Of separation and reunion

Of separation and reunion

Kalidasa's Shakuntalam

Nrithayaranjani recently presented a dance-drama based on Kalidasa’s classic play on Shakuntala and King Dushyanta.

Enacting one of Kalidasa’s greatest work in Sanskrit literature, Abignanashakuntalam, could come across as a daunting task, for even the virtuosos of dance and theatre. But when the students of Nrithayaranjani presented the dance-drama Abignanashakuntalam in the presence of a discerning audience at Shri Ram Centre for Performing Arts, the beaming faces of the disciples of the choreographer, Guru Kanaka Srinivasan, didn’t betray any sense of anxiety.

Narrating the 10 scenes, set to unfold in front of the audience, the narrator introduced us to the famous classic and its significance in the literary world as the audience settled to watch the dance-drama. With curtains drawn, the sound of kanjeera, mridangam, veena and flute took over the ambience as the first scene depicted how King Dushyanta chases a deer and reaches the hermitage of sage Kashyapa where the hermits convince him to not kill the animal. The background of the set cast with the shadows of leafy branches of a plant made for a promising portrayal of a scene set in a forest.

In the following scenes, the king is struck by the beauty of Shakuntala as she waters the garden with her friends Priyamvada and Anusuya. It is here they first meet, as the king emerges from behind the bushes and hits a bee that bothers Shakuntala. While the characters come out beautifully as Shakuntala comes across as a demure beauty and the King, as a strong yet endearing performer, the transitions in between break the swift flow of the drama. As the props were transported away for the next scenes, there was a lot of hustle and bustle on the stage, with an entourage of backstage assistants appearing on the stage. Even though the set was minimalistic, the stage looked brilliantly crafted with an appealing background.

The commotion on the stage could have been done away with only changes in the background imagery, perhaps.

The dance-drama takes us full circle, from the estrangement of the King and Shakuntala as he forgets her due to the curse of sage Durvasa to the end where the King is taken in by the bravery of a little boy, Sarvadama--who is his own son – as he plays with a lion’s cub, and thus reunites with his wife Shakuntala.

As the evening drew to a close, the guest of honour, Kapila Vatsyayan, the leading Indian scholar of classical India dance, encouraged the performers, saying, “For all of you it would have been wonderful to present Kalidasa’s Shakuntalam, as it was for us to watch you enacting it.  It was exceptional to see the way the music and text were used for this performance.”