The fourth edition of Samarpana — The Asian Festival of Classical Dance — was held recently at Esplanade-Theatres, Singapore. It started off with Sur Gati, which was specially created for the occasion and came about by way of a collaboration between Sujata Mohapatra, leading Odissi exponent, and renowned singer Kavita Krishnamurty. The piece was a phenomenal visual and aural delight. Each artist exhibited their skills in their respective fields and what was impromptu seemed rehearsed because of their extraordinary adeptness.

The chosen musical piece was an astapadi, “Tava virahe, vanamali” in raga Pantuvarali and rupaka taal from the Geet Govinda. Visual representation of Krishna&’s intense separation from Radha was developed step-by-step by the dancer and singer, creating aesthetic bliss. It was beautifully presented and the inter-relatedness of the country&’s classical dance forms was explored through a tillana composed by flautist L Subramaniam, Krishnamurthy&’s husband. The talas, like phrases, were sung by Krishnamurty and Mohapatra danced to the lyrics — it was enthusiastically received by the audience amid thunderous applause.

This review would be incomplete without a word about the pieces performed by the two artists individually. Mangalacharan and the usual trikhandi obeisance to God, guru and audience done, Mohapatra launched into Kelucharan Mohapatra&’s composition of Ardhanariswar. I had seen Mohapatra perform the same piece in Washington, DC, years ago but this time it was a matured dancer showcasing her guru&’s work. Every shade of the shloka describing the particular form of Lord Shiva where prakriti and purusha are combined in one body was executed tastefully. The dual characteristics in the same body were perfectly defined and the dancer alluded to each part distinctly through costume and make-up. The left side portrayed the female aspect, smeared with musk and saffron — twinkling anklets and eyes as wide as the blue lotus, divine flowers and great silks — looked really pretty. The male right side portrayed an image of the destroyer of Kama (God of love) with a cobra around his ankle, wearing a garland of skulls, with copper matted locks like lightning and divinely merged with Parvathy, the mother, in a picturesque way. With telling phrases of Odissi and its graceful movements, Mohapatra&’s renditions of both were exquisite. The music composition was by the legendary Raghunath Panigrahi.

Yugmadwanda pallavi was another precious gem in raga Bagesri, which was elaborated through perfect eye movement, body postures and intricate footwork. The dancer blossomed with graceful and easy flowing movements, slowly to begin with to build into a crescendo with the use of Odissi stances. Kede chanda janilo sahi — about the exploits of a little Krishna — was showcased through abhinaya as the audience looked on in rapt attention.

A powerful set of musicians accompanied Mohapatra, like Ramesh Chandra Das on violin, Ekalabya Muduli on  and Soumaranjan Joshi on flute. Rupak Kumar Parida&’s emotion-filled vocal rendition made the recital all the more enjoyable.

Krishnamurty, the queen of melodies, began her recital with the ghazal, “Sri ram chandra kripalu bhaju mana, hara bhava bhaya darunam” (Oh my mind, sing praises of the merciful one, who takes away the endless cycles of birth and death), written by Saint Tulsi Das. Her commitment to devotion was infectious, as there were many who hummed inaudibly being totally immersed in the performance. Next she presented “Albela sajan aayo re”, a Hindustani classical song popularised by Ustad Sultan Khan of the Indore gharana in the early1970s. He sang this traditional bandish in the film Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, along with Shankar Mahadevan and Krishnamurty. Those in the audience familiar with the Mekaal Hasan band were reminded of the popular 2009 album Saptak, in which it was featured as well. Then came a unique tarana, “Kkaise jau jamuna ke teer”, composed by Subramaniam, with words penned by Krishnamurthy. Her son, Ambi Subramaniam, a young lad who has just about crossed his teens, brilliantly accompanied the performance and stole the show with his violin. Krishnamurty was ably supported by Tanmoy Bose on tabla, Atul Raninga on keyboards, Vasudeo Mhatre on percussions and Rajagopal Doraiswamy on the mridangam. This year, the Samarpana citation was awarded to Neila Sathyalingam for her life-long dedication and passion towards the arts. A dancer, instructor and choreographer of Indian classical dance, she is an eminent figure in the classical dance arena in Singapore. She is the founder-artistic director of Apsaras Arts Dance Company and has also been the principal teacher and choreographer with the People&’s Association Indian Dance group for more than two decades.

Samarpana&’s main architect, Gayatri Sriram, is  founder-director of Shrutilaya. With the active support and tireless efforts of Jyoti Ramesh, director of Jade Group International, Singapore, Sriram was able to make the festival a grand success.