Mrutyunjaya is a prayer to Lord Shiva, part of the Hindu trinity representing the destruction, penance and meditation that leads to moksha – liberation from cycles of death and rebirth. Mrutyunjaya was the thematic choice for the dance showcase presented by Sushmita Ghosh and Anusha Subramanyam, combining kathak and bharatanatyam.
Sushmita started the programme with a piece displaying the feminine energy. She crossed over to tandava energy in Damaru enacting the destructive force of Lord Shiva. Her dancing captured the exuberance and delicacy of the Lucknow gharana with innovative finishing on sums: some with the merest shift of glance. Her nazar–andaz (eye focus) and detailed articulation were reminiscent of the older generation divas like Rohini Bhatte and Nahid Siddiqui.
Anusha Subramanyam on the other hand entered with vigorous masculine tandava energy from the outset. She is a gifted story-teller, with a charming and flirtatious aura. Both Kumarasambhavam and Ninda stuthi gave her ample opportunity to exhibit all three components of dance: nritta, nritya and abhinaya, with physical lightness and excellent facial expressions.
Shringara and hasya rasa certainly set the mood for the evening. There were times when Anusha’s expressions appeared too animated, a factor highlighted by the contrast in the dance styles themselves: where kathak uses natural and less stylised expressions, bharatanatyam has every expression amplified.
Both Anusha and Sushmita came across as mature, articulate and experienced dancers who are willing to move out of their comfort zones. Their focus, passion and skill was borne out by the quality of their dance, executed with speed, accuracy and physical vigour. They embraced the nritta sections with gusto, where dancers of their generation take refuge behind the veil of abhinaya.
The harmonium maestro Fida Hussain’s singing evoked the casual and relaxed atmosphere of a bygone era. The thumri ja ja re kagawa piya ke desh re was performed with panache by Sushmita Ghosh in the ched-chad ada (teasing and enticing) manner of a coquette. At the same time, the item raised confusion in the audience as to where exactly this thumri fitted in with the theme.
The jugalbandhi between tabla player Shiv Shankar Dey and mridangam player R.R. Pratap was one of the highlights of the evening. The musical team had a mix of experienced musicians and novices. Individually they came across as strong and knowledgeable artists but as a team lacked dynamism and co-ordination.
The percussion duet Thillana was a real challenge in terms of choreography. Indeed a rare treat, though parts of it came across as chaotic, as the performers danced their parts independently without any real sense of amalgamation or approaching a meeting point. The last item Mrutyunjaya Mantra was the core piece of the programme, which really portrayed the sentiments of the theme and achieved a sense of unison and harmony between the two dance styles. But it was all too short.
Ms Subramanyam did point out at the end of the programme that the project was an experiment, developed as an inspiration for the younger generation of dancers to collaborate. Though it was a great attempt at collaboration, the project ultimately lacked the finesse of a finished product and appeared more as work-in-progress. The dancers are to be applauded for their brave experiment, which nevertheless highlights the issue of how it can be expected of dancers to create new work without significant funds for research and development. The question hangs in the air.