Music and dance, poetry and painting, presented together, result in a first-rate performance
Built for John Macarthur in 1824, the historic Hambledon Cottage in Parramatta, furnished with period fittings, depicts the lifestyle of the early Australian settlers.
Of the same era, in 1848, well-known painter Raja Ravi Varma was born in India at Kilimanoor palace in Kerala.
On a recent balmy Sydney autumn afternoon, strolling through the grounds of the Cottage, the two disparate incidences were connected through the pages of history. The period architecture of the home evoked the ambience of the palace and inspired a delightful confluence of art forms, history and cultures.
Presented by Sydhwaney Productions, The Dreaming Damsel, a multi-form presentation, brought Varma’s art pieces to life through live music, poetry and dance performances.
Under the shade of a 300-year-old tree, with the distinct crown-of-thorns roof of the Anglican Church next door peeping though the leaves, the audience was treated to a delightful presentation. On one level, quite incongruous, yet inspirational on another.
The production was conceived by Sumathi Krishnan, founder of Sydhwaney, an online network devoted to the Indian art scene in Sydney, and artistically developed by Krishnan, Aruna Gandhi and John Napier.
Most appealing was the choice of pieces. The ragas were suitably picked, adding to the emotive experience of the afternoon. Each of them was distinct, from Yemen as the opening raga, to Basanthi for the Bhagavatham piece. This was followed by the popular Adharam madhuram in Raga Mohanam.
On the cello, John Napier showed his expertise of the instrument, adapting to each of the Indian ragas masterfully.
The number Colour me in your colour, Mohe apne hi rang meh rang le, a vocal piece by Sumathi Krishnan set the scene. Amir Khusrao’s lyrics and the poignant emotion in Sumathi’s voice added to the song in the raga Yemen.
This was accompanied by John Napier’s poetic recitation of the sadness felt by King Dushyanta when he encountered Shakunthala, many years after they first met, from the evergreen love-story by poet Kalidasa.
In another number, the beauty of the Lord in everything around us was revealed by the verses from Vallabhacharya’s Madhurashtakam, ably portrayed by Aruna Gandhi in raga Basanthi.
The poetry of Rumi set in raga Madhuvanti sung by John Napier followed by his own free-flowing composition of the Dhrupad and Khayal kept the magic of the dream going.
Verses from the famous 9th century south Indian Tamil epic text of 4000 verses, Divya Prabhandam, illustrating the dreams of Sri Andal, came to life with the dance choreographed and performed by Aruna Gandhi. The young dancer moved gracefully from the vibrant to the poignant. Her portrayal of varying emotions came with ease and confidence.
The percussionists, Pallavarajan on the mridangam and Abhijit on the tabla, were worthy accompanying artists.
Anu Shivaram and Rekha Rajvanshi’s poems in Hindi and English kept the evocative theme going and added flair to the artworks of Raja Ravi Varma’s paintings exhibited on the green lawn.
To the rhythmic percussive sounds, artist Murthy Anjanappa depicted in a painting the scene of Ganga descending to earth through the dreadlocks of Lord Shiva.
For the finale, Gandhi performed thillana in raga Chandrakauns with vibrant and sometimes sublime movements, while Anjanappa created a portrait of the young dancer in her last lingering pose.
The ladies in period costume added a nice touch to it all.
This beautiful production was refreshingly different. Through a combination of forms, the performers were able to evoke the emotions and similarities of the old and new cultures with no barriers of language or place.
Indeed, damsel Sumathi pulled off quite a coup with her ‘dream’ – a seamless blending of genres, cultures, languages and styles – made reality.
Part of the Anywhere Festival Parramatta, the show was part of the world-wide movement to perform exciting, engaging compositions outside traditional theatre spaces.
Partnered by the Parramatta and District Historical Society and Parramatta City Council, the show celebrated diversity, collaboration and innovation in modern entertainment.
As President of the Parramatta Historical Society Brian Power said, echoing the thoughts of many in the audience, “A thoroughly masterful performance.”