Stunning Fusion of Bharatanatyam and Kathak Dazzles Singapore: ‘Uttar Dakshin-The Ramayana Revisited’ Takes Center Stage


‘Uttar Dakshin-The Ramayana Revisited’, had its South Asian premiere in Singapore on 23rd and 24th October at the Goodman Arts Centre,  transporting the audience through the timeless quality of the Indian epic- the Ramayana. Performed by Bengaluru origin, international danseuse Ponnamma Devaiah in this solo presentation of 2 distinct Classical dance forms: Bharatanatyam and Kathak.

The performance received a rousing response in a packed house, with both the international and diaspora audiences in attendance.

Just as the Ramayana begins  in Northern India-Uttar and moves to the south of India-Dakshin in its narrative,  Ponnamma’s performance resonated that spatiality by  presenting the first half in the Kathak idiom that has its origins in the north and western India  and in Bharatanatyam from the south of  India in the second half of this 90-minute show case.  

The performance had a unique prelude with Madhu Nataraj introducing the ethos of Indian Dance,  Design and Indic thought. The performance began with the first ever Kathkaars or storytellers – Rama and Sita’s charming sons , ‘Luv  and Kush’ , who also provide links to the story as it progresses.

Lesser heard retellings and an alternate perspective to the epic were provided in the first half, for instance- be it Ahalya’s misery to liberation, Sita’s  birth to her swayamvar, Kaikeyi’s deftness and valour to Urmila’s pathos of being away for 14 years from her husband, spent in a magical slumber. Madhu  Nataraj the internationally acclaimed choreographer for this Kathak segment who was also in attendance mentioned  that she intentionally chose to depict the stories of these proficient women of poise, resilience, and grit, as most of  their journeys are not showcased in the mainstream narrative. Thus it presented a beautiful opportunity as it was also  being presented by a female solo dancer interesting props like castanets to swords were brought into the repertoire in a seamless manner. Madhu also pointed out on how Flamenco has its influences, traces, and similarities to Kathak, leaving the  audience mesmerized with her deft choreography, that retained the soul essence of Kathak- Abhinaya ( expressional Dance) at its  core interspersed with dynamic Nritta ( Pure Dance)

Second half presented in Bharatanatyam began with Rama approaching Panchavati and their encounter with  Surpanakha. Thereafter the incident of the Maricha ‘Golden Deer’ which Rama knows happens to be a part of the  larger controversy that unfolds into Ravana appearing as a mendicant to Sita’s abduction, leading to her despondency in  Lanka, when she contemplates suicide, using her hair as a death noose .The story moves to Hanumana who spots Sita, assures her that he is a messenger sent by Rama and brings back her  headdress-Chudamani and to Rama’s acceptance of him. The  entire vaanar sena-monkey brigade  helps in the construction of the amazing bridge -Ram Setu that helps Rama’s cross into Lanka. The battle with Ravana- Astra Yudha using Mantra,  Tantra and Yantra ensues with each of them showcasing their prowess with Rama eventually  winning the war and Sita’s chastity being tested through an ‘Agni Pariksha’.In the finale segment we get see Rama returning from his exile and his coronation. Mr Sankar  Kandasamy from Malaysia who choreographed the Bharatanatyam segment retained the traditionality of this  dance form and added some unique aspects to the presentation.

The entire performance was set to an enchanting original music score by Praveen D Rao for Kathak and   Srivatsa  Debur for Bharatanatyam infused with verses from Tulsi Das’s ‘Ram Charith Manas’ and Swati Tirunal’s ‘Bhavayaami  Raghuraama’ that resonated overall. Multimedia artistry by Keerthi Kumar added to the visual brilliance providing new  elements and  a colourful canvas to the narrative.  Some of the other interesting facts about this production was the coming together of two celebrated choreographers,  Ustad Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskar awardee (as awarded by the Sangeet Natak Academy) & Karnataka Kalashree  awardee Ms: Madhu Nataraj from India for Kathak and Sri. Shankar Kandasamy from Malaysia for Bharatanatyam ,  uniting their creative forces to craft this solo artist Ponnamma Devaiah’s captivating portrayal of the Ramayana. This  seamless collaboration brought a fresh perspective to the cultural history and milieu of India and further fosters  cultural exchange across Singapore, Malaysia, India in ASEAN. This was also a first ever presentation by an Indian  artist in Singapore where both classical dance forms Kathak and Bharatanatyam were presented in this solo  performance. This Singapore premiere was graced by the Deputy High Commissioner of India in Singapore, Madam  Pooja Tillu as the guest of honour in attendance.