The long awaited production of Rasana Dance Theatre, Sringaram was received with enthusiasm by its well wishers and audiences.
Before I proceed to talk about the show itself, I stop to ponder on an important question – what is the importance of rhythm and percussion in a bharathanatyam dance production ? To what percentage should they be used? Most would answer between 80 to 90 or more percent of time. Some would even say, dance does not exist where rhythm is absent. Dance without rhythm – can it even be called dance ?
The effective use of music in Bharathanatyam to depict the twining creeper, the garden full of flowers, bees and butterflies, the call of a bird or an imagined dream is well known and perhaps reams of paper and compositions have been devoted to this study.
The striking aspect of Seran Sribalan’s production was the most effective and theatrical use of rhythm and nattuvangam which should also include its absence, to effectively convey many aspects – soulful and sensual, of Sringaram. Be it the tease between Krishna and Radha, Be it the cajoling Krishna, the annoyed Radha, the coming together of their minds and hearts – Call it a stroke of genius, excellent bhavam and expressions between the two dancers – Seran Sribalan and Durga Shivaji – it was sheer poetry dressed theatre and it worked its charm.
This is the greatest take away from Sringaram. Simple as it may sound, the necessity for all mridangists to forge ahead with a command of a million rhythmic complexities would have defeated the nuances of the myriad layered expressions of the divine lovers. Taking the audience into the inner most world, the soft realms of the lovers mind, the complicated conversations between them, needed something more than rhythm. It needed music that was seamless as well. This marriage between the act, the poetry and the music and rhythm adorning it, led to what I call, the magic of theatre, the show stopper.
If people show me the reams of literature written on Bharathanatyam, I would simply say this – did it move you ? If the answer is Yes there any theories should end.
The second distinct aspect of Sringaram was its seamless transitions between the scenes, the story and the pieces. Is there a need to explain any thing with a million words in English when a look shall suffice to convey this and more ?
The show seamlessly transitioned from one piece to another across the following pieces:
1. Nrittaswaravalli Ragam Jog Composed by Venkatesh Sri Tharan
2. Varnam Sakhiye Ragam Anandabhairavi Tanjore Quartet – The varnam was an energetic display of jathis by all
3. Ashtapadi Nindati Chandana Ragam Darbari Khanada composer Jeyadeva
4. Ashtapadi Yahi Mahdeva Yahi Keshave restructured by Arjunan Puveendran to Ragam Dhanyasi
5. Ashtapadi Priye Charuseele Ragam Mukhari
6. Thillana Ragam Kuntalavarali composed by Bala Murali Krishna
Musicians : Arjuanan Puveendran (Vocal & Nattuvangam), Chrissan Segaram (Mridangam), Venkatesh Sritharan (flute) and Saumya Sritharan (Veenai) The first time I am hearing this combination of artists. They worked well with each other and the dancers. Arjunan’s spontaneous mano dharma sangathis initially sounded vocal centric as opposed to dance centric. But one soon settles into it as the dancers take mainstage and the drama unfolds. The mridangist Chrissan Segaram was outstanding in his distilled contributions so much so that his timely silences sounded were noticeable. He was able to make his mark through all the acrobatic and energetic moves of the Varnam Jathis by all the dancers. The envious brother sister partnership between Venkatesh on flute and Saumya on Veena is the talk of the town. THey are now almost a fixture in every dance production in the city now. Beautiful and completely in tune, they enriched the production melodically.
Dancers: Balaki Parameshwaran, Aruthy Kumanan, Durga Shivaji and Sahana Nandakumar, all artists of Rasana Dance Theatre, under the artistic direction of Seran Sribalan excelled in what was a most enjoyable production. The dancers expressed their dialogues in myme, befitting of both the Varnam and the Ashtapadi’s The varnam and thillana were strewn with gem like jathis (rhythmic patterns performed with intricate footwork to match the mridangum and the Nattuvangam) was bejewelled with the bhavam and story telling of this famous Varnam. Seran Sribalan establishes his unique creative style of including some acrobatic leg raised movements in the jathis.
The varnam was was given a novel interpretation. Having one varnam being performed by all four dancers allowed for some excellent creative formations. The positioning and movement was spontaneous and the formations very cleverly choreographed to not overbear the expressions and the story telling of a lovelorn Sakhi who shies away from telling her friends the exact reason for her lack lustre existence, while she asks her friend to fetch Him, after she relents and is consoled to confide by her Sakhis. Portrayed quite beautifully by all the dancers, the varnam showed Seran Sribalan’s creative zeal and the dancers complete engagement with their respective characters as the Sakhis. Each Sakhi successfully portrayed her own nature and character within the varnam. This character feature of each of the Sakhis continued through the production. Either a Sakhi was a friendly, an irritated, an angry, an impatient, a questioning one or the other and so on. It all seemed very relateable and engaging.
The long wait to put Sringaram on the stage may have been frustrating, but the artists of Rasana Dance Theatre honed into this delay with love and commitment for their artform which shown through their performances. Shringaram stands as a feather in their cap – a milestone performance of their life. Rasana we are watching and waiting for your next foray ….