Rasa United: Vanashree Rao and Dancers Scale Great Artistic Heights

Dr. Sunil Kothari

Text: Dr Sunil Kothari

On Vijayadashami, the concluding day of Purana Qila Dance festival, New Delhi, Vanashree Rao’s Rasa United presented mythological stories with Mahishasura Mardini to the chanting of ‘Ya Devi Sarva Bhuteshu Shakti – rupena samsthita’ creating magic and keeping audience under a spell with a captivating performance by her and the troupe of dancers whose teamwork was outstanding. The audience gave them a rousing ovation.The Purana Qila stage had turned in to a battlefield. Tripuarasamhara saw the three sons of Tarakasura creating a human pyramid, showing off their prowess. The postures and dancing by the Mayurbhanj Chhau dancers Kuleshwara Thakur, Prashant Kalia, and Deepak Khandari with their faces covered with half masks were breathtaking. Harassing, the apsaras who prayed to Lord Shiva to protect them was warned by Brahma that when the three sons of Tarakasura will be together, they would meet death. Lord Siva made Mount Meru the chariot, Brahma as Sarathi and, the sun and the moon two wheels, Vishnu the arrow and Vasuki the string and destroyed the three demons with one shot. The music and performance with high energy kept the audience in thrall.

To the melodious music designed by Vanashree and composed by a team of musicians including Dr S Vasudeva, Venkatesh, Prasanna on flute, from Bangalore, Prasanna for special effects and percussion by Kesavan, the recitation for 12 Jyotirlingas, mentioning each sthala in praise of Lord Shiva, Vanashree wove the story of Markandeya who at 16 was to be taken away by Yamaraj, but Markandeya prayed to Lord Shiva to protect him and clung to the Shivalinga from where appeared Lord Shiva and saved him from the noose of Yamaraj. The entry from the upper stage by Dr S Vasudeva as Lord Shiva was dramatic. Kuleshwar as Markandeya acted with complete devotion.

Rasa United festival

The new choreographic work Abhimanyu Vadh from Dronaparva of Mahabharata unfolded with Dronachaya’s anxiety. Arjuna tells to Subhadra the secret of how to come out of Chakravyuha, which as fetus Abhimanyu listens carefully. But alas Subhadra falls asleep and the way to get out of Chakrayuha he does not learn. When Yudhishthira takes him to the battlefield and promises him to save him from Chakravyuha, strategic formation created by Dronacharya, Abhimanyu plunges into war with the Saptarathis, who surround him. Alone fighting valiantly Abhimanyu loses his weapons, is bodily injured and picks up the wheel of his broken chariot and tries to attack Dronacharya but falls, and Karna stabs him in the back. Helpless Yudhishthira is unable to protect him, as Jayadrath guarding the entry of Chakravyuha could not be defeated. The agony of Arjuna at the death of Abhimanyu is heart-rending and he cries and promises to kill Jayadrath next day before sunset.

The dancers performed with dynamism and energy, the young Kuchipudi dancer playing role of Abhimanyu with incredible stamina and the male dancers surrounding Abhimanyu, lifting his body, Abhimanyu picking up the wheel of broken chariot and attacking, all was performed with great intensity that one was glued to one’s seat watching the anguished cry of Arjuna with his heart beating aloud to the excellent music accompanying the scene. What a gripping story that created great sympathy for the young victim of the war.

Inspired by Pandit Jasraj’s rendering of the song Vanashree and the dancers visualised the killing of Mahishasura by Goddess Durga. Using three dance styles Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi and Mayurbhanj Chhau for Mahishasuramardini in a powerful choreography, it opened with energetic dancing by five Kuchipudi dancers, creating an image of Goddess Durga, with ten arms Dashabhuja, wielding a variety of weapons the Gods gave her to kill the invincible demon. The relentless chanting during the battle with the Goddess Durga, enacted with four dancers by Vanashree and Dr S Vasudav as Mahishasura, created a powerful atmosphere with pulsating sounds. The finale when the demon is vanquished Durga rode over the human pyramid made by dancers, as victorious Shakti. The visual was so powerful that audience was completely awestruck by the image and later on broke out in a spontaneous round of applause.

It would be invidious to single out any one dancer as the group performed with understanding as a team and gave their best. The choreography was seamless and scenes followed one after another in quick succession. With music providing excellent support to various moods and basic Vira Rasa, Rasa United, indeed justified the title. That Vanashree has reinvented herself as a choreographer augurs well. Taking pains and paying attention to minutest details, she has in recent times given us amazing creative works. These choreographic works deserve to be seen in major dance festivals in other parts of India.