MYSTERIOUS The ballet, Antim Adhyay, depicted the many guises in which death approaches the human being
Bharath Rang Mahotsav, being held outside Delhi for the first time, has given Bangalore theatre lovers every cause to celebrate. The fortnight-long festival got off to a flying start with the Beijing Opera, which introduced Bangaloreans to the brilliant hues, breath-taking acrobatic fetes and the haunting melody, that characterise the traditional Chinese opera.
Equally enchanting, but totally different in form and content, was the Indian contemporary dance, presented by the Delhi-based Creative Dance Centre, Bhoomika, on the following day. The three ballets presented by the group, under the direction of its founder, Narendra Sharma, were based on the poems of Rabindranath Tagore.
A disciple of Pandit Uday Shankar, Narendra Sharma is one of the leading, innovative dancers in the country. Constantly in search of a new content and form, he questions the overemphasis on mythology in Indian dance and wants dance to depict the beauty of life and contemporary social issues. The pieces presented reflected his zeal to break free from tradition and use dance as a medium for educating the common people.
The opening piece, The Homage, was a delightful tribute to his guru, Pandit Uday Shankar. The next item, Flying Cranes depicted a flock of migratory cranes visiting their annual winter retreat, a lake in the warm south. The piece, inspired by Tagore's lines "Like a flock of homesick cranes flying night and day back to their mountain nests let all my life take its voyage to its eternal home in one salutation to thee", was an extraordinarily beautiful manifestation of the eternal rhythmic movement of nature. Combining elements of classical ballet with modern dance, the dancers, depicted the flight formations of the cranes, their landing on the lake, their delicate quivering movements, preening of feathers, perched on one leg with their long necks twisted round their bodies. It was sheer joy to watch the dancers glide from one stance to another with bird-like grace and beautiful, coordinated movements to the accompaniment of gentle, instrumental music.
The final piece, Antim Adhyay, consisted of a series of scenes of death, the last chapter in one's life. Inspired by the mysterious feel of the rich natural surroundings of a graveyard on Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg in Delhi, the ballet depicted the many guises in which death approaches the human being. Included in the series were death in road accidents, industrial and mining mishaps, sati and old age. The abstract visuals depicting industrial labour were attractive. But the most effective among the scenes was the depiction of Sati as an oppressive tradition.
After experiencing the peace and harmony of these ballets, one found it a little difficult to respond sympathetically to the loud melodrama of the Marathi play Jalwa directed by Prof. Waman Kendre for the Mumbai-based group, Rangapeeth. The play, based on a novel by noted Marathi writer, Uttam Bandhu Tupe, depicted the sorrows and the frustrations of a young girl, forced by society and circumstances to become a jogti. It had all the features of a successful commercial production - a moving story, a talented cast, good music, folk elements and plenty of energy. There was even an attempt to introduce a few more modern elements like abstract symbolism, human sets, stylised movements, mime etc. What the play needed was a little more subtlety and suggestiveness.
Sonai Bibir Pala was an excellent instance of how the same blend of folk and modern theatrical elements and a potentially melodramatic plot, can be transformed into an artistically satisfying experience by a sensitive director. The play was directed by Kamaluddin Nilu, an alumnus of NSD. Presented by the Centre for Asian Theatre, perhaps the only professional theatre organisation in Bangladesh, the play was based on a ballad about the tragic fate of two lovers who belong to different religious communities. The play becomes particularly relevant in the light of the growth of religious fundamentalism in the subcontinent and the damage it has caused to the social fabric. In the play, the merging of feudalism with fundamentalism results in the inhuman act of a Hindu father blinding his own son for marrying a Muslim girl. An adaptation of the Kumar Bir Narayan section of Purba Banga Geetika, a collection of folk narratives, Sonai Bibir Pala was choreographed by Sultana Haider, an expert in folk dance. The play was an attractive blend of different narrative techniques, music and dialogue.
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