A Study in Contrasts

Anjaneyam – A study in contrasts

Devotion and daring, honour, wisdom and valour, mark the character of Hanuman which was explored with energy and elegance in the dance production ANJANEYAM by Seran Sribalan and his team of dancers Lavaniya Thevaraja and Hareeshan Elankovan.

Experimenting in a myriad ways Seran did justice to the character he presented. Starting with a Pushpanjali in Vijaya Vasantham the three dancers covered the stage with leaps signifying the energy of Hanuman and fluid hand movements portraying Vayu the sire of the great monkey lord. The choreography was very original and set the tone for the evening. The kauthuvam that followed in ragam Panthuvarali brought out the brilliance and humility of Hanuman and Seran danced this item solo touching on how the 5 elements made up the form of Hanuman using some kalaripayittu (martial art form from Kerala) movements to bring out the the quality of veeram .

The piece the resistance of the evening was the varnam in Keeravani, almost an hour long but kept the audience spell bound with its intense narrative. Seran drew inspiration from mythological stories and with co dancers Lavanya and Hareeshan presented a wide gamut of characters in the narrative and did justice to all. Devotion stood in the forefront as Seran playing Hanuman makes a thief realise how his family though sharing his wealth were unwilling to share his sins. Hanuman then preaches the Rama namam to the thief and this story was brilliantly enacted by Seran and Hareeshan. Lavanya played a convincing Anjana, mother of Hanuman in the episode that followed and there was some humour in the way Vayu the wind God dallies with Anjana as she tries to pluck fruit from the tree and some touching moments when after the birth of Hanuman, Vayu though invisible plays the role of an indulgent father in the background. The origin of the suryanamaskaram was finely crafted into the story where Hanuman eats the sun and use of back lighting to show the sunrise added magic to the scene. The battle of wills between Ravana and Hanuman stole the show with Hanuman asserting his strength in the presence of evil. Hareeshan internalised the character of Ravana with such ease that he oozed arrogance and contempt from head to toe. Seran was the epitome of devotion and daring in the character of Hanuman. A team of three young percussionists in the orchestra Chrissan Segaram(mridangam),SenthuraThevarajah(ghatam and jathis), Janakan Suthanthiraraj(kanjira/dolak) played with mastery the complex rhythms and helped highlight the drama in the sancharis.

Sitting in the audience I was wondering why Seran had not used a red costume to symbolise the sindhuravarnam of Hanuman and he must have read my mind for he appeared in a red costume as the curtains opened for the second half. It was time for introspection as Seran immersed himself in the beauty of a bhajan in rag Suth Sarang. A kirtanam in Varali described Hanuman’s encounter with Seetha and again here the use of back lighting and projection to show the vishwaroopam of Hanuman kept the audience absorbed in the action. The curtains came down with a thillana in Rag Palini. The Pushpanjali and thillana though beautifully choreographed to reflect the theme would have benefitted with a little more synchronisation between the dancers.

It must be mentioned to Seran’s credit that one did see shadows and reflection of the great artists The Dhananjayans in his presentation. Whether it was by imitation or training one wasn’t sure but in the movement of a limb or the subtlety of an expression the gurus’ touch was seen and felt.

A wide range of complex ragas were sung with vigour and melody by a young vocalist Bharath Mohan. Narayanadas Kopathidas on the violin and Iyankaran Mahadevan on the flute added great value to the musical ensemble. Gayatri Krishnamurthy on the nattuvangam led the orchestra with quiet strength. All the songs it seemed were especially composed for this production but one did miss the presence of compositions by Arunachala Kavi and other great masters in the repertoire.

There was a lot to keep the audience engaged and thinking throughout the show but the act that left an indelible impression on their minds was the generous contribution Seran made to Patchwork an organisation helping those in need in SriLanka.

Art is a reflection of life and from art we learn lessons for life is a popular saying but Seran seems to have internalised this idea to the last word for when asked what he learnt from exploring the character of Hanuman , he replied “though Hanuman has great strength and knowledge he was always humble” . In the true spirit of Hanuman Seran selflessly through this show contributed $ 39,000 to Patchwork.

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