In the woman-dominated dance field it is very difficult for a male dancer to receive an endorsement as that of the opposite gender. To make a mark in that domain, the male dancer who perseveres in dance should have a genuine hunger for it, must be uniquely motivated and dedicated and must develop a truly thick skin. It is possibly only with the aid of teachers or exceptionally supportive parents. It is indeed admirable the passion and drive that it takes for males to succeed in dance. A few such male dancers naturally stand out in a sea of female dancers. Today, there are also new groups of strong young male dancers leaving their mark on their audiences.
Our own seasoned exponent of Bharatanatya Sathyanarayana Raju and a multi-faceted artiste Dr Sanjay Shantharam are the shining examples for the above observations. Both of them were at the helm of their talent and expertise in their separate solo Bharatanatya recitals held on the second day (December 22) of the four day annual dance festival Rasa Sanje-2013 under the banner of Sri Venkatesh Natya Mandira led by veteran Guru Radha Sridhar at the ADA Rangamandira. They took the stage in a vividly entertaining way, often with bright smiles and a keen sense of the audience, but what became more striking was their humility of immersion in something that extended far beyond them.
For a dancer to transform into multiple characters it demands a subtle but profound acting sense and the sense of connection and empathy is much more involved. Sathya and Sanjay won the hearts of the rasikas for their marvellous performances. Both of them succeeded in showing inner torment and bewildered emotions without an excess of physical histrionics. Sathyanarayana Raju demonstrated purposeful vitality and flair, as did the energetic artiste Dr Sanjay Shantharam. Showcasing their all-round ability in their separate solo recitals they were strong and subtle, lithe, emphatic and powerful without being over muscular. Their ekaaharya (without change in the costume) found an episodic dance treatment of Sri Rama and Sri Krishna respectively.
A fully ripened artiste, Sanjay’s interpretative involvement was remarkable. Straight away he took up the familiar Reetigowla varna Sri Krishna Kamalanatho describing the tale of Sri Krishna. The ashtottara shata naamaas (108 names) of Krishna strung together were delineated to depict the birth and other leelas of the Lord. The composition invariably demands strength, power and emotional intensity in its dancing. Sanjay neatly and artistically developed and devised ideas of his own in the rendition. His nritta, nrithya and abhinaya in their right proportions radiated with all the glory of authentic Bharatanatya. His hold over the medium was immediately noticeable with his fluidity, exquisite balance and fleetness of foot. He flowed across the stage and leapt smoothly and effortlessly. There was ease and grace in every movement.
With convincing simplicity, he enacted Thyagaraja’s Naada tanumanisham (Chittaranjani raga) addressed to Lord Shiva. Round the refrain of sa ri ga ma pa da ni of the composition, he effectively netted the story of Ravana creating veena out of his nerves. The sahitya of the krithi was visualised in furthering images from Shiva. Srivatsa sang taana impressively in enriching the theme. Sanjay’s dance was ornamented by Kartik Datar (nattuvanga), Srivatsa (vocal), Ganesh (flute) and Janardhan (mridanga).
Sathyanarayana Raju mesmerised the lovers of dance with his splendid Bharatanatya. Even his broad 'plie’ (more a square than a triangle) here and there suited the characters that he portrayed and his ardhamandalis were a treat to watch.
Rama katha based on different compositions was elaborated by him. His performance evidenced his steady progress as a top ranking dancer. He entered the stage with a bow and arrow, placed it on a corner and paid obeisance to Rama symbolically. Though it was an ekaaharya, he used colourful scarfs and other props to show different characters quite rewardingly.
Sathya traversed through the life, time and relationship of Rama with some of the leading characters of Ramayana like Kowsalya, Dasharatha, Seetha, Guha (Kevat), Shabari and Hanuman. Keeping in tact devotion as the predominant bhava throughout the detailed treatment, he changed over to different characters in the fraction of a second. He woke up the child Rama on the basis of Thyagaraja’s song Melukovaiya (Bhowli raga). Kowsalya’s motherly love and concern for the baby Rama were visualised as explained by Tulasidas in his Thumak chalath. The portrayal of Rama’s coronation was classic. He showed the celebrations by symbolically arranging the garlands on stage and captured the changing moods in a nuanced abhinaya. The story involving Manthara, Kaikeyi, Dasharatha established an instant rapport with the audience. The enactment of Kaikeyi by putting on the symbolic saree, in particular, was excellent. The first meeting of Rama and Seetha was a beautiful picturisation as explained in the Tamil composition Yaaro ivanyaaro (Bhairavi).
Rama’s love towards his devotees was underscored on the basis of Guha and Shabari episodes. Tulasidas’ Kevat prasang (episode of the boatman Guha) is a very famous description. Sathya highlighted the innocuous character Guha in his felicitous expression. Thyagaraja’s Mukhari krithi Enthani ne varninchu provided the source material for Sathya to narrate the true devotion of Shabari towards Rama. Shabari’s anxiety and joy were aesthetically sketched. Lord Hanuman seems to be his favourite character. The impersonation of Lord Hanuman was his signature enactment. The vibrant vocabulary of Bharatanatya explored to its fullest extent with precision and perfection.
Sowndarya Srivatsa in her short recital expounded the story of Amba and Bheeshma of Mahabharatha. She did full justice to the nritta, nrithya and abhinaya segments. Sheela Chandrasekhar’s nattuvanga was inspiring.
On the penultimate evening of the Rasa Sanje-2013, R Padmini and Rangasri were impressive with a short duet, both showing a fine blend of balance and surprising strength. The dancers looked good in every sequence that they were a part of and performed especially well in emotive parts. After the traditional start, the duo dealt with a varna Neela megha Shyamasundarana karetaare(ragamalika) in detail. The virahotkhanthita nayaki pleading her sakhi to fetch Lord Krishna was endearing. The attached nritta and nrithya won them applause. Navarasas were also depicted during the course of the varna.
Mardani (echo) presented by the students of the Jain Mayavidyalaya etched a dance kaleidoscope making both the children and grown-ups, a common man and serious rasikas sit glued to their seats. Three stories (rabit and lion; crow and serpent and old woman and her cock) from the Panchatantra were unfolded in a dynamic choreography that had all the dancers beautifully synchronised. It was a joy to watch and a high note to end the evening’s programmes.
The way Bharatanatya, folk dance, complex rhythms and varied music were incorporated into the choreography created an interesting show for the ears as well as the eyes. All the other dancers moved with a loose limbed power and certainty. Besides the story line, the dance drama had dances that ranged from pure form to communicative gesticulation; footwork that employed the foot and heel as well as an exciting slap of the sole; a wonderful pliancy of the spine as well as a sharply geometrical sense of addressing contrasting bodily directions (right versus left, one diagonal versus another). Not to mention a precise choreography of the eyes; it abounded in a meaningful articulation of the hands and fingers that was thrillingly elaborate by any classical standard; a powerful coordination of gesture, eye and torso; and a complex metrical sense. Very appropriate props added to the totality of impact. The live music support, including the voice overs, extended by Prasannakumar (nattuvanga, voice over, khanjari and other effects), Srivatsa (vocal), Ramya Suraj (vocal and voice over), Hemanthkumar (violin), Vivek (flute) and Gurumurthy (mridanga) enlivened the proceedings. The dancers showed an excellent technique and attention to detail without detracting from their artistry. Tight pacing, solid performing and a balance between dance and storytelling made for a vigorous and animated show.