Thursday, August 11, 2016

The wonders of Seven

The wonders of Seven
Where do I begin? Should I start by waxing lyricals on the amazing music or that the dance was so divine, the mother goddess herself decided to dance for us?

Sapthashree presented by the talented dancers of Suvarna Fine Arts and its founder Ajith Bhaskar Dass was an evening of enthralling music and exhilarating dance.

I first watched Suvarna in 2010 during Raghava Yadha as part of the dance reviews I was writing for Asiadancechannel and have since been a fan of the stories that Ajith brings in his dance productions.
This year’s exhilarating combination of dance and music brought me back to the memories of another Suvarna production, the haunting music of Vishmaya Vriksha in 2011 by G.S. Rajan, T.S. Lazar & Achutyan Shashidaran Nair or Bhumi Pranam by Achutyan Shashidaran Nair in 2012.

There is no dance without music for it is only with music than the dancers efforts shine as the music stirs your soul and the dance awakens your imagination.

This year Ajith took to the team of 7 or saptha and presented 4 dance numbers in a continuous programme. This is something I’ve always found interesting with Suvarna productions. That he takes one core unit and weaves different stories and experiences into a production. The number has numerous references in the Indian mythology right down to the fact that Triputha thala is a set of 7 beats – takita takadhmi.

Divine Music

Soul wrenching.

That was what the music was. The music composers K. Venkateshwaran (who was also the vocalist for the production) and Dr S Vasudevan have done such an amazing job with the music. Every point or expression they wanted to emphasis through their music was clearly encapsulated in the tunes and lyrics. They seemed to have pandered to every creative request of the dance director, the music dances on its own, vibrating through the soul. Both the Saptha Shakthi and Saptha Tarangini are stunning original compositions, so beautifully rich and so emotionally stirring. K. Venkateshwaran brought out the musics beautiful essence in his soulful rendition of his creation.  At some points of the performance, I wasn’t sure of whom to watch, the musicians or the dancers. Both were equally dazzling.

He was amply supported by the brilliant nattuvangist Sajilal Narayanan who added even more drama to the performance. Achyuthan Sashidaran Nair on the violin was as brilliant as usual. Any performance with him on the musician list, is always a delight to the years. I was surprised at Theban Arumugams mirdangam playing. He was excellent this time as compared to when I heard him years ago in a similar setting. Matching the dancers rhythmic adavus with his crisp beats on the mirdangam that were a story on its own.

The weakest link to me was the Veena playing by Jayalakshmi Premkumar in the opening. In a very crucial part of the opening mayamalava gowla piece, she was playing off thala and that threw of the dancers briefly in that section. But she more than made up for that in the beautiful thanam she played in Saptha Tarangini. I was so engrossed in the moody thanam that, the emcees announcement came at such an unfortunate moment. Perhaps for that piece alone, they should not have the emcee reciting her script as it breaks the beautiful silence that was in that Thanam.

Though not as prominent as I would have hoped for a Kanjira sound, Kuhanathan Nanthakumar added his presence wherever was necessary in the music.

The emcee Meena Kumaree who was also the producer of the show, has been an integral voice to the introductions of Suvarna’s performances. So unless for that one moment, her voice and explanation is often a welcome addition to the production. Offering just the right amount of information prelude to each dance segment.

Saptha Dwani
The evening began with Saptha Dwani as 7 maidens appeared on the raised dias to represent the 7 swarangal (music notes) of Carnatic music. And so Shadjam, Rishabam, Gandharam, Madhyamam, Panchamam, Dhaivatham and Nishadam were artistically portrayed as the musicians sang in the raga Mayamalava gowla in adhi thalam.

And what better way to pay tribute to the 7 swaras, than to dance to Saint Thyagaraja’s SHobilu Saptaswara set to ragam Jaganmohini, Rupakam thalam.

The Thygaraja kriti is sung in praise of the 7 divine notes of music that glows to the core of the human body, shining through the vedas and holds the heart of humans and the divine celestials.  

The dancers weaved and danced to the notes of raga Jaganmohini and blazed the stage away. I especially loved when they weaved the gayathri manthra into the phrase “vara gayathri” that comes in the Charanam.

Saptha Shakti
I had read with interest that they eventually composed this piece from scratch as they weren’t able to find one song that captured what they wanted to showcase. And what a delight the song was. Set to thala misra chapu, the ragamalika started in Brindavani and travelled through raga Bibhaas, Kedar, Durga, Basant, Megh Malhar, Surya and finally ending in the electrifying verses of Revathi. On stage as the music flowed we saw 7 devis emerge on stage – Brahmani, Vaishnavi, Maheshwari, Maahendri, Kaumari, Varahi and Chamundi.   

This was my favourite piece of the evening as I have barely seen Ajith explored the Devi theme in his dance. Ganga ma yes but I am so used to seeing him doing different versions of the Yadhava prince that this was such a delight to watch.

Each of the dancers were given an opportunity to shine as a Devi. Each doing the role they were given extremely well. But that is what Ajith seems to bring out in his dancers, a need to excel and the confidence that is needed to hold such roles.

However the moment the young dancer Haridivya Muralitharan stood on stage, it was Kaumari herself that I saw – the one who blesses her devotees with power and confidence. Three devi’s showed us their presence that night, to dance in the the dancers who took their form, and this was the first of the three moments I experienced that evening.

And then Chamundi emerges on stage as the singers electrified the room with the raga revathi. Devi Chamundi had merged within the young dancer and it was she we saw dance on stage. The goddess that is at once fearsome and compassionate and protective of her devotees. As she crossed over and leaped over the dancers, her eyes gleamed in magnetism that made you gasp in shock.

The dancer Logeshwari Durairaj was new to me as I had not seen her in the senior line up of Suvarna dancers before. I am told she and Haridivya, have both been part of the productions for many years but usually in the ensemble section.

This is what I have always loved in Suvarna’s productions. Despite being an excellent dancer who could do the whole production by himself, he has continued to include his dancers and students into every production, giving each one ample opportunity to shine, and often taking the stepping into the shadows and giving them the main spot. We will not have been able to witness such talent and divine presence if it was not for the trust and encouragement only a Guru such as Ajith could do.

Costumes in a Suvarna production is always excellent. From hair to fan to the colours of the costumes, everything is often looked into. Similarly in this piece the dancers are wearing beige costumes with red and green checker pleats. But what was visually stunning was when they turned, the back of the pleats was a bright red pleat that stood out in the excellent lighting design by KRSS. Lighting is so important in any dance performance and sometimes not given enough emphasis. So it is extremely delightful to see the light shine on its own in the different pieces. In this for example there was a lot of shadow light play to emphasise the devis. That created stunning visuals for the audience.

Saptha Rasayati
After that exquisite dramatic performance, Ajith took us on a light hearted journey of a theme I have seen in many of his productions – love and the yadhava prince. But what is interesting is that despite it being a theme at every production, no one performance or choreography has been the same.

Saptha Rasayati was set to chatusra jathi Atta talam, in the ragas Nagaswaravali, Chandrajyothi, Vasantha, Vaasanti and Reeti goula.

Ajith emerges on stage as the playful cupid and shoots his arrows into Krishna and Radha – the stage of love awakening was beautifully portrayed by Parthiben Sethu and again Logeshwari Durairaj.
Now I noticed Parthiben Sethu as an addition to the senior Suvarna dancers line up a few productions back. He is a dancer to be watched. There is a sense of innocence, genuine emotions in his expressions. And their pairing for this segment was a perfect one as both were young and were able to beautifully portray the awakening of love and what follows, the teasing period of new love – kadal udalgal.

One of the beautiful parts of the lighting was the appearance of the moon on the blue screen. It was a perfect addition as Radha and Krishna danced to the tune of the beautiful music.

This was then followed by Krishna flirting with the gopikas much to the chagrin of Radha, and then Radha erupts in anger and leaves Krishna. A remorseful Krishna searches for Radha as she recupriates and eventually forgives Krisha as their love is reawakened in their unification.

Each stage of these emotions is portrayed by different pairs of Krishna and Radha. With all 4 male dancers taking turns to play a different kind of Krishna. It was a delight to see these different stages of Krishna expertly played by the Suvarna dancers.

I loved that they included the classic Krishna tune “Chinna kannan azhaikiran” in the final verse which is set to Reethi Gowlai.

I have not written much about the senior line up of Suvarna nor on Ajiths performance simply because they have always been talented dancers and shined in each role that was given to them. As I said before, the Suvarna productions are performances I truly look forward to watching as it has always been dazzling full blown dance and music showcases.

Sapta Tarangini
The final piece of the evening was a tribute to the 7 holy rivers of India. The original composition was set as a Talamallika in the raagam Sindhubhairavi in lyrics of the 7 rivers location.

Saraswathi ....Jampa..sanskrit
Yamuna.....Tripuda..braj baasha

Again the music composition excelled here. As I had already mentioned the opening Veena thanam set such a beautiful tone to the song. You could feel the rivers course flow through the music according to their attributes. Similarly the dance was choreographed to match the intensity of each river.

Loved how Ajith had weaved the rivers flow into the formation for Narmadha or how they referenced the invisible river Saraswathi in the choreography as there’s a lightness to the dance in this segment.

What’s interesting is I have seen Ajith do the theme of rivers before and the fact that he manages to do a totally different choreography for the theme is pretty brilliant.

Ajit does a beautiful solo in the Sindhu nadhi segment of the dance and the music at this point is absolutely stunning.

And then Ganga ma herself descends from heaven to sweep us into her embrace just as she does every devotee that chants jai ganga ma before dipping into the holy river Ganga in Varanasi. She is at once strong, yet she holds you in the flow of her waters, comforting her devotees as only the hug of a mother can.

The dance coordination and formations at this point were just superb and then Ajith took us to the next stage as he transported the audience to Varanasi for one of the most beautiful sights one will experience in Varanasi – the evening Ganga Arathi. So there I sat, once again rocking gently on a boat on the pitch dark river as the 7 dancers gently paid tribute to Ganga ma with their arathis as the bell tolled from the orchestra. What a moment that was.

And with that, the evening ended with a gasp of flashback to Varanasi that I am sure anyone who has been there would have experienced. Thank you for transporting us back for that brief moment – for the greatest achievement of a dancer or musician is the ability to make us feel or experience an emotion and that was what the evening of Sapthashree was to me.

As I’m typing this I’m sitting and wondering when will I hear the exhilarating music from that production again?

Let me ask Suvarna the same thing I asked MPO recently, could you please make it available for us to purchase the DVD of the music or production as I find it frustrating that all I have is bits and pieces of memories of these amazing shows and no way to relive them. I grew up to be a fan of the music of Queens simply by listening to music of his live shows something that the indian classical music fraternity refuses to embrace. Every single live concert I go for, there’s numerous reminders of please do not record the show but where do we go to relisten to those stunning moments that is only capable to be captured in a live show? How do we rehear these amazing original compositions and arrangements if it is not available to be heard ever again?

Either post it online or make it available for purchase.

All you have to do is post a note on the availability of the DVD to be purchased post show on Facebook and I am sure there a rasikas like me who will be clamouring to buy a copy and you will have enough orders to make copies.

This post will not be possible without the help of Meena Kumaree, who graciously took time to answer my questions and send me all the details on the production. Thank you so much for that.

 ps: photo is not mine

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