Sunday, June 15, 2008

(D) Transcendance - Mac 18


Geetha Shankaran-Lam in TrancenDance
Pix Source: The Star

TranscendAnce marks a new chapter for the school of dance at the Temple of Fine Arts (TFA): they finally have a repertoire to call their own. But then, what were the other wonderful works that the TFA dancers were learning and performing all these while?

For one, it’s Ramli Ibrahims’, Malaysia’s very own classical Indian dance doyen. Geetha Shankaran-Lam, one of Ramli’s foremost students, received many generous ‘gifts’ from him. And others, works and/or styles of legendary visitors that visited TFA, including Guru Kelucharan Mohapartra, Guru Durga Charan Ranbir, Leena and Leesa Mohanty, Rahul Acharya, and others, who hail from Orissa, India, the land of Odissi.

Late last year, TFA commissioned Guru Durga Charan Ranbir to choreograph several pieces of work that they could call their own. Last weekend, at Panggung Bandaraya, Kuala Lumpur, Geetha, TFA’s Head of Odissi, presented the first repertoire of these works in her interpretation called TranscendAnce. Most of these works, meant for solo, was reworked by Geetha for a group.

Mangalacaran, the opening dance which is usually invocatory, gives honor to Lord Shiva using the spiritual metaphor, the swan or hamsa. Dancers personified the swan arching their backs and fluttering their arms. This distinct feature promises an Odissi version of Swan Lake, which I thought would be an interesting idea and a challenge to explore. However, since TranscendAnce follows the traditional Odissi structure, this metaphor was explored only sporadically in some pieces. This choreography must be a challenge to some of the younger dancers performing this piece as towards the end, a few began to tire and cheated on some fine details.

Sakhi He Keshi Madhana Mudharam is based on Jeyadeva’s Gita Govinda sung daily during worship at the Puri Jagannath temple in Orissa for centuries. It stands as the apex of inspiration for the arts. The music has provocative beats that creates lush erotic imagery and describes the human depiction of the Divine Romance between Krishna and Radha. This choreography describes Radha’s obsession with Krishna through her shameless imagination and erotic fantasy, which was accompanied by poetic narration further seducing us with explicit descriptions of lovemaking. Guru Durga Charan had chosen a storyline that is easier to describe through words than dance, and it would take someone as experienced as Geetha to pull it off. Pity I was sitting quite far away. The expressions were too faint and I could not enjoy the rasa, which was the crux of the piece.

Admittedly, I have a bias for Pallavis (pure dance). This is where the spirit and energy of dance truly comes out. This Pallavi is set to the Keervani raag, a typical South Indian scale, which has an elegant and carefree mood. Two voices maintained throughout this piece; one carrying the melody and the other, the rhythm. It was quite exciting to watch the dancers interspersing between moving to rhythm and moving to melody. Quick tribanghis were punctuated with strong accents creating very clear visual representation of dancing sculptures, and not just ‘dancing the sculpture’. The giant lotuses that made up the stage props, conjures an image of Thumbelinas dancing on a giant pod on a lake under a full moon. Such is the free spirit and carefree mood of this piece.

Anila Tarala is also a nritya piece, this time a duet. Radha pours out her feelings on her suffering of separation from Radha to her confidante. This piece has a conversational feel, each dancer reacting or rather, responding to the other as Radha expresses her woes.

The Arabhi Pallavi was reinterpreted by Parveen Nair and Geetha and was performed solo by the latter. It is always a joy to watch Geetha dance. A seasoned dancer stands out simply by virtue of how confident and comfortable she is with her body and every move she makes especially the beautiful turns and excellent footwork. Geetha masterfully maintains the nritta of this piece by not over-personifying the many moments of beauty and joy of a maiden picking and making garlands out of fragment flowers.

Radharani Sanghe Naache was the least appealing of all the works presented. It leans a bit too close to ‘Bollywood’ for my liking. It was rather difficult to tell Krishna from the gopis. And because of this difficult differentiation, it is easy to generalize (unfortunately) that the character of Krishna (or all the Krishnas!) was only too playful and childish.

Well, this is still the first repertoire. In time to come, we’ll see more exciting interpretations.

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