The troupe's appeal lay in its rustic and simple presentation.
NATIVE FLAVOUR The artsites retained the true spirit of Yakshaganam. Photo: D. GOPALAKRISHNAN
The recently concluded `Yakshagana Panchami' was a festive five-day entertainment that offered a peek into this ancient style of dance, which has not lost its native flavour. The Udipi- based Araati troupe of the Dakshina Karnataka belt staged five mythologicals Guna Sundari (an Indian version of King Lear), Veera Maruthi, Bhakta Chandrahaasa, Sri Krishna Leele (Kamsa Vade) and Sampoorna Nagasri (a popular Kannada story) in a singular dance drama pattern.
In Yakshagana, the element of dance and the ahaarya (costume) are unique. While other Yakshagana melas of Karnataka have a simple footwork layout with the digana (going into speedy whirls on one leg) and costume change as suits the character in question, the Aarati troupe did it surprisingly differently. The face paint and headgear of the artiste does not undergo a change whatever be the role assigned to him. The costume with mock spikes at the arms too seems to be a sort of uniform for all male regal characters. It is easy to identify the actor by his constant facial make-up unless he plays a female role. The footwork, more reminiscent of Kathakali in posture has a range of rigorous adavu patterns that are baffling with a knee whirling feat called the mandi (rapid circling on the ground with knees). A lot of hasta mudras also came into play unlike the other troupes' that are constantly in pataaka hasta.
The other characteristics of the Yakshagana are the usual himmela (orchestra) with the vocalist, cymbals in hand, rendering in ati tara sthayi, the chanda and the maddele (percussion) combine with a harmonium for sruti, the exaggerated abhinaya, dialogue, the comic relief, the female impersonation, the garish make up and headgear that give the illusion of a masked face more or less follow the common Karnataka style of bylaata (play in the open). It is refreshing to note that despite urban exposure these mobile troupes have not been swayed by the winds of modernity. They remain as rustic as they were perhaps ages ago and this element of folk and simplicity is what makes them so appealing. Not used to indoor auditorium performances, they had little idea of stage finesse like placement and space (the himmela atop a huge table was at the centre occupying half the stage and looking un-aesthetic), voice modulation, editing unwanted details and dialogue. They still cater to the street play model where artistes shout hoarse to a spread out public in order to be heard with exaggerated gesticulation and endless jokes and jibes that are topical ticklers to the rural audience.
Irebailu Ananda Shetty turned out to be an excellent dancer whose footwork manipulations are something to reckon with. His elegance when he displayed an emotion through neck and eye movement alone was amazing especially with such a masculine stage presence. Be it in the garb of Balarama (Veera Maruthi) or King Dustabuddi in Chandrahaasa or Kamsa II in Krishna Leele or Ugrasena in Guna Sundari, Ananda Shetty carved a niche of his own in the entire drama. His character broke into a vigorous footwork delineation after the first introduction and with every show of veera rasa, he broke into a digna or a mandi. Kollala Krishna Shetty stole the audience heart as the young Krishna in Krishna Leele with his sparkling eyes, mischievous smile and lilting dance. The serpentine bends and curves his body could take as he danced to the rhythmic chande were marvellous. M. Mandale on the percussion (chande) was a wizard in artistry. Jagadeesha Hegde (Krishna in Veera Maruthi) and Chandrahaasa were not only able dancers but also masters in expression.
The artistes in female roles like Sanjeeva Shetty (as Satyabhama) looked convincing enough but were not good dancers. Aarate Manjunath, the leader of this troupe chose both significant and insignificant roles despite his standing, and was able to get under the skin of the character he essayed. The last play, Sampoorna Nagasri was a novel theme to non-Kannada viewers - a long winding story of royal household intrigues, banishes and battles and an all's well that ends well wrap-up. The Karavali Maitri Sangha and Kannadiga (Udipi) hospitality sector sponsored the dance dramas staged at Sundarayya Kala Bhavan.
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