Kalaa Utsavam: Rhythmic flow of life captured through Bharatanatyam

Since time immemorial, civilisations have flourished along rivers and they form an integral part of human life. The symbology of the river has inspired hundreds of poets and they have weaved threads and couplets in different languages on the complexities of life and comprehending the meaning inherent in the flow. Many moods of the river make it an ideal metaphor for life.

The presentation Nadi (River) by the renowned Bharatanatyam exponent Leela Samson and her troupe during Kalaa Utsavam seeks to explore the love and longing, the physical changes and the deep philosophy that the river inspired through the centuries-old voices of India’s poets.

Artistes of Spanda Dance Company vividly exhibiting the flow of river through Bharatanatyam. Photo courtesy: Esplande Theatres on the Bay
Artistes of Spanda Dance Company vividly exhibiting the flow of river through Bharatanatyam. Photo courtesy: Esplande Theatres on the Bay

Nadi is a selection of poems written in six Indian languages; Tamil, Sanskrit, Kannada, Urdu, Hindi and Bengali. The musical expressions are varied. The production features a traditional thumri (classical hindustani song) from the city of Varanasi; Rabindranath Tagore’s (1861–1941) poetic and musical expression that reflects the soulful music of the wandering Bauls of Bengal; a 200 to 300-year-old bandish (a fixed, melodic composition in Hindustani music) said to be written by Ustad Taanras Khan as a duaiyan nazm (Urdu poem) on Hazrat Khizar, an Islamic fakir; the chaste classical expressions of the composer Dikshitar (1775–1835); Sangam poetry (a collection of poems composed by 473 poets, written between 400 BCE and 300 CE) of the Tamil country; a modern-day Girish Karnad piece written in Kannada; and a Rajkumar Bharathi piece written in Tamil on the pitiful condition of the river today.

Nadi is a selection of poems written in six Indian languages- Tamil, Sanskrit, Kannada, Urdu, Hindi and Bengali. Photo courtesy: Esplande Theatres on the Bay
Nadi is a selection of poems written in six Indian languages- Tamil, Sanskrit, Kannada, Urdu, Hindi and Bengali. Photo courtesy: Esplande Theatres on the Bay

Each poem deals with the concept of the river. These compositions are threaded together by Rajkumar Bharathi, who has retained some traditional tunes and recomposed others in an attempt to create a dialogue between the past and present, and between Carnatic and Hindustani music. The music, performed live, represents the philosophies, languages, musical genres and instruments that are typical of the area where the poetry was written

The credit for translating the poetry into visual imagery goes to Leela Samson and her Spanda Dance Company. She is a virtuoso Bharatanatyam performer and a sensitive interpreter of the nuances of this form. She enjoys the reputation of being a dancer who has excellent form in nritta and sensitive abhinaya. Leela has travelled extensively and performed at leading festivals of dance in India and abroad.

Leela Samson is a virtuoso Bharatanatyam performer and a sensitive interpreter of the nuances of this dance form. Photo courtesy: leelasamsondance.com
Leela Samson is a virtuoso Bharatanatyam performer and a sensitive interpreter of the nuances of this dance form. Photo courtesy: leelasamsondance.com

Leela was Director, Kalakshetra from 2005 to 2012. She brought back an integrity and dynamism in teaching and performance and a widening of the academic scope of the dancer graduating from its portals, besides initiating several publications, films and documentation of the founder’s dance dramas.

She is the recipient of the Sanskriti Award in 1982, the Padmashri Award in 1990, the Nritya Choodamani Award in 1997, the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 2000 and the Natya Kala Acharya Award from the Music Academy, Chennai in 2015.

Author
Ashraf Jamal
Ashraf Jamal – Senior Writer

Ashraf Jamal brings a rare depth to writing equipped with a degree in journalism, a postgraduate degree in political science, and a degree in law from the Allahabad University. His experience includes editing and publishing the Northern India Patrika and writing for Times of India for almost a decade covering just about any topic under the sun including NRIs and Indian diaspora.

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