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 <<CityNews Main Send Flowers to India!

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Ekaantha Seetha: Dhananjayans’ Ode To Women of Courage


Photos by Shekhar Narayanan

Brilliant choreography, a smooth amalgamation of different dance and music forms, riveting performances and sheer artistic effort made Ekaantha Seetha… a Lonely Furrow a memorable experience for lovers of classical art in Atlanta. The Bharatanatyam dance drama, a production of Cleveland Cultural Alliance (CCA) and brought to Atlanta by ANAMIC (Association for a North American Mosaic for Indian Classical Music), was presented at the Gwinnett Performing Arts Center recently.

Choreographed by the famed Dhananjayan couple V.P and Shanta, who are known for experimenting with novel ideas within the traditional framework of Bharatanatyam, Ekaantha Seetha… relied on nritta (pure dance or foot work), abhinaya (facial expressions), bhava (mime) and hasta mudras (hand gestures) to tell stories of courage and evolution to an international audience. 

Apart from Bharatanatyam, the dance forms ranged from Manjira garba (folk), Kalaripayattu (martial arts of Kerala) and classical dances like Kathakali and Manipuri.

Ekaantha Seetha… wove together three stories, from epic times to the modern and was in essence three productions conjoined through a common theme. 

CCA’s Uma Ganesan's choice of subject for Ekaantha Seetha… was reportedly inspired by newspaper reports about women from small towns who cope with alcoholic husbands, struggle to educate their children and support themselves financially. It is a celebration of women from epic times to the present, whose extraordinary strength of character comes to the fore under the very circumstances that would cause others to wither.

The first story was of Vaidehi (Sita) who is discovered as a baby in a furrow by her father King Janaka. Vaidehi handles adverse situations in her life with grace, courage and dignity. She goes through a trial of fire with supreme belief in herself, and later raises her twins Lava and Khusha in exile to be warriors and future kings. The second story presented history through the perspective of Rani Laksmibai of Jhansi, who became a symbol of courage and conscious rebellion against British yoke. Her death on the battlefield gave momentum to India’s freedom movement. The third segment presented Aparajita, the woman of today, an idealist who is forced to walk the common ground, away from the dangers of thinking and learning. After a series of adversities and self-doubts in life, she emerges triumphant with the realization that victory is possible if we refuse to let ourselves be defeated by ourselves.

The three stories were ably narrated by Shanta Dhananjayan and Houston based Rathna Kumar through abhinaya, bhava and hasta mudras. While Shanta was her usual graceful self, Ratna was a powerhouse performer, combining facial expressions with narration in English to convey the mood of the story. The three main protagonists, played by Sreelatha, Sujatha Srinivasan and Pavithra Srinivasan, all accomplished dancers and choreographers, portrayed the courage and conviction of women within the realms of their era, with amazing versatality. VP Dhananjayan chose to play peripheral roles in a women oriented theme. He was the teacher in all three productions; first as Valmiki, then as Gul Mohammed and finally as Aparajita’s guru.

The 16 performers, many of who are graduates of Kalakshetra (founded by the legendary Rukmini Devi Arundale) or disciples of the Dhananjayans were all equally competent in dance and abhinaya.

To this writer, the brilliance of the production lay in the smooth transition between different dance forms, and in the capable handling of contemporary scenes within the traditional framework. Also noteworthy was the effort to weave humor into a serious dance form. The wedding scene in the third segment, or the everyday market place scene; were particularly hilarious. Full marks to scriptwriter Ranjitha Ashok who is responsible for developing the concept of the production.

The compositions by T.V Gopalakrishnan were a combination of Carnatic, Hindustani and contemporary music forms in keeping with the different needs of the three productions. TVG has sound grounding in both Carnatic and Hindustani vocals and is also an accomplished percussionist and mridangam player, which must have stood him in good stead in meeting a challenging production like Ekaantha Seetha.

Costumes by Lakshmi Srinath were colorful and depicted the different eras effectively. Props by Lakshmi Krishnamurthy were simple, but effective.

At over three-hours, the dance drama could have easily meandered into tedium, but the enthusiastic involvement and appreciation showed by the Atlanta audience, proved otherwise. The artistes got a standing ovation at the end, which prompted VP Dhananjayan to come forward and comment, “You are a very good audience!”

ANAMICA, the local host of the production is a group of art aficionados whose objective is to bring outstanding Indian classical art productions to metro Atlanta. “ANAMICA is striving hard to ‘make art’, to supplement our child’s art education, and to enrich the life with quality art experiences, to help make art an integral part of your life,” said ANAMICA’s Gita Maheshwaran. 

The group that has in the past presented Kathakali and Mohiniattam to Atlanta art lovers has, with Ekaantha Seetha…, certainly come of age!

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