When two mediocre dancers perform for two hours that has three minutes of thillana-like nritta and the rest abhinaya in tedious varnam pieces, and even more unimaginative and hazy padams, you know that the recital was disastrous. Why? Because with the above structure, there is no place to hide incompetence.
Though NCPA billed it as a Mohiniattam recital, it turned out to be primarily Lata Surendra's leaden-footed Bharatnatyam.
The Mohiniattam bit was non-existent. Whatever little was on show was trainee-grade. Mohiniattam is anyway handicapped in its width of movements, especially of the lower part because of the base posture of the bent thighs, the aramandalam, much like the seconde pose in demi pile of ballet. It ought to have been compensated by the beautiful sways of the torso and other angas, and with sparkling hasta-mudras in conversation with the percussion. Alas! The Edakka and Chenda accompaniment was muted in the solo piece as well.
Sure, Surendra is a senior Bharatnatyam dancer, hence one can somehow explain the minimal strenuous stuff. Yet, Alarmel Valli is nearly sixty, Malavika Sarukkai is near fifty. When they do abhinaya, we see razor sharp clarity of intent in movement and stillness. No one in the audience fidgets, or grabs the mobile when they do the slow pieces. Besides, both can dance two hours solo without a problem even today.
Surendra was exploring the colour yellow. It was beyond the capacity of this duo to convey yellow in either form or idea. Even the dramatic episode of Parvati scraping her turmeric-smeared body to give prana to Ganesha was soporific. And yet it was the most interesting piece by far. So imagine the rest.
The worst was the lengthy, meaningless and pretentious prattle in the beginning, in the middle, in the end and everywhere in between. It is always a good idea to let the dance do the talking.
Music was excellent but could not compensate for the poorly devised and executed dance. I felt it was an hour too long, such was the tedium.
I wish NCPA will take care in the future to not foist low grade dance in this annual nritya utsav.
The evening was somewhat redeemed by the Kathak husband-wife team of Abhimanyu and Vidha Lal. They were exploring the colour orange. I especially liked the thought given to merging the musical idiom with the dance theme. For example, the piece on Spring, Basant, was done in a Dhamar (14 beats) in raga Basant and also used the nine-beat Basant tala ( I didn't know of such a taal). I liked almost all the pieces especially the one done in (I think) Brindavani Sarang depicting the fierceness of a summer day. The singing was fantastic.
In fact all the accompanists were superb. The pakhawaj, the bol singer and the lyrics singer were wonderful. The dhamar mentioned above had smatterings of (quasi) nom-tom and fitted the idea so well. Lovely!
I wish the tayyari was more rigorous- I spotted at least four occasions when the male dancer didn't know what to do with the other hand. And the duo were far from perfectly synchronised, either in point or counter-point.
For that I'm looking forward to Nrityagram's peerless Surupa Sen and Bijayani Satpathy on Saturday. Hallelujah!