Kannada Sangha marks anniversary with folk theatre

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Yakshagana performance has spectators glued to their seats, writes SYDNEY SRINIVAS

They go round on the stage, they revolve, jump, make great hand and eye gestures; they dance, talk, shout. these actors in rich costumes. In their Yakshagana display, the cast narrates a story from the epics. The narrator Bhagavatha (played here by Divakara Patwardhan) sits at the back of the stage and sings aloud, accompanied by percussionists Chadrasekhara Shende on chende, Karthik Gokhale and Shripad Damle on maddale, Mahadev Shendye on chakratala thala. This percussion is the very soul of Yakshagana and stirs our emotions.

Next, the actresses present the story in the form of dance and drama at the front of the stage. Bhagavatha offers musical interludes while the percussion heightens the feeling. At times he engages himself in conversation with the actors, which could even be impromptu.

The scene is set at the Bowman Hall in Blacktown on June 2, where the Chitpavana Mahila Yakshagana Mandali from Bangalore performed ‘Garuda Garva Bhanga’ as a part of the thirtieth anniversary of Sydney Kannada Sangha (SKS).

Yakshagana (literally, ‘the song of the ancient tribes’) as a folk-art, is a unique contribution of Karnataka and effectively combines music, dance and drama. An age-old tradition, it is seeing a revival of sorts in recent years, including government-approved certificate courses in the art form. In opera-like performances that typically carry on all night long, incidents from the great epics are narrated with song and dance. In this instance it took the spectators to Dvapara Yuga. The great epic characters – Balarama (Sandhya Nerale), Garuda (Poonam Gokhale) and Sathyabhama (Nayana Bhide) have lost themselves in their ego. It is Krishna (Varsha Khadilkar) that takes upon himself the task of teaching them a lesson and makes them open their eyes with the assistance from Anjaneya (Anupama Marathe) and Narada (Shuha Bhat).

It is exceptional that all the action in this presentation was provided by women (all housewives), while Yakshagana has traditionally been an all-male endeavour.  True to their style, the dance was very masculine, involving rhythmic and brisk footwork and movements. It was great to watch the encounters of Anjaneya with Balarama and Garuda. Shailaja Barve as Chaaraka provided the required humour and entertained the audience. The performance had a total folk outlook which kept the spectators glued to their seats for nearly two hours. The agility and the versatility of the actresses took everyone by surprise.

Today seems to be a day for mega stars, mega singers and mega performances.

People only talk about them and flock together when one such event takes place. But performances simple and straight from the heart are overlooked or are simply low key. Why have we ignored Yakshagana, I asked myself at the end of the evening.

Before the Yakshagana presentation there were some formal proceedings.

Present on the occasion were Cr. Alan Pendleton, Mayor of Blacktown City Council; Cr. Nick Tyrrell, representing the NSW Government; the Hon. Dr Geoff Lee, MP, Member for Parramatta and Co-Chair of the Indian Multicultural Committee; the Hon. Amanda Fazio, MP Upper House representing the Leader of the Opposition; Mr Amarinder Bajwa, President, United Indian Associations Inc; Mr Clary Castrission, CEO, 40K Foundation; and Mrs. Aruna Chandrala, Director, Greater India Radio. Dr Siddalingeswara Orekondy, President of the Sydney Kannada Sangha and Mrs. Geetha Gopinath, Chairperson of the 30th anniversary celebration addressed the audience, while Mr. Vijaya Kumar Halagali proposed the vote of thanks. Mrs Lakshmi Somashekar compered the program which also included a workshop on clay modelling for children, a magic show by Chandrasekhara Shende, part of the Yakshagana troupe, dances and singing by children.

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