This beguiling classical Indian dance show is a confluence of the arts in more ways than one.
The best works of art are often those that so mesmerise us that we forget to focus on the complexities involved in their production.
Kalpana Dance Theatre’s latest classical Indian dance showcase, the aptly-named Sharanagati (Absolute Surrender), was one such example – so swept away were we by its beautiful confluence of dance and music that we almost forgot to appreciate just how big a challenge it is to put up such a production. Bringing together the South Indian dance tradition of bharatanatyam and the East Indian odissi on the same stage, with two separate live orchestras, is not only a feat to be lauded, but one that neatly juxtaposed the two leading Indian classical dance styles in Malaysia.
Featuring an impressive list of dancers from both India and Malaysia, the show was a coming together of the arts in more ways than one.
Sharanagati, presented last weekend in Kuala Lumpur and Ipoh, didn’t simply place bharatanatyam and odissi items within the same line-up; instead, the two dance forms were woven seamlessly within each item, sometimes as complement and sometimes as contrast. Here, you could see the inimitable talents of choreographers P.T. Narendran and Leena Mohanty, the former an acclaimed Chennai-based bharatanatyam dancer and the latter a world-renowned odissi exponent.
The show, however, was as much about music as it was about dance, thanks to the excellent orchestras that more than did justice to two different Indian musical traditions.
Truly, if dance was the body of this show, music was definitely the voice. The South Indian Carnatic orchestra was led by renowned vocalist O.S. Arun, while the Orissan music troupe was headed by Dheeraj Kumar Mohapatra, both of whom had conceptualised the music together with the choreographers.
Meanwhile, the elegant set design and gorgeous costuming added visual flair to the show.
Sharanagati dived right into the differences between the two dance forms with the opening item, an invocatory piece paying homage to Lord Ganesha and Lord Krishna, with both Carnatic and Orissan music. Contrasting the sculpturesque poses and languid grace of odissi with the more symmetrical and rigid movements of bharatanatyam, the item paved the way nicely for what we could expect from the show.
This was followed by Pallavi in Raag Madhyamadi, a delightful number that depicted the love between Radha and Lord Krishna, lovingly vocalised by Dheeraj Kumar with excellent percussion by Dhaneswar Swain.
As Narendran, Leena, Nidheesh Kumar and Nritta Ganeshi Manoharan cavorted under the moonlight as two pairs of lovers, bharatanatyam and odissi intertwined as well. Odissi is often thought of as a more feminine dance, while bharatanatyam the more masculine; the delicate choreography, however, didn’t just highlight both aspects in each dance form, but even drew out the similarities, so that, much like Radha and Krishna, each became a part of the other.
A similar approach, however, didn’t work as well in Om Kara Karinee, a dance dedicated to the goddess Devi, which was set to Carnatic music. While each individual dancer – P.T. Narendran, Nidheesh Kumar, Sumathi Chandra, Gowri Chandra and Datin Sri Umayal Eswaran – performed well, the item felt a little disjointed, with the odissi and bharatanatyam elements feeling very separate from each other. Arun’s vocals on this number, however, were superb, giving emotional heft and drama that added to the dancers’ efforts.
The show also featured a pure bharatanatyam and odissi item respectively, both of which beautifully displayed each dance’s distinctive features.
Narendran, Nidheesh and Dhanya Rubinee Lim did great justice to the bharatanatyam piece Varnam in Raag Todi, an item dedicated to Lord Shiva where a devotee declares her undying love for him. Featuring stripped down choreography, it kept the focus on the strong, intricate footwork and varied abhinaya (expressions) that are hallmarks of bharatanatyam.
Chapa, meanwhile, was an exuberant Odissi number depicting a festival for Lord Jagannatha. With various dancers taking on different roles in a huge procession, it was a beautifully-choreographed piece that highlighted not just odissi’s visual flair, but also its folk and tribal roots. The dance was particularly enhanced by Dhaneswar’s lively mardal (drum) and voice percussion.
The concluding item, a stuthi (hymn) in praise of Lord Shiva, was the pinnacle of the show’s efforts, featuring bharatanatyam and odissi set to Carnatic and odissi music, with verses sung in both Sanskrit and Oriya. Arun and Dheeraj Kumar’s vocals were an essential component of the piece, and each singer presented their unique style well.
A hypnotically beautiful item, it began with the two dance forms being separate and distinct, but converging more and more as the song progressed, before finally becoming almost indistiguishable from each other – indeed a poetic depiction of total surrender.