Thursday, January 04, 2007

Spectacular form

REAL TRIUMPH The performance presented an altruistic dimension to the demons

The seven-day Yakshagana festival in Bangalore recently was sparklingly refreshing.

In most traditional art forms the subject is usually mythology or the epics. It is all about spectacle, colourful costumes, lilting tunes, dances, the war between gods and demons, and the triumph of good over evil.

Such a spectacle was created for the audience recently, when the Gopalkrishna Yakshagana Mandali, toured and performed seven pieces from mythology keeping with the traditional Bayalaata (open air theatre) form for seven days in Bangalore recently.

Unlike the growing trend in the cities — of performing Yakshagana in a proscenium theatre — this weeklong festival took place in Girinangar, Bangalore.

The stage and the open-air auditorium were simple in design. A rectangular stage supported by four pillars was put together in the middle of the road. The audience, on chairs and on the floor, viewed the play from three sides of the stage, as always with any Bayalata.

Wide range
The seven plays, ranged from some well-known mythological stories or prasangas like Bhukailasa, Krishna Parijatha, Girija Kalyana, Jambhavati Veeramani, and Damayanti Swayamvara, some regional stories like Bappanadu Kshetra Mahaatme and Raaja Soudaasa.

Even while the stress is on the victory of good over evil, the real triumph of these performances is the manner in which they present altruistic dimension of the demons. For instance, in Bappanadu Kshetra Mahime, Daarikasura (the demon of the streets) is benevolent, a giver. Like most classical plays, the plays in the festival were male centric. The all male cast, a characteristic feature of Yakshagana, plays both the male and female roles. The Vidhushaka, or jester plays another prominent role in Yakshagana. Mijaru Timmappa and Balakrishna Maniyani as jesters were most enjoyable.

Eshwar Bhatt easily slipped into the female roles of Mandodari and Girije. M.R. Navada, stood out as Ravana and Daarikasura and managed several mid-air twirls in his performance. The 34 artists troupe was a good mixture of experienced artists and novices.

Time travel
Conventionally, a Yakshagana or a bayalaata performance, begins late in the evening, and is performed till about early hours of the morning.

However, this time round, the troupe began the performance at 6.30 p.m. and ended by 10. 30 p.m. This was obvious, because traditionally they are practiced and performed for over eight hours, but in this case had to be drastically condensed to three hours. There is no written script in Yakshagana, but the Bhagavatha, the lead singer, and for all purposes, the conductor or the director of the play, follows a song script, which traces the entire story line. The characters constantly interact with the himmela and the bhagavatha.

The Bhagavatha on his part renders the play and takes it to its end. It is probably this interactive nature of Yakshagana, that allows for the social focus to set in. Sometimes they even connect the mythological story to a local incident.

For many in the audience, this was probably the first brush with the ancient folk form.
Over the seven days, the performances were packed. and local patrons like Krishna Bhatt sponsored the whole festival.

The Hindu
Friday, 5th January 2007