REVIEW: Kannagi Enbathen Peyare by Samskriti Dance
The legend of Kannagi, well known for his many lessons, was brought back to life in Sydney in Kannagi Enbathen Peyare.
In her latest tale from Sydney – by Izerobzero and Hamsa Venkat’s Samskriti School of Dance – her central message about the power of ordinary people came through brilliantly.
Kannagi is the protagonist of the 2000 year old Tamil epic Silappadikaram (The story of an anklet) by the poet Ilango Adigal.
An ordinary woman, she became quite extraordinary when faced with injustice, with her entire society suffering the consequences of her actions.
Forgiving her husband Kovalan for his infidelity, Kannagi not only took him back, but also offered to resettle him by gifting him his anklet to raise funds. In an unexpected twist, the gem was mistaken for one belonging to the country’s queen. Robbery was alleged and Kovalan was beheaded. Kannagi was left alone to grieve and prove her husband’s innocence.
Should we call Kannagi “that unfortunate woman”?
“No,” was the statement from Sydney’s performance Kannagi Enbathen Peyare (Kannagi is the name of the game).
Hamsa Venkat chose here to look at the epic not from a single angle but from a varied angle to present the inner landscape of a dramatic narrative. This is the story of more than one woman. However, a fiery woman like Kannagi questions and challenges society.. Is there no justice for me? Am I the only one suffering?
It was the tone of dance drama at the Riverside Theatre.
The show took the form of a traditional dance recital including alaripu, jathiswara, shabdam, varnam, padam and thillana. Each of these elements had at its core Kannagi’s main theme – the importance of justice. The perspective presented was that justice often fails, and it is not about condemning the individual, but about digging deep to find the root cause of evil and exterminate it. Often, Aishwarya Rao’s English commentary accompanying events on stage increased understanding and enjoyment.
Principal dancer Hamsa was proud of Kannagi, a grieving woman. This sometimes turned into anger. The feeling of despair was loud and clear at Ketparilaro (Is there no one to hear me?)
READ ALSO: Kannagi wins the green light from the judges at the Blake Art Prize 2021
The scenes of her marriage to Kovalan (Raphael Speyer) and the beheading of Kovalan were absolute highlights.
Govind Pillai as writer Ilango Adigal, young dancer Vishakha Iyer in several roles of Ganesha the Hunted Bird, Sowmya Sriram as Falcon and Vidya Gokul as Madhavi the Mistress, stood out with their presentations.
The town scene where people were doing various chores appropriately transported the audience into the story.
At the front was a chorus of dancers who served as message bearers. What about those beautiful faces so eager to dance!
Writer Sumathy Ramesh, well known in Sydney as a music connoisseur, did a magnificent job composing the lyrics, drawing on concepts and ideas from the epic. The Elements have been set to music by many Sydney Carnatic musicians.
Director Hamsa interpreted the story correctly and holistically when she pointed out that Madhavi, the mistress, was just as wronged as Kannagi, pointing out that women are often taken for granted. However, they had the courage to overcome these obstacles to stand tall and strong. In the production, they both lit the lamp of hope.
Among the dance numbers, Varnam, the longest element, with all the ingredients of nritya and abhinaya was a treat to watch. So was the Thillana.
Sometimes the drama rose to such a level that it was like being at the Opera watching a Greek tragedy. When the dance experience is sublime, the details of the performance don’t become too important. General appeal takes over.
The cast of around 12 dancers played multiple roles to bring the story to life. They were undoubtedly helped in their mission by sumptuous choreographies. Whether in and out of circles and diagonals, in ballet-style jumps and in acrobatic routines, the effect was always pleasing.
Krishna Ramarathinam’s voice filled the auditorium with appropriate moods. His Bhairavi, Thodi and Kambodhi in varnam, shabdam and padam respectively, were enchanting. Pallavan Nagendrian on mridangam and Vishni Ravindran on veena provided effective support. Venkatesh Sritharan was on flute and Chidambaram R Suresh provided Nattuvanagam.
Special effects in lighting and on stage were used to enhance the experience by Nidhi Panickar and Sudha Kumar.
A great performance, Kannagi Enbathen Peyare showed that Bharatanatyam in Sydney has finally come of age. Not only is this ancient art form kept alive as we have said so far, but it is actually evolving, progressing in form and reaching diverse audiences.
READ ALSO: Abhijnanam Shakantulam by Hamsa Venkat