Unplanned Dance Season in Sydney

What a marathon few months of fantastic and cutting edge dance performances in Sydney. Call it fate .. as it was an unplanned dance season that lasted across three months this year.

Malabika Sarukkai and Aruna Sairam, held at Riverside Theatres towards the beginning of the year was the start of this unplanned season.

Oozing with the love for Krishna as Radha or Meera or his mother Yashoda, the silhouetted Malabika (commend the lighting technician) as the solo dancer to the accompanying sounds of the flute and the fainter sounds of the violin and mridangam were unsurprisingly exquisite in Lalitha Lavanga and Madhurashtakam. The latter was interspersed with rhythmic jathis with a commanding nattuvangam.  The ragamalika and the musical explorations on certain words of the song leant beautifully for some amazing sancharis to be explored between the esteemed singer and acclaimed dancer.

These components of the show held the enthralled audience of Sydney in its absolute seductive folds. Except for the crashing spot light on the singer Aruna Sairam sitting almost centre stage in an unconventional position to the left of the dancer. Question was that necessary ? Question in what way was a view of the singer centre stage going to enhance the artistic or aesthetic aspect of this partnership ? Did it add to the musical experience or the dancer’s choreography ? Deeply disappointed it has taken me three months to pick up the strings to write about it.

Held also at the Riverside Theatres, was Past Forward, an umbrella event of Parramasala 2017,  Leela Samson and Spanda group of dancers engaged audiences from the beginning in a unconventional show of Bharathanatyam that did not follow the traditional margam. It was perhaps a dumbed down version of a pure bharathanatyam repertoire some say, but if it was dumbed down it was nevertheless done with calculated measured conviction. As the dancers explored the spaces within and around them, the production was mostly dance and rhythm centric. Some surprisingly sensuous choreography was evidenced when the seductive energetic and uncontrollable waves of the Ganga are captured in Shiva’s locks. The other four accompanying dancers displayed acrobatic and aesthetic synchronisation in movement and grace personified.

Eye catching rhythms meet equally eye catching costumes in a challenging collaboration between NSW Gammelan group and Indonesian Dancers from the NSW Balinese Community and the Bharathanatyam dancers of Rasika Dance Academy in Ramayana – Lord of the Ring held on the 12 March 2017 at an outdoor stadium. The production saw key Dancers: Manjula Viswanath & Kade Novi along with their teams; Choreography & Natuvangam (Verbal Percussion):Manjula Viswanath; Vocalist – Balasubramanya Sharma (from India)
Violin- Balaji Jagannathan; Mrudangam- Siva Sethupathy; Ghatam & Morsing- Jeiram Jegathesan

The Indonesian Segment consisted of Choreography : Kade Novi and NSW Balinese Community ; Music Director and Choreographer: Made Satria; Leader of the Gamelan team: Nyoman Sudiarta and Kecak and Gammelan Musicians : NSW Balinese Community.

It was the crowning success of the multicultural Parramasala Festival 2017. Other acts that were held through out the weekend of the Festival were Swastik School of Dance whose production on Water was uniquely commissioned for Parramasala in Parched Emotions. Students of Swastik carried pots of water as they sprinkled it on each other and danced, showcased Kathak; Ruchi Sanghi’s collaborations with seven other cultures in Western Sydney Story along with the unforgettable leaps and jumps of African dancer Lucky Lartey to the african drummer Phillippe’s beats and the cleansing acts of the Aboriginal Dancers and Singers of the Traditional Owners of the Land, Darug, Lex and his family made it an exciting busy weekend.

The lecture demonstration of Leela Samson on the outdoor stage, provided opportunities for people of many different cultures to the Indian Traditions of Classical Dance. As Leela eased into her narrative with her five dancers demonstrating and interchanging between peacock, tigers, snakes and elephants or butterflies and birds, the audience was eating out of her hands. When she finally joined putting it together and said Namasthe explaining what it was I could not but feel a sense of pride that I too belong to this very enriching culture.

The following week we heard more or less the same Ramayana ensemble with vocalist – Balasubramanya Sharma (from India), Violin- Balaji Jagannathan; Mrudangam- Bala Sankar; Ghatam & Morsing- Jeiram Jegathesan at the heartwarming arangetram of a dancer who showed great promise, Madhumita Jayaraman (student of Manjula Venkat). Madhumita’s enviable arm and hand positioning, facial expressions, stamina and energy kept the audience engaged not to mention the choreography by Guru Manjula Viswanathan. With a lot of hard work and dedication, this dancer has all the workings of becoming a professional dancer if she so chooses in the near future.
The Madhuram Academy of Performing Arts festival of dance held this weekend saw the delights of Lord Krishna in various forms and styles of dance come to life. Divya Sriram the organiser and dancing enthusiast also the student of Chitra Visveswaran commenced the Festival with her repertoire in Bharathanatyam. Her graceful stylised ‘Chitra Visveswaran’ component was well evident in her presentation. Expressive and graceful carrying all the marks of Chitra Visveshwaran’s unbounded choreography her main Varnam portrayed the stories of Nayanar and Markandaya whose unfailing love for Lord Shiva is tested. Her footwork was nimble and expressions commensurate to the stories she was telling.

Divya’s contained performance was followed by the crisp extroverted and energetic movements of Pravat Kumar Swain. Swain’s Odissi personified thribanga of the masculine body with nuances of feminine emotions in Madhurashtakam, following the crisp Pallavi set the pace for the rest of the afternoon. This was followed by an involved story telling of the life of Ek Lavya, representing both Swain’s use of a bamboo stand and a real bow and arrow was very tasteful and elegantly represented, choreography of Guru Padmashri Aruna Mohanty, it was dramatic and dynamic;

Reddy Lakshmi’s Kuchipudi walk was the crowning jewel of the festival today (shall stay with me in years to come). Setting the pace with the plays of Lord Krishna to a Bhajan of Swati Tirunal in Shuddha Sarang, she dance mirthily, cajoling and asking the audience whether they had seen the little Krishna whom she had dressed and sent off to wander. In the Nadana Daruvu, she brought Bhamakalpam to life with a vengeance of a heroine jilted by her lover. Every time she entered the stage her walk defined it all. In a few seconds she grabbed your undistracted attention. From a loving mother to the jilted lover, to the all powerful durga in Mahishasura Mardini or that all pervading Lord of Dance, her performance was energetic and engaging from the word go.

Walking the Walk and Talking the Talk Vidha and Abhimanyu Lal re-defined Upaj, improvised movement, in their Shuddha Nritya segment set to Raag Charukeshi and Teen Taal. If Lord Krishna was the favourite for the day, he was here yet again with the Mor Pakha, when Vidha danced as the Radha who dresses herself up as Krishna whilst waiting for him. As she steals his Flute and teases him, her sensuous portrayal was intersperced with fast rotations to layakari that is enviously fast and furious and absolutely precise.

Naina Lagyo Birha Ki Rathiyan”, a famous composition, was sung by Abhimanyu Lal as Vidha Lal improvised both footwork and expression ridden movements with conviction and beauty. If the Sawal Jawab with the audience and their footwork kept the audience engaged, the demonstration of Rain with only the sounds of the bells truly established that it had been raining dance this past few months in Sydney.