Asian Music and Dance

Aditi Mangaldas and Priyadarshini Govind – Kathak solo and ensemble, Bharatanatyam solo

The Saturday night prime spot of the Svapnagata Festival was given to two top drawer artists: Aditi Mangaldas for kathak and Priyadarshini Govind for bharanatayam. Masters of their form and individuals to their core, they did not disappoint. Each produced moments of magic.

Aditi Mangaldas opened the show and within the first few minutes established that this was no ordinary performance. Entering to a soulful alap in a dimly-lit pool of amber, she took a position with open raised arms.

Over the next forty minutes she performed the most sublime kathak. The form was putty in her hands, to be pulled and skewed and twisted until she could give it the three-dimensional quality of a sculptor. In Seeking the Beloved she seamlessly wove the nritta elements of kathak: the amad, tukras/tohras, and tatkar with abhinaya and spoken text. To poet Meerabai’s beautifully melodic line ‘I am drenched in your colours’, she covered the vast spaces of the stage, with chakkars (spins), performing the amad with full use of body bends, sometimes with her back upstage, sometimes using the corners, always moving and changing with lightning speed and fierce attack.

The use of music was sensationally original. The unadorned accompaniment was highly effective: strong percussion on tabla (Yogesh Gangani) and pakhawaj (Mahaveer Gangani) with vocals and harmonium (Samiullah Khan). It could be said that Aditi’s tatkar itself was vachikya abhinaya (meaning conveyed through sound). The closing image is of the dancer’s ghungroos fluttering and shivering, and slowly ebbing away to engulf the dancer in silence and darkness. 

If only we could have been left with that sweet taste in the mouth. The next piece for three dancers in kathak-inspired free form, was commendable in terms of slick performance and design but disturbed the flow of the evening. South Asian contemporary dance is still a genre with room for growth, and although new ensemble work with such high calibre performers is to be encouraged, there was a lack of development in relationships and structure causing Now Is to fall short in its aim to convey the sense of existing in the present moment.

The second half was picked up by the stately Priyadarshini Govind, doyenne of bharatanatyam connoisseurs. She performed five short pieces self-choreographed which are constructed like jewels: sharp, bright and faceted.

The first piece evoked the beauty of the martial god Kartikya and the next, a varnam, involved both Shiva, to whom the dancer is praying and Krishna, whose amorous approaches the dancer both enjoys and rejects. The piece gave plenty of scope for conjuring the majesty and magnificence of these gods, and the entirely human response of the protagonist. The jattis which interspersed the varman were physically demanding. In one the dancer from a leap comes to rest cross-legged. In contrast to this vigour there was a softness of line, which may be a stylistic property of the Vazhuvoor style. Priyadarshini, tall, slim and elegant, appears somehow not to assume her full stature.

Two abhinaya pieces gave the two sides of the human experience: the divine and the temporal which were portrayed with a naturalness that reflects Priyadarshini Govind’s training under Kalainidhi Narayanan. 

In conclusion a glorious tillana sung by Preethy Mahesh, whose soaring and open-throated vocals were a highlight of the evening, was followed by abhange in which the dancer freely improvises, breaking the bonds of style and all earthly ties.



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