Acclaimed Indian danseuse Chitra Visweswaran tours Australia with her latest production
When does an anubhava (experience) become an anubhuti (a unique realisation where one gains new understanding)?
When it meets with that divine handshake!
This is how Padmashree Chitra Visweswaran introduced her production Anubhuti, which was staged as part of the annual Soorya festival held in Sydney in early June. And in every sense of the word, it was truly a divine experience!
Initially commissioned for the Opera de Lille, France, in 2011, the Sydney tour of the show was eagerly awaited by fans of classical dance and music.
Beautifully crafted in the traditional Margam format of Bharatnatyam, the production wasan effortless blend of fluidity of motion, with the nuances of expression pushing the boundaries of the dance form. The concept of the divine experience was beautifully illustrated with excellent execution, co-ordination, mellifluous music and to top it all, power-packed performances from six talented dancers.
Appropriately introduced by the legendary dancer herself, each segment of the show carried a soul of its own. The first segment was an anjali (an offering) to the Hindu trinity, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva – the Creator, the Preserver the Destroyer respectively. It constituted a combination of adavus (basic steps of Bharatnatyam) and rhythms. The music, a mixture of ragas, sounded vibrant with a percussive ‘jhum jhum’ throughout, as a perfect accompaniment to the celebratory dance.
Exploring the concept of the cosmic whole in the androgynous form of Ardhanareeshwara / Ardhanaareeswari, the show was slowly but surely on the take-off to great heights. In the brilliant portrayal of the two halves Sakti and Siva that constitute the archetypal ‘whole’, the dancers were so synchronous that they perfectly complimented one another. The female partner stayed beautifully calm and collected, whereas her male counterpart portrayed the various moods of a ferocious Shiva. It is unusual to see a male and a female dancer portraying this androgynous form of the lord: yet their perfectly co-ordinated moves successfully conveyed the feel of unison, of one single entity.
The third and central piece of traditional Bharatnatyam performances, called the Pada-Varnam, incorporates the essential elements of nritta (rhythmic, abstract dance moves) and nrithya (hand gestures and facial expressions). And here, the legendary Chitra Visweswaran had crafted a segment that illustrated the nine moods of Indian aesthetics, the Navrasas, with reference to the Goddess Shakti. The music that accompanied was captivating, gorgeously composed by violin maestero Lalgudi Sri G Jayaraman, set in Ragamalika and Adi Talam.
The next segment was extracted from Purandaradasa’s kritis, and this particular portion addressed Vishnu in the form of Krishna, the flute playing avatar. The dancers as gopis (milkmaids) passionately enacted their individual association with the young Krishna. The ecstatic gopis were lost between the feelings of fondness towards a child and affection towards a lover. As they stood in a group jointly enacting their feelings for Krishna, they created one of the most memorable moments of the show, perfectly blending the sensibilities of stagecraft and lighting to create a dynamic pose!
The “lullaby” by the legendary dancer herself, at the very end, was just as evocative. As she sat at the centre of the stage cuddling an imaginary baby, there was an effortless efflux of emotions: she played with the little Krishna, demonstrated his leelas (games) and sang him a lullaby. Even as I struggled to take my eyes off her, I was distracted by a young mum wiping her tears of joy; a telling comment on the sheer power of the talent on stage. It was a defining moment indeed, when the show moved from being extraordinary to exorbitantly beautiful!
Flaw wise, asking to take a break for dinner before even the show started was not something many among the eager audience appreciated. And the speeches before the show seemed to have lost that beauty of crispness. These minor issues notwithstanding, it was truly an anubhuti: a unique experience indeed!
In the brilliant portrayal of the two halves Sakti and Siva that constitute the archetypal ‘whole’, the dancers were so synchronous that they perfectly complimented one another.