Payal Ramchandani, an accomplished and elegant kuchipudi dancer from Newcastle, delighted the audience with some beautiful, well-executed kuchipudi on a hot Friday evening in London. The evening’s theme was aarudhra (impassioned moods), and the artist chose a selection of four pieces, all focused on the god Krishna, the most popular protagonist in Indian classical dances.
Payal started with Madhava Panchaksham, a composition describing the resplendent nature of Krishna and his many qualities by Oothukkadu Venkatasubba Iyer, choreographed by her gurus Raja and Radha Reddy. Interspersed with slow-paced theermanams (step sequences), Krishna the incomparable and all his adornments were depicted. Payal’s command over rhythm and quiet confidence were highlighted in sections where she chose to concentrate only on the head and neck movements and accomplishing it with ease. Filled with classic kuchipudi-style Krishna postures, the first item, though sedate, was a good introduction for what was to come.
Payal then launched straight into a javali ‒ a light-hearted, racy, pure expression-based piece, Samayamide ra ra, a popular number by Patnam Subramania Iyer. ‘The time is right, please come, my Lord,’ says the heroine, who is a parakiya nayika – a heroine who is married to one man and in love with another. The husband leaves home on business and the heroine takes this opportunity to invite her lover home. Payal was adept at effortlessly portraying the glee of the heroine on her husband’s departure, her annoyance with the reluctant lover and the numerous ways in which she cajoles him to accept her invitation. However, her choice of sancharis (elaborations) could have been better. Too much time was spent on describing the elderly disabled in-laws who were mere props for the main story line and not the focus – although it certainly did introduce some humour, albeit unconventional.
The third piece was another classic: Rusli Radha Rusla Madhav, a Marathi composition describing the tiff between Krishna and Radha. Radha is tired of Krishna flirting with the gopis and decides enough is enough. Krishna tries his best to talk his way out of it and win her back, but she stubbornly stays angry. This angers Krishna and both their anger rubs off on all of nature: trees start to wither, birds stop singing, peacocks stop dancing and even Krishna’s flute refuses to play. With some excellent choreography and perfectly-composed music Payal brought the nature sequences alive. Finally Krishna gives in and apologises and all is right with the world again; however, this sequence could have been shorter.
The final piece was from the famous Krishna Leela Tarangini composed by Narayana Teertha. Payal elaborated on the Krishna Sudama episode which, though popular, is not often danced. Sudama, a childhood friend of Krishna, now lives in poverty. His wife urges him to seek Krishna’s help. Sudama agrees to meet Krishna but refuses to ask for help. There is a happy reunion, they exchange pleasantries and Sudama says nothing of his plight, although Krishna suspects his friend’s dire state. Sudama returns home to find a palace where his hut once stood, to his utter disbelief. It is an incident often quoted for Krishna’s perceptiveness and his generosity. Payal gave a compelling presentation and followed this with several step sequences. She finished with a flourish by performing while standing on a plate, a signature kuchipudi sequence. The slow and fast-paced rhythms, the circular movements, the backward glides, all while on a plate, revealed Payal’s excellent control of movement, rhythm and presentation skills.
The final three compositions were all choreographed by Payal herself and were noteworthy. The abhinaya (expressive aspect) throughout was more grounded in lokadharmi (non-stylised) as is the norm in kuchipudi; however, it lacked layering of expressions. Normally an undercurrent expression is overlaid with more transient expressions which give depth to expressions. There were too many transient expressions without a sthayi (base emotion). Details aside, the evening was well-rounded and extremely enjoyable but would have been perfect if only the music volume had been increased a notch and the pace quickened at times.