A melange of dances

TWIN ART

A melange of dances

It was a delightful night at the Mahatma Gandhi College grounds in Bondel, Mangaluru, on December 12,  when several grand and colourful mythological characters came alive before a large and discerning audience. The uniqueness of the occasion stemmed from the fact that two longstanding classical art forms — Kathakali and Yakshagana — were juxtaposed during the six-hour long event.

The prasanga chosen was Dushasana Vadhe, a strikingly gory episode from Mahabharata, which culminates in a vengeful Bheema tearing open his enemy's chest and drinking his blood, thus fulfilling the vow he had taken when the evil Kaurava had tried to disrobe Draupadi in an open gambling hall.

If there was much drama on the stage, there was enough of it behind the stage as well. Those who ventured into the spacious make-up rooms witnessed the all-male cast immersed in their jobs and transforming themselves into celestial beings. The meticulousness of the ritual of painting their own faces and painstakingly donning the elaborate costume was indeed a sight to behold. 

On stage, things turned magical as the evening set in. Traditional drummers thumped energetically while soulful singers created the right mood. It was then the turn of a stream of fascinating characters — Krishna, Balarama, Yudhishtira, Bheema, Shakuni, Draupadi, Karna, Duryodhana, Dushasana among others — to ignite the stage with their incredible personas and performance.

The 22-member Kathakali troupe was led by Padmashree Kalamandalam Gopi Asan. Accompanied by a host of talented and well-known artistes, the 78-year old maestro played the role of Roudrabheema, much to the delight of the audience. The Yakshagana sequence was performed in tenku thittu (southern school) style by artistes of Theatre Yaksha of Udupi. Led by Prithviraj Kavathar, this troupe is widely acclaimed for hoisting a series of experimental performances.

The entire event was to be held only under the light shed by flickering flames of burning torches. The idea, it seems, was to have the performance in the real traditional way, as in the pre-electricity days. Some compromises were made (like having a few electric lamps during Kathakali act), but they did not adversely affect the overall impact of visually and musically charged event. The organisers had appealed to photographers not to use flash and it was heartening to see that the appeal was not in vain. By the time the two performances concluded, it was well past midnight; and the unwearied audience had its fill.

Intense planning
“It all started almost two years ago and fructified because of a fine team effort,” says Manohar Upadhya of Yakshagana Kalaranga and Yakshadhwani Trust, the main organisers of the event. “Having a twin performance of Kathakali and Yakshagana which are actually sister art forms on the same stage was a dream come true for us. Such an event has not taken place in decades. A similar programme is supposed to have taken place about 25 years ago in Bengaluru, not on the same day, but on two consecutive days. Anyway, after planning for months, we could bring the Kathakali troupe from Kerala — one of the very best — and have it in Mangaluru now.”

Prithviraj was excited by the way the event went through. “In today’s world everyone wants things to be fast; but an art form should not fall prey to the mad rush. Our effort has been to slow down the pace and gracefully expose the intricacies of the narrative. While we want our productions to be aesthetically sound, it is also important that they should not be merely parroting what has been done in the past,” he says.

He also believes that Yakshagana is not just a spectacle, but an intense, intellectual exercise. “It is not about mere story-telling. How we engage with the audience even with a well known story and elevate the discourse is important. People who are used to conventional performances may find it difficult to accept our experiments and innovations immediately. But we are sure, in the long run, our efforts will sustain in bringing a subtle but important transformation in the way Yakshagana is conceived, presented and appreciated,” he adds.

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