It was one of those rare Sundays in London full of warm sunshine and an evening of bharatanatyam performed to live music at the Royal Opera House was a perfect end to the weekend. Shringara – a journey of desire was a selection of two traditional items, a varnam and a padam, followed by a truncated thillana and a mangalam. The various individual items were cleverly put together to appear as a single piece with a continuous narrative. Seeta started the performance with the classic Manavi varnam where the heroine is pining for Krishna and urges her friend to fetch Krishna for her. At the end of the varnam, Seeta portrayed the journey of the friend in search of Krishna. The friend then explains to Krishna the heroine’s plight in another classic padam ‘Dhaari jucchuchunnadhi’. Krishna agrees to go with the friend who then dances in joy and the final section sees the union of Krishna and the heroine to a mangalam.
Precision and perfection are the two words that seem appropriate to sum up Seeta’s nritta. It was a delight to watch Seeta effortlessly perform steps at dizzying speeds. Although her lines were perfect and timing impeccable, I was drawn to the one aspect of her basic posture, the araimandi, that was at odds with the rest of her performance. The space between her two feet in araimandi was so large as to distort the otherwise perfect diamond shape of the basic posture that it ought to be. Despite the energetic and effortless performance of the steps there was a lack of satvika in the nritta, an inner clam that comes from internalising and enjoying the performance, which I am sure Seeta will gain with experience. Another aspect of nritta that appears to be the underlying feature of the current generation of bharatanatyam dancers is the bounciness of the steps. The trend of over-bounciness and athleticism in nritta makes it look more like a sporting activity than dance.
Seeta with her large expressive eyes was good at portraying the various emotions and was brave enough to attempt performing ‘Dhaari jucchuchunnadhi’ sitting down. Her abhinaya both in the varnam and padam had equal measures of Kalakshetra abhinaya i.e. perfectly held mudras and Kalanidhi abhinaya i.e. predominantly satvika abhinaya. Despite being very expressive, there were times when the sthayi was completely lost. Was it because she was trying to concentrate on striking perfect poses in the middle of a sanchari which hinder the sthayi? Are perfect mudras a help or hindrance to satvika abhinaya is, I think, a wider debate that I am sure will divide the bharatanatyam world into two!
The orchestra was adequate and it was a pity that the vocal (Pushkala Gopal) and nattuvangam (Mavin Khoo) were drowned by the mridangam and violin most of the times.