. In conclusion, video excerpts of Jungle Boy, a production where Bharata Kalanjali dancers performed in conjunction with dancers of the Ohio Ballet unit in a Bharatanatyam/Ballet interaction, were screened to show how auchitya demanded interacting without sacrificing the identity of individual forms - "Fusion without Confusion" as he summed up.
Distinct and different
Aharya and Abhinaya in Manipuri, a much treated subject for those familiar with dance, in Darshana Jhaveri's lecture/demonstration wisely focussed on aspects which make Manipuri distinctive and very different from other forms. Still a part of ritual and temple worship, dance in Manipuri is based on Bhakti Bhava with total surrender to a higher truth - this all pervading approach having accommodated and absorbed over time, varying layers of religious persuasions - first the belief in the old pantheon of Gods, worship invoking a formless deity based on ancient theory of Cosmology - Tantric worship with belief in the Snake God, an intertwined serpent or `pakhangba' with no beginning or end symbolising the Supreme One, the snaking patterns characterising movements in Thang-ta (martial art out of which the dance has borrowed), and the final superimposing layer of staunch Gaudia Vaishnavism. The Vaishnavite beliefs were given a regional character and fitted on an existing movement technique, with increased stylisation and embellishment.
The dance is mostly abstract, the body being trained to move in, an up and down constant weaving of a figure of `8'. The up and down change of levels by the dancer while dancing and the supple rolling of wrists and hand movements which are graceful and rounded in a continuous motion with no pointed beginning or end were demonstrated. Chali(s) (different gaits) could have been highlighted more, one felt and the garland of movements like Bhangi Parengs dealt with in greater detail.
Abhinaya is entirely angika for the face registers no expression except one of pleasant serenity and Darshana's lecture mentioned this aspect in passing. She also spoke about how most representation in dance is abstract, and there is no direct translation of word into gesture.
Sadanam V. Balakrishnan
So also the fact that no tala stresses are articulated by footwork, for rhythm is often marked in the air with a foot lifted on a beat - an aspect needing more pin-pointing, though Darshana did mention that foot contact on floor is inaudible, and even in a jump the landing is soft with feet making no sound. The half seated, the fully seated and the in-between levels maintained by the dancer, were demonstrated by students and so were the bhramari-s, the cart-wheeling and the circling on the knees - all difficult movements from the Choloms in Nata Sankirtana.
The demonstrations included examples from Choloms, Maibi Jagoi done during Lai Haraoba Festival, and Ras Lila excerpts. Khandu Khel (playing ball) from Gopa Ras, and glimpses of the Khandita, Vipralabdha and Vasakasajja nayikas, based on old Bengali, Sanskrit and Manipuri literature, Swara Prabandha, Jugal Nritta (Radha and Krishna dance in Ras Leela) were all competently rendered. Khubak Isai with clapping of hands in rhythm was also rendered by a competent group of dancers along with Darshana herself. The lecture made a point that the tight skirt and general getup did not allow much movement spread and had played a part in guiding the nature of body movement in Manipuri.
Veering away from the Vibhava, Anubhava, Vyavacharibhava beaten track, Chitra Visweswaran at the Natya Kala Conference, posed the queries: "Where is rasa felt and is there a recipe to evoke it?" Transcribing Rasa and Dhwani (Anandavardhana's 9th century theory) into dance, far from happening in an isolated cul-de-sac, was inspired by life experiences, however fleeting. Karuna rasa evoked by the female bird's lament beside its dying Krauncha Pakshi mate, felled by the hunter's cruel arrow, had caused well-springs of poetry to pour out of Valmiki. Chitra mentioned her own example of persisting inability to perceive the largeness of an experience like the Viswaroopa and Arjuna's response to it, suddenly change into awareness on seeing the film `Towering Inferno' with the camera moving from the all-encompassing flames to the smallness of the watching man. She demonstrated how this changed the macro/micro understanding, as she danced to the musical line "Jagadhoddharaka Krishna."
Like the `ruchi' of a dish comprising the blended essence of flavours drawn from many ingredients, rasa too is an aesthetic enjoyment of a dominant state of being, combining many transitory strands. The same virahotkanthita could evoke compassion in one viewer, laughter in another and positive anger in the feminist chafing at the nayika's constant pining for the nayaka. This is where the sahrdaya or the rasika with shared empathy becomes important for the art form, said Chitra.
Texts speak of some rasas as being more pleasurable and hence desirable for presentation - like sringara for example, which has pleasing vibhavas and vyavacharibhavas. Some scholars eschew Shanta as a rasa for the tranquil inner state has to remain the prerequisite for other moods to spring from and be evoked, like a plain canvas or still waters reflecting painted images and ripples the best.
Ancient Greeks had the catharsis theory or the emptying out with emotional release. Rasa as evoked aesthetic enjoyment is different from laukika or natural experience. While the artist's identity needs to be subsumed in the creative act, he or she does not become part of the Rama being created, for here it is one's idea of Rama being evoked. To re-address issues, with time, was important, said Chitra. On a re-look at her work Panchali, the opening prayer scene struck her as being totally out of synch with the veera rasa. Hebbar's line drawings inspired her to look at the body creating its own rasas and having its own Kurukshetras to deal with. And thus a re-choreographed scene where confrontation and veera rasa were evoked by just movement with the music in raga Hindol scored by Visweswaran, creating its own impact. In the demonstration, students Uma and Archana effectively brought out the choreographer's intent. Chitra's own sringar depiction from the lyric "Panimati mukhi Bale" in Ahiri, a composition of Swati Tirunal illustrated how in the midst of Vipralambha desolation of the nayika, one dealt with throwback images from past sambhoga-sringar joy. Nayika types overlapping in an item is common.
Many in the audience by thoughtlessly trooping out after Chitra's session missed a brilliant Kathakali demonstration by Guru Sadanam V. Balakrishnan, Head of the faculty of the International Centre for Kathakali in Delhi.
Speaking briefly on Dharmi - (Lokadharmi and Natyadharmi, meaning realistic and stylised representation) he concluded that Kathakali rested on the Natyadharmi mode, barring a few exceptional characters. His opening demonstration based on just one line in the slow spun joy of Sopanam music set to Shankarabharanam, admirably sung by Sadanam Sivadas, portrayed Arjuna, totally unmoved by the praises of the damsel sent by Indra to seduce him. The rendition brought out the sheer larger-than-life nature of the Kathakali form. A further elaboration of the Natyadharmi mode, quite different from the first example, was a female role from Rukmangada with the male presenting it. Kathakali's stree vesham technique is an entire art in itself.
To illustrate how music in Kathakali serves a theatrical purpose, and how the same raga can be harnessed to two entirely opposed moods, Sadanam Balakrishnan presented a scene evoking deep pathos of a father with the body of his son, the eighth to die on birth, bemoaning his fate weeping before Dwarka Krishna. Dancing to the same melodic mode, he next became an arrogant Ravana boasting on having conquered Brahma's Kingdom.
The final excerpt from Kalyana Sougandhikam with Bhima in the forest describing the scene of a mighty elephant succumbing after being over powered by a simultaneous attack of a python and a lion, revealed Sadanam's abhinaya mastery - just one look of the lion on all fours raising its head above a stool on the stage, to stealthily watch an already weakened elephant struggling against the python, drawing deafening applause from the depleted but discriminating audience.
The energy focus in the presentation, the strong Kalasam rhythmic punctuations, the versatile eyes and cheek muscle movements -- all showed Sadanam's abhinaya command. Above all is an intricate breathing technique the guru has acquired from great masters, giving his expressional interpretation an entirely different dimension.
Sadanam Devadas on Chenda and Sadanam Ramakrishna on Maddalam gave the right support. Lack of time prevented any demonstration of the realistic lokadharmi mode.
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