Sutra Dance Theatre’s latest production is a merry and energetic rumination on love.
Few stories manifest the idea of love as completely as those of the Hindu god Krishna. The romantic yearnings of the gopis (cowherd girls) he grew up with, the spiritual passion he shares with Radha, the ardent worship of his devotees – to speak of Krishna is to narrate the essence of love, and to see those various forms of love as a journey to the divine.
Sutra Dance Theatre’s (SDT) latest odissi dance production, Krishna, Love Re-invented, brings this multifaceted and yet ultimately unified emotion to life with sculpturesque poses, undulating movements and sweet expressions, all liberally accentuated by splashes of golden-green, peacock blue and sandalwood.
These pieces do not exude the intensity and drama of the tantric tales Sutra has explored in its previous productions. Instead, Krishna, Love Re-invented explores a different aspect of Odisha’s (the birthplace of odissi) culture, the idea of total and utter joy from bhakti (devotion), by presenting joyous, mischievous and passion-filled stories of Krishna.
Under the artistic direction of SDT founder Datuk Ramli Ibrahim, the production presents two parallel threads: Krishna’s exploits with his besotted gopis, and the couple – archetypes of the poet Jayadeva and his wife Padmavati – who are his ardent devotees. Over the course of the show, the devotees’ adoration of Krishna eventually lead to their total identification and merging with him and his consort Radha.
It is an interesting concept, creating much opportunity for the kind of visual brilliance SDT excels at. There are several standout pieces in the show, and many of the senior dancers excelled, yet there are some works that lack the finesse usually associated with Sutra.
The Mangala Charanam (opening invocatory dance) is our introduction to the themes of the show, with the couple-devotees (essayed by Ramli and Geethika Sree) marvelling in delight at Krishna (Jagatheyswara) frolicking with the gopis. The main dancers do a fine job, but the piece as a whole feels rather messy due to lapses in coordination.
The second work, the Sthai (a pure dance item reminiscent of temple sculptures of Odisha) however, is a vast improvement, thanks in particular to Jagatheyswara’s excellent performance as the leaping, teasing Krishna, and the effortless movements of senior dancers such as Rathimalar Govindarajoo, Divya Nair and Tan Mei Mei. Featuring merry, dynamic choreography and beguiling formations, the lighthearted air of the piece belies the expert control and coordination displayed by the dancers.
The next piece, Krishna Tandava, shows much initial promise, as it is meant to be the intoxicating vision of Krishna dancing and playing his flute in abandon. Here, the male devotee joins Krishna, his dance both identification and offering.
It is interesting to watch Ramli paired onstage with Jagatheyswara, as they each bring a distinctly different air to the tandava. Ramli is in full form in the abhinaya (expressive) piece, Mohane Deli Chahi, as he and Geethika play lovers smitten by a vision of Krishna playing his flute. The delicate, lyrical piece allows Ramli to show his mastery over subtle expressions and body language, and particularly impressive is the young Geethika’s almost instinctual flair for it.
The show’s second half is stronger than the first – despite both major pieces featuring a large group of dancers, the coordination and execution of the choreography is much tighter. Nachante Range Sri Hari is a lovely work that depicts Krishna serenading the gopis with his flute as they accompany him on various musical instruments. Displaying a beautiful simplicity in its staging, the focus is kept on the various dancers’ postures, expressions and the interactions between them.
In contrast, the Pallavi piece (where a raaga is highlighted through postures, complex footwork and expressions) bursts with energy and life, as it reenacts the popular tale of Krishna dancing on the banks of the Kalindhi river, replicating himself to dance simultaneously with all the gopis. The choreography seems cleverly tweaked to emphasise the stronger dancers, but this is executed well enough that it does not detract from the potency of the piece.
Krishna, Love Re-invented is not the strongest of SDT’s productions, but hits enough notes to make it an enjoyable show. Adding to its beauty is the gorgeous costume design by Ramli and picture-perfect lighting and set design by Sivarajah Natarajan.
The production’s relatable, uplifting themes and delightful choreography bear little fault, and the show’s flaws lie more in the execution; hence, one hopes that it might benefit from subsequent restagings and become a stronger one.
Krishna, Love Re-invented will be staged in Penang (March 15), Ipoh (March 16), Kuching (March 19), Kota Kinabalu (March 21), Kota Baru (April 18), Kuala Terengganu (April 19), Malacca (April 26) and Seremban (May 10). For more information, call Sutra Foundation at 03-4021 1092 (office hours, Mon to Fri only).