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Dance > Review
Purush finale
24 December, 2013

- Sukanya Kumar 

It was a beautiful morning that started off at 8.30 with melting music by Anil Srinivasan (Classical Piano) and Sikkil C Gurucharan (Vocal). Dr. Anita Ratnam introduced them saying “Anything new or experimental today is termed western, fusion or film! But the audiences know what they want, here it is.”

They began with RTP-Ragam Tanam Pallavi in ragamailka covering Purvi Kalyani, Kalyana Vasantham and Andolika which led to the pallavi- ‘raga sudha rase’. Then inspired by Langston’s ‘What happens to a dream deferred’, they presented ‘Sakhi Prana’. Kiran Rajagopal accompanied them for this song with some seated abhinaya. This was followed by ‘Tribute to Lalgudi’, a medley of his tillanas interspersed with ‘Nayaki nanmukhi’ and ‘Unnai charan adainden omkari’. The concluding piece ‘Shrirabdi kanya’ a taalattu gave this margazhi morning a melodious mood for which they received a standing ovation.

Dr. Anita Ratnam in her welcome address said, “The true icon, born in a parampara of artistry, synonymous with Kathak, constantly ready, with sparkling eyes and that smile! Yes it is the one and only Pt. Birju Maharaj and we are also proud to present the madras premier of the continuance of tradition, Tribhuvan Maharaj”

Tribhuvan Maharaj presented Ardhanarishwara, a composition of Pt. Birju Maharaj and followed it with many rhythmic pieces like that, toda, paran, pramelu and chatusra jathi ladi all in teen taal consisting of 16 beats, with great ‘sabhash’ and ‘kya baat hai’ encouragement from the accompanying artists; Shaswati Sen on Bol Padhant, Utpal Ghoshal on Tabla and Ayushman Bhattacharya on Vocal and Harmonium. “It is an honor to present these compositions in front of the maestro, my grandfather!” Tribhuvan expressed.

“There is so much beauty in a simplicity that expresses something so profound” commented Leela Venkataraman when she was pulled out by Dr. Anita Ratnam to give her opinion.

“I am very thankful to Lakshmi (Vishwanathan), Prof. Sudharani (Raghupathi), Chitra (Visweswaran) and Vyjayanthi (Mala Bali) and Maya Rao whom we had the privilege to honor in previous years and now Dr. Padma Subramanyam. They have been brilliant advisors and they just happen to be women!” said Dr. Anita Ratnam inviting Dr. Padma Subramanyam to honor Maharaj ji.

Sharing about her life experiences with Maharaj ji, Dr. Padma Subramanyam articulated, “Best artistes are also best human beings. Maharaj ji has shared his joy, his self experience with audiences all over the world. It is not one life time’s achievement, but that of many janmas! (Births) We pray that you continue to perform at least till you are 100 years!”

Pt. Birju Maharaj shared his feelings in Hindi, “All credit goes to my father and my guru! I am still a student in that parampara. They could bring out both stree (woman) and purush (man) within them with such ease. They used to observe, a needle and thread, women covering their face with ghoonghat, everything”…and Birju Maharaj ji brought it alive once again!

“I love everyone, and everyone loves me. That’s what art does to you. When a young novice appreciates and has enjoyed, I believe God has enjoyed it” he added.  

It was serendipity that Dr. Padma Subramanyam’s saree matched with the shawl that she was honored with. Also the peacock colored shawl, given to Pt. Birju Maharaj, personified Krishna. A chin mudra motif depicting wisdom, sandalwood garland and a citation reading, “In gratitude for sharing your wisdom with the world” were presented.

This was followed by a very interesting panel consisting of 4 Indian contemporary dancers. Jay Pather shared his experience of struggling to learn any form of dance because he was, “Black by ideology, Indian by origin in a post colonial African society” he said. Dealing with male dancers as ‘bodies’, he furthered that “Society must allow any male dancing body to be as unfit in this world as other bodies.”

Sooraj Subramaniam claimed that “Dance as a choice was not a problem for him except from the societal pressure.” He had encouraging Gurus and parents. “Why do we block out the timber from compositions like Gita govindam? ...written by a male, sung most often by men, so why not dance it!” he criticized. The poem about being ‘marginalized’ that he wrote and read out was much appreciated by many.

Prof. Hari Krishnan who was next, spoke about the many occasions where his work has been known for exploring sexuality and eroticism in unabashed ways. He also brought into limelight all aspects of dance history and city life that has inspired him like Ted Shawn and London subway.

Last but never the least, Ramli Ibrahim put forth thoughts like, “In the west, contemporary art was considered a rebellion to the classical, but in Asian countries, our history is such that it has emerged more as a continuum. We need to redefine, restate modernity keeping a traditional root.” “Dance is global now and multiple cultures have been consumed, digested, ingrained and manifested. Now, national cultural barriers are manmade!” he opined

All 4 of them shared video clippings of excerpts from their work.

The evening performance started off with a bang with ‘Uma’ a tongue in cheek presentation of traditional ‘streevesham’ by N Srikanth as Uma, Apsara Reddy as voice of Uma, Prof. Harikrishnan on nattuvangam. The all black costume setting by Rex made a remarkable impact. Subhiksha Rangarajan and Vaaraki Wijayaraj dressed in western wear and singing Carnatic music added to the ‘difference’ in the mood. N Srikanth was so convincing in streevesham that some actually called him ‘Akka’ after the performance!

This was juxtaposed by ‘Purushardham’- the totality beyond duality, the bi-unity of male and female energies; by Parshwanath S Upadhye. “We need such platforms to present new works of the new generation”, he thanked the organizers.

Kalakrishna presented rare forms of dance like Navajanardana Parijatam depicting Satyabhama and Perini Shivatandavam in praise of Lord Rudra, some lost arts recreated purely from scriptures.

As a fitting finale was Pt. Birju Maharaj’s Baithak Bhav- in his humorous words, “Where the dancer was allowed to sit and present abhinaya when the king was tired and didn’t want to use his neck to see a moving dancer.”

He played around with spontaneous Tihais, bringing out different structure of patterns in space. The array of interpretations to thumris, presentation of everyday things in dance like telephone, doctor’s number, knitting needle and others, his approach to treat aspects of dance with divinity, drinking water in Lucknow style! All this intertwined with comic anecdotes, as he always does, kept the audience hooked! So much to take back home!

The conference as a whole was an eye opener, a teaser, a small dose of the various aspects society needs to look into. In the words of Rustom Bharuch, “It is difficult to dismantle anything in a radical space. We are not in the margins but right at the centre of history. But we have done well by not denying history. Why don’t people use such opportunities to open up?! Vamoosing after their own performance represents a lack of civility and generosity. How can we ‘celebrate art’ when we are not ready to share?” he critically questioned.

He concluded that “Purush is a concept of reverse marginalization within a patriarchy! Patriarchy that fuels this marginality must be tackled with sensitivity, care and historical alertness.”

In short, to use the apt words of Ashish Khokar, “The two Ratnams (Dr. Anita Ratnam and L Sabaretnam) have brought many ratnams (gems) together in this initiative!”

For more photos : http://www.sabhash.com/dance/events/7219/purush-finale.html

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