Sutra Foundation’s Bouquet of Love is a return to a familiar form
The latest staging marks a historic return to Bharatanatyam for Ramli Ibrahim’s Sutra Foundation
FEW things are certain walking into a Ramli Ibrahim concert (the patriarch of Sutra Foundation) – one, you rarely leave disappointed, and two, his theatrical stagings are among the best in Malaysian performing arts.
A Bouquet of Love was a solo Bharatanatyam concert led by Sutra Foundation dancer, Kirthana Sukumaran that played over the weekend at Panggung DBKL, Kuala Lumpur.
The concert was Kirthana Sukumaran’s arengetram or graduation ceremony, marking her solo debut performance as a dancer. An arengetram ceremony is considered a rite-of-passage all Indian classical dancers must undergo to signify the completion of their formal training.
Like many professional dancers, Kirthana started her formal training at the tender age of eight. Unlike other dancers however, she first began her training in Odissi, an entirely different dance form.
Odissi is the oldest of the eight classical dance forms and was the primary focus of Sutra Foundation.
After a long hiatus, the organisation resumed its Bharatanatyam classes and Miss Sukumaran took the opportunity to learn the style from scratch, no small feat.
Ramli Ibrahim, in his opening address to the audience, explained the departure and subsequent return to Bharatanatyam.
“Almost four decades ago I apparently took Malaysia by storm with my performance of Bharatanatyam. Little did I know that my stage debut in Bharatanatyam coincided with fundamentalist Islam that swept the world over including Malaysia.
“I remember dancing the Ananda Tandava Shiva, in the tiniest langota fitting for Nataraja, Lord of Dance and the audience were suitably awed over.
“In 1983, I established Sutra Dance Theatre and soon taught Bharatnatyam. Some years later after presenting several arengetrams where I myself wielded a nattuvangam, then a rare phenomenon, I decided to stop teaching this southern Indian classical dance style but at that time the Indian dance fraternities have established the perception that Bharatanatyam is part of the rich and diverse tapestry of Malaysian performing arts experience.
“Tonight’s performance is significant as Sutra once again returns to Bharatanatyam after leaving it for so long. In fact, the last Sutra arengetram was 15 years ago.
“One of the reasons of this return to teaching Bharatanatyam was the demise of my brilliant Bharatnatyam guru Adyar K Lakshman five years ago. He was the direct disciple of Rukmini Devi Arundale, the founder of Kalashektra.
“Sutra happens to possess a rich repository of his works. My conscience compels me to be mindful and responsible for the legacy of these magnificent compositions and that they should continue to live on.”
Bharatanatyam arengetrams follow a standard repertoire, and beyond the dancer’s ability to rapture audiences (typically referred to as rasa), there are not usually many surprises.
However, like all their concerts, Sutra Foundation took no shortcuts and pulled out all the stops in making this an ambitious affair. Accompanying the dancer is vocalist Subatra Jayaseelan, founder of Sugam Karnatica Arts Academy. Instrumental accompaniment included the likes of Jayalakshmi Sekhar, who switched between the flute and veena, Darmen Krisnan on the mridangam and Sriram Sheshadri on violin.
All distinguished artists in their own right, this ensemble of musicians filled the hall with stirring renditions of compositions by Tulsidas, Muthuswamy Dikshitar and Papanasam Sivam. Seated in the third row, I could feel each beat of the drum, pull of the violin and veena. Backed by pristine vocals, the experience was overpowering that all you are left to do is sink further into your seat, drifting away as the dancer embodies Goddess Sita, paying obeisance to Lord Rama.
Synonymous with any Sutra concert is the lighting and stage design by Sivarajah Natarajan, the lesser-known creative partner of Ramli Ibrahim. Despite Panggung DBKL’s modest stage size, he expertly imbues the space with grandeur through the clever use of light, shadows, and fog machines.
Mardhinee Sukumaran, Kirthana’s younger sister, takes up the role of the narrator, and plays an equally important supporting role. Where most local production would relegate this role to a faceless voice behind the curtain, Sutra placed her front and center, as she provides context to the different pieces Kirthana is about to perform.
Kirthana herself is certainly an artist to look out for. The grace she embodies in her movements, form, and expressions signify a dancer far beyond her years. What better critic than her dance teacher herself – in his words, Ramli commented that Kirthana possesses “an austere expression, too mature for her age. She was, I thought, of another world. I believe Kirtana has inherently equipped with a potent seed, the capsule of the age-old rasa.”
Prior to her debut, Kirthana performed in some of Sutra Foundation’s major productions like Ganjam, Amorous Delight, Odissi on High and Triple Frontiers. She has also performed in some of the most prestigious festivals around the world such as the Konark Dance Festival in 2017 and Kumbha Mela, Prayagraj in 2019.
Sutra Foundation returns with another stage performance titled Dancers at Large an Odissi dance performance that runs from August 26 to 28, at Sutra House, Kuala Lumpur.
source – The Vibes