The rhythmic, geometric patterns of bharatanatyam and the graceful pirouettes of kathak came together to create magic on stage, showcasing two distinct styles of Indian classical dance, while a skilful interlude of shadow-play enchanted audiences. All these happened at the two-day Soorya India Festival, held on Wednesday and Thursday at Abu Dhabi’s India Social and Cultural Centre and the Indian High School in Dubai.
Rama Vaidyanathan, a leading exponent of the South Indian classical style of bharatanatyam, proved why she’s a highly rated Indian dancer through her innovative choreography, technical precision and vivid expressions.
She began with the delightful Mayur Alaripu, an original work depicting the dance of the peacock, India’s national bird. Vaidyanathan beautifully enacted the graceful movements of the peacock using traditional rhythmic structures. Dressed in bluish green and purple, it was a joy seeing her bring the bird to life, preening its prized feathers and dance with the sheer abandon that the first rains of the monsoon bring.
She then brought forth her prowess in Abhinaya and her facial expressions through Navarasa Mohana. Using her dance vocabulary, she captured a scene where a young Krishna enters a wrestling arena, armed with an elephant’s tusk to kill his evil uncle, King Kamsa. Vaidyanathan skilfully portrayed the nine different emotions (navarasa) of the spectators eagerly awaiting the outcome of the duel – ranging from anger to love, contempt to arrogance and anxiety to an all-knowing calm.
A professional dancer for 25 years, Vaidyanathan has trained intensively under the legendary dancer Yamini Krishnamurthy and the renowned guru Saroja Vaidyanathan.
The kathak exponent Rani Khanam brought in the north Indian flavour. Performing Darbaari Salaami, she brought to life the culture and ambience of the royal court of the Mughal rulers.
Through the piece, she displayed her mastery over footwork to the permutations and combinations of rhythmic beat cycles, intrinsic to kathak. Attired in a vibrant indigo blue and deep pink costume, Khanam then followed up with a Thumri, illustrating a romantic scene between Krishna and his ladylove Radha.
The highlight of her performance was Sufi Kathak, almost inducing a trance-like devotion. Dancing to the legendary Sufi poet Amir Khusro’s Mohe Apne Hi Rang Mein, she transcended from the material to the spiritual realm through dance, drenching herself in the chorus of Maula Ali Maula.
This was followed by a brief yet magical interlude of shadow-play by the illusionist Prahlad Acharya. He presented a ballet of hands and fingers merging to create shadows that came to life on a large projected white screen.
His act celebrated India’s unity in diversity through intricate shadow images depicting people of different communities and regions of India, with great attention to detail on their attire – just through shadows. This included a Malayali elephant trainer sitting atop an elephant, a Naga dancer from north-east India, musicians, drummers and even peacocks.
Conceived by Soorya Krishnamoorthy, the cultural melange ended with a jugalbandi, or a fusion of kathak and bharatanatyam. Khanam’s graceful pirouettes interplayed with Vaidyanathan’s defined postures.
While highlighting the distinct nuances and grammar of each dance form, the piece celebrated the journey of a dancer, which irrespective of style, aims to culminate in the realisation of the divine.