Fun & Frolic

BY Leela Venkataraman in India Heritage Desk

Categories like traditional and contemporary dissolve in Tagore’s poetry which essentially catches Eternal Man, in all his colours. A scholar on Tagore’s works, Dr.Utpal Banerjee (recognised with a Padmashri award for his expertise) conceived of a delightful evening of classical dance hosted by Indira Ganesh and organised by R.Sreenivasan, under the aegis of India International Centre at the IIC auditorium, based on Tagore’s poetry.Established dancers selected from various dance disciplines, specially known for their sensitivity in abhinaya, in order of appearance, were Puvadhanashree (Vilasini Natyam), Kavita Dwibedi (Odissi), Pratibha Prahlad (Bharatanatyam) and Saswati Sen (Kathak).

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With Kamalini Dutt’s creative collaboration, the poem Purva selected for interpretation Saadh (The Desire), by settling for a vocalist like Samina De singing the original Bengali poem, preserved the linguistic ambiance of Tagore’s work, with Tanjavur Kesavan’s rhythmic inputs and mridangam accompaniment, tabla by Gyan Singh, Dr. S vasudevan’s nattuvangam and Rajat Prasanna’s flute chiming in with sensitive support. Purva’s interpretative skills, honed under years of training in Vilasini Natyam under Swapnasundari exudes an inner joy which ideally chimed in with the uplifting nature of Desire, where hope and expectation rising high bloom among the clouds and amidst the stars. This abstract state-of-being lost amidst the birds floating in comfort in the sky, was convincingly caught in the dancer’s highly internalised interpretation. Not going beyond the grammatical boundaries of the lasya-filled Vilasini Natyam even in the teermanams, the dance not having the ambit of bodily spread of Bharatanatyam leaps and jumps and leg stretches, the dancer through intensity of feeling (filling the dancer’s inner space), retained in the contained performance the soaring feel of taking off into space in joy. Lines like “..hriday mor megher mato, aakaash maajhe haasity chaay” or “paakhir gaan laage re Jena, deher chaaripaashe” with the songs of birds caressing the body were very suggestively brought out in the dancer’s gestures and expressions. Sung in the form of a thumri with feeling, the joyous finale with the garden filled with sounds of Dawn’s laughter and the laughter of flowers got represented through a Tillana in Kapi ragam sung by A.Venkateshwar, winsomely rendered through light footed nritta.

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Odissi dancer Kavita Dwibedi in Shapan (The Dream) “Dine hai ek-mato rate hai aar” wondered at the polarities she saw in herself – from what she was in her wakeful state and what she became in her nocturnal dreams – seemingly representing two contradictory selves – one a reluctant school goer being pushed by her youngest uncle, the other flying in the sky, a cloud searching for the rainbow, travelling on the wings of the wind, crossing the seas to spread ‘water -showers’. Rudely awakened by the thunderclap, she trembles looking for Mom, nowhere near. Kavita’s evolving artistic creativity now has the strong support of singer Suresh Kumar Sethi, whose Pallavi composition in Brindavan Sarang for this work, coming in as punctuation after every interpretative segment, changed the level of the work completely. With Aavery Chaurey for guidance, and her own very involved expressional talents (her now more trim presence aesthetically turned out), Kavita’s Odissi did full justice to the poem, Indira Mukherjee helping out with the poetry recitation parts. While the nritta parts for the Pallavi were well conceived and laya perfect, the chauka position so central to Odissi, tended to be less articulated than required.

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Pratibha Prahalad in her Bharatanatyam homage to Tagore and Utpal Banerjee, skilfully wove in passages from three poems – exploring the mother/child relationship – Aakul Aahbaan (The Fervent Call), Maa-Lakshmee (Goddess Lakshmi), and Shishur Mrityu (Death of a Child). A mother’s heartache at the loss of a child, the apple of her eye on whom she has lavished all love and care, whose heart could not bear the slightest tear in the child’s eyes and she sorrowfully asks Nature why as Lord of endless treasures, Nature needed the victorious thrill of emptying a mother’s heart by taking away the one treasure of her life? The dancer’s knitting of selected passages from each into a seamless whole, had Sudha Raghuraman’s very moving music in Neelambari, in Vasantha and finally in an evocative.Tanam passage set to Kalyani. Sudha added bhava through the contours of the raga while the highly emotive passages in Bengali were recited by Mahua Chowdhury. Stages of the child growing up under the mother’s care and love came as interspersed passages while the refrain of the Mother anxiously awaiting the daughter’s arrival – …”Kothay gelo Raanee aamaar Raanee” became the eternal cry of the bereaved mother. The dancer in a theme, which could have strayed into exaggerated histrionics, retained the aesthetic level undiluted. Chandrasekhar’s muted mridangam and G. Raghuraman’s plaintive flute notes added to the total impact.

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Saswati Sen, given her penchant for abhinaya, had the double advantage of dealing with home territory –for as a person from Bengal, she was on familiar ground with Tagore’s poetry. Banabaas (Banishment to the Wood) is a quaint child/mother interaction, wherein the child challenges the mother that if he only had a brother like Lakshman for company, he too would go to the forest without qualms, if his father like Rama were to send him. He would, under a tree shade, fix up a home for all, and would feed the deer with the tree leaves, make a garland out of the blooming flowers, share the fruit he collected with brother Lakshman, eating out of a lotus leaf, play a tune on the flute and watch the peacock dance, and the squirrel scurrying around. But for all that – he had to have a brother like Lakshman. The poem clearly echoes the child’s cry for a sibling. Saswati successfully drew on Kathak’s ancestry with the Katha vachak tradition, for the narrative bits of a mother/child dialogue. Kathak’s rich nritta bits of ginti compositions, tukras and Mayur gat, became links connecting interpretative passages with some footwork also woven in. Music composed by Pandit Birju Maharaj , had Abirban Bhattacharya for the vocal support with Utpal Ghosh on the tabla and Ajay Prasanna providing flute accompaniment.

Utpal Banerjee could hardly have wished for a better thanksgiving than what the evening provided.

Guru Ghanakanta Bora, Anwesa : Sattriya @ SPIC MACAY Intl Convention, IIMC
Leela Venkataraman



The rhythm connects

Saturday, 10 October 2015 | Shrabasti Mallik                          in the  Vivacity, The Pioneer

Four dancers from different genres came together to perform on the poems of Rabindranath Tagore translated to English by Utpal K Banerjee. By Shrabasti Mallik 

There are very few who had (or have) the vision or the creative genius to be able to capture every emotion of a human being, every phase that a man goes through, the soul and vibrancy of every passing season and the fervour of every festive season in one lifetime. Rabindranath Tagore not only touched upon every one of these with utmost dedication but his verses and texts were so universal that, translated (from original Bengali), it resonates with every soul. “Regardless of language, cast, religion or gender,” said Saswati Sen, Kathak danseuse and Pandit Birju Maharaj’s foremost disciple at Fun & Frolic, a musical soiree which saw the coming together of dancers and dance forms like Purvadhanshre (Vilasini Natyam), Kavita Dwibedi (Odissi), Pratibha Prahlad (Bharatanatyam) and Sen.

The performances, too, were bound by a thread — the poems of Tagore, translated to English by Padma Shri Utpal K Banerjee for National Sahitya Akademi, who published four volumes of the his satirical and whimsical poetry.

Pratibha Prahlad, however, had made a narrative with verses selected from three poems from the Mother and Child series — Aakul Aahbaan (The Fervent Call), Maa Lakshmee (Goddess Lakshmi) and Shishur Mrityu (Death of a Child). The performance etched the patient wait of a mother for her daughter to return home at the end of the day. The repeated recital of, “Kothay geli Rani?” (where did you go Rani?), weaved into the narrative was heartfelt as the piece recounted the anxiousness of the mother as her daughter does not return. Through gestures and expressions, Prahlad traced the journey of her baby girl blossoming into mature and beautiful lady. It was unique in its own accord because the recital drew lines from all the three poems simultaneously creating, almost an entirely new narrative.

Said the danseuse, “It was challenging working on these poems because Bengali is not my native language and ‘Rabindra sangeet’ style in which most of Tagore’s poems are sung does not seem in consonance with Bharatanatyam style. It may have been my cultural conditioning, I had to break through the barriers of my mind and my Shruti and Smriti — the heard and remembered — to even begin looking at possibilities and what can be accomplished.”

At the end, the daughter arrives, dead. The pain and the agony of a mother showed clearly on Prahlad’s face while her movements said, “I dressed you and adorned you and now you come back a lifeless body.” She cradles the imaginary body of her lifeless daughter and pats her to sleep like a child. The performance ended with the lines Aandhar raat e chole geli tui, aandhar raat e chupi chupi aye (You’re gone in the darkest of night, In dark night, you return to me).

Sen’s frivolous rendition of Tagore’s Bananaas (Banishment to the Wood) resonated quite well with the nuances of Kathak — brisk movements, hand gestures and storytelling. “Banabas is a highly suggestive poem by Tagore based on the Vatsalya, emphasising the secret dialogue between mother and child in Ekanki abhinaya. The presentation draws inspiration from Kathavachan tradition of Kathak through narrative, expressive and imaginative dance technique,”she said.

What added beauty to the performance was Sen reciting, “Lakshman bhai jodi amar thakto sathe sathe” (Only if brother Lakshman were with me at all times) in clear Bengali.

With childlike expression she donned the role of a 14-year-old boy requesting his mother for a baby brother like Lakshman. He tells his mother, through gestures and acts the many things that he plans to do with his brother — picking fruits from trees, building a resting spot underneath a shady tree, going to the forest together, and an arrow and travelling to mount Chitrakoot during monsoon.

“My mother was a great orator and I am familiar with most of Tagore’s works for children. No other author or poet could fathom the depth that Tagore touched — from the simplest of emotions to complex emotions,” she added.

photos Sreenivasan Ramakrishnan

Fancy and Fantasy – Gurudev’s works come alive on stage : Conceived by Dr Utpal K Banerjee

I had the honour of anchoring the organization of the unique dance evening – Fancy and Fantasy – that well known performing art critique Dr. Utpal K Banerjee conceived.

Fancy and Fantasy brought Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore’s later life works for children to the stage through the translations of Utpal da, choreographed and performences by very eminent gurus and dancers – Shovana Narayan ji in Kathak, Vaidyanathans – Saroja ji, Rama and Dakshina in Bharatanatyam, Bharati Shivaji with disciples in Mohiniyattam, and Santosh Nair and his disciple Rishi Sharma with fellow dancers in Chhau and Contemporary dance form. My humble gratitude to each of the gurus for whole-heartedly making this evening a memorable one through their performances. No words can really thank them enough.

Each of the guru picked up one or two poems of Gurudev’s from the translated works of Dr. Utpal Banerjee – Rainbow Rhymes of Tagore – published by National Sahitya kala akademi.

Fancy and Fantasy collage

Here is the coverage of the program on ‘Colors of India’ on Doordarshan, the Indian television channel.

You can also view the photographs of the evening at this link The photographic captures of Fancy and Fantasy

The Pioneer – Vivacity’s review on dance festival Tarpan by Utpal K Banerjee carries Sreeni’s capture

At the ongoing celebration of the platinum jubilee of Gandharva Mahavidyalaya, Kuchipudi dancer Amrita Lahiri and Kathak dancer Vishal Krishna teamed up with experts of other dance forms to present a unique fusion. Utpal K Banerjee’s review of Tarpan – celebrations of 75 years of Gandharva Mahavidyalaya – dance segment in The Pioneer features Sreeni’s captures.

At the ongoing celebration of the platinum jubilee of Gandharva Mahavidyalaya, Kuchipudi dancer Amrita Lahiri and Kathak dancer Vishal Krishna teamed up with experts of other dance forms to present a unique fusion. By Utpal K Banerjee

At the ongoing celebration of the platinum jubilee of Gandharva Mahavidyalaya, Kuchipudi dancer Amrita Lahiri and Kathak dancer Vishal Krishna teamed up with experts of other dance forms to present a unique fusion. By Utpal K Banerjee

Kuchipudi performance by Amrita Lahiri, mentored by Odissi Guru Sharmila Biswas

Kuchipudi performance by Amrita Lahiri, mentored by Odissi Guru Sharmila Biswas

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