September 21, 2008

Making a Statement

By Subhadra Devan

TWO artistes show why they are at the pinnacle of style on sitar and grace in odissi, writes SUBHADRA DEVAN.

Sitarist Samuel J. Dass makes playing the sitar look really easy.

As he plucked out the tune, Puriya Kalyan, with clear precision, the 40-year-old smiled and grinned at his old friend, tabla player Prakash Kandasamy.

Why wouldn't he. Klang-born Dass has been playing the sitar since the age of eight, and has performed countless times for TV shows, at government functions and for the King.

In 2006, he and Prakash performed together as Drummers of Tomorrow, and won gold medals at the International Performing Arts Championship in Los Angeles, US.

Sporting a resplendent purple jippa for the fundraiser show called Embracing The Arts last Friday, Dass - now a soloist after disbanding his group Prana - sat easily on the stage of the PJ Civic Centre Auditorium.

He introduced the Hindustani evening raga, Puriya Kalyan, as a three-parter, adding: "Try not to sleep as the tempo does pick up.

"That drew a few laughs from the half-filled hall, at the event opened by Mother Mangalam and aimed at raising funds for the Tunku Azizah Fertility Foundation.

His second piece for the hour-long performance was the well- known Sindhu Bhairavi.

The sweet melody was amped up by the drumming fingers of Prakash, who also masterfully resolved a few microphone glitches.

Dass was also accompanied by Pravinia Manoharan on tamboura, a Master's student in music from Universiti Sains Malaysia.

The other artiste who showed ease in her chosen field was Geetha Shankaran-Lam from the Temple of Fine Arts.

An odissi danseuse of more than 30 years, Geetha chose to portray Shiva, the lord of dance.

With the dramatic opening of a stage in darkness, she moved with the light to the centre of the stage and arrested the chatter in the hall with a pose of purpose.

That entrance set the tone of her dance which showcased new choreography by Mavin Khoo.

With fluid moves contrasted by still poses, one-leg lifts and strong abhinaya (emotive expressions), Geetha, 40, fluidly delivered her hour-long performance made up for four segments - Ganga Tharanga, Asta Sambhu, Vasanta Pallavi and a new moksha.

The moksha, which describes liberation, is of new design with recorded music by Prakash, Dass, as well as flautist G. Sridhar.

There were some odd moments in the performance. One was when Geetha danced facing the wings of the stage, leaving the audience looking only at her profile for a few minutes. Another was when the music went dead.

Despite these moments and the rare occasion when Geetha wobbled in her ending poses, she danced with artistry throughout the performance.

There was a particular moment when she simply stayed in one spot, twirled gently and raised her hands in supplication to the gods.

The invocation reminded me of a similar moment of grace Geetha's former teacher, Ramli Ibrahim, had danced a long time ago.

For Geetha, dance is an offering to God, as a means of healing the soul in both dancer and audience. She is a wonder to watch.

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