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Aromas of passion, pursuance and progression

Manjari:Mystique Fragrances by Divya Ravi
(Image courtesy: Amith Nag)

What makes a work of art repeatedly question the frontiers of creative instinct, find affirming answers and finally implement it within socio-cultural canons? Perhaps it is through conjecturing and possibly answering such questions that most art especially the classical traditions in India thrive and grow. Fortunately for classical Indian dance, amateurs to seniors to stalwarts equally experiment with extended and different boundaries of innovation, lending to the art form, a much sustainable character. This article primarily comes to document one such diligent effort, one such artistic impulse that succeeded in re-visiting artistic parameters through the artist’s interpretation.

‘Manjari’ travelled beyond frames of structure, space and time to present Bharatanatyam in its most affable form, whilst yet within narrative format and mythical story genre. Its mystique Fragrances dispersed ethereal content through a first protagonist – the flower. Divya Ravi, having conceived and conceptualized the theme, nimbly slipped into characterizing the second protagonist – the dance and the dancer!

Deciphering it to the essential etymology; blossoming of a bud, the commencing Alaripu was placed and paced convincingly within scope of the theme. While the gestural language was used to pronounce the evolution of a flower through the bud, movement analogies complimented it, sometimes within the pattern of the Alaripu and at times rather contrastingly. A little more simplicity in rhythmic pattern punctuating the item with silence would probably have rendered completeness.

Raising the tempo and mood, was a metaphoric construct of the happiness broached by a flower. A kriti as an ode to the ‘Ashoka’ delineated familiar legends and underpinning the vital role of visual medium in evoking basic human emotions. As a spectator, receiving such impact from the perspective of a joyous flower indeed sparked an almost ‘idle’ compassion towards nature, art and life on the whole. Dotted with interesting swara passages and smart choreography especially for the repetitive lines of ‘Pallavi’, the ‘flower’ prepared the right pedestal for the quintessential queen that came next….

‘Padma’ tantamount to the Varnam said it all – intensive contextual inquiry of untold epics, suitable juxtaposing to the classical language, unhurried execution with all the ‘vistaram’ on the part of the dancer and manifested performance by the ensemble, nattuvanar and vocalist in particular. The dancer should be lauded in her choice for appropriateness owing to the fact that she correlated the populist value of lotus for the common man with the prime fascination that classical dance has of the flower! Be it the refined description of ‘Pallavi- Prabhakara Priye’, spatially perfect connotation of evolution – bud to flower to fruit to animal to man, concise and clear animation of ‘Panchabhootas’ as a simile to denote the circumvent of nature, hued and just translation of insufficiencies of man (Kama, Krodha, Lobha, Moha, Mada and Matsarya) devoid of the slightest of exaggeration and a very smooth crafted second half, for once a Varnam retained its essence through length, depth and breadth!

At the risk of borrowing from one of my academic papers, I would reiterate the amazing quality of dance as an art form to mirror psychology within an individual that hardly makes itself apparent. As a dancer gets into the role-play of woman in relationship to ‘her man’, she most often traverses through unknown enigma yet is expected to expel powerful emotions. It seemed, that Divya categorically eschewed her persona for a thorough penetration into the character of an angered Satyabhama for not receiving the ‘Parijatha’. Thus, she vacillated from jealousy of not getting the flower, to anger of not having asked for any other flower to finally sarcasm towards Rukmini for her qualification to receive the flower in the most facile manner and perhaps most convincingly.

If one would justify that a performance should amplify in its very progress, then ‘Ketaki spelt a horizon of such boosting. In attempting to show lament on flower Ketaki’s self-destructive story, Divya infused herself in such silted amalgam that the line between character of a non-living entity (flower, if I may call so) and the dancer protagonist was almost invisible! Symbolic of one of man’s most destructive attribute – pride, the piece clearly stood in philosophical light lending for similar treatment into the last piece.

Though ending it in traditional style, the final item begged to differ from the Thillana in the way it interspersed and advocated through dance, three very profound scriptures. This final treatment of flower as engendering evolutionary fragrances, spreading happy fragrances and instilling spiritual fragrances could not but consummate the flower garland – Manjari!

If Manjari stood disparate for the technically sound accomplishment as a dance production, I would contest an equal testimony in Divya’s exquisite compering. But for her mellowed, confident and detailed narrative of the content along with a very forthcoming use of gestures during the process, the performance would not have forayed so well. The youngster must accept compliments in lacing such explanation very comfortably within the performative stretch and in her research of understanding her target audience. In a brief post performance talk with Sharan Subramaniam (credited to the script), he reminisced of experiments conducted with him as the subject for analyzing audience receptivity. If a certain concept failed to instigate the required response in an ‘almost uninitiated’ viewer as him, it was re-constructed. As art practitioners dabble with the ever diminishing audience for classical arts, it is this kind of sincere approach that comes productive. Divya tagged her audience in a memoir of classical art, Indian mythology and life’s simple virtues in a way that was most endearing amidst life of instant gratification that we live in. The exactly two hour presentation held its niche viewers until the last of the lights faded into its own fragrance.

That a young artiste attempted the so evidently claimed ‘risk’ might still be doing rounds, but Divya navigating through panache and supported by the most illustrious music ensemble with some soul-stirring music and by her teacher Dr. Soundarya Srivatsa puts all the fog to rest! (with sober fragrances, of course)
In my engaging conversations with Divya subsequently, it was indeed humbling that she inquired about any shortcomings and mulled over possible improvisations and perceptive changes. It is not uncommon that a creative endevour owing to its sheer nature scopes for very distinct constructions with every re-visit. Given this, though very enthusiastically hoping to indulge into such future revisions, the fact that Divya sought to look at ‘the other side’ amongst the wonderful aura of success and praise surrounding her was indeed exhibiting true character!

Analogous to titanic contribution of the music ensemble, the dancer gave a very subtle ‘working insight’ into the making. Nearly enjoying a monopoly over dance performance scenario, Sri Srivatsa, owing his true self, had extended warm support to the youngster and even pushed boundaries to meet her requirements specially in lyric composition. Most apt incorporation was the use of multiple languages – Kannada, Telugu and Tamil to suit the pieces and their themes. Further, while in the audience one could watch a deluge of emotions emitted by the orchestra itself! Sri Prasanna Kumar might have come thoroughly rehearsed but his rendition exuberated a child-like enthusiasm as if for a first attempt. Watching and listening to Sri Hari play to precision after a long time was utmost pleasing and Karthik’s animated expressions almost matched Divya’s on stage, rightly so – symbolizing the spirit of Bangalore – youngsters unselfishly supportive of each other.
I must end here, as I would even now be probably accused of overtly canvassing for the artiste and the production, but it diligently comes with my admiration for good work and admitted fervor for writing!