‘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.