The episode of Abhimanyu’s death in the Mahabharat is perhaps the most heart wrenching of the many emotionally wrought chapters of the great epic. His youth, his gallantry and the circumstances of his tragic death make for high-strung drama.
The story of Abhimanyu’s life—starting from his birth to Krishna’s sister Subhadra and the great warrior Arjun, to his death on the battlefield—has been translated into a dance drama for the annual ballet festival of the Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra, Delhi’s premier performing arts institute. It is one of the four dance ballets that is being presented through the week by the Kendra’s permanent dance drama group. The others are Karna, Meera and Parikrama.
The Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra was established in 1952. Its production of Ram Lila has become a notable annual event in the cultural life of the Capital, and over 60,000 people witness it every year during the month of Dussehra.
Apart from its focus on classical dance forms such as Kathak, Bharatanatyam and Odissi, the Kendra takes a special interest in the martial dance form of Chhau that originated in eastern India. The Kendra’s research wing has worked to resuscitate this folk form over the years.
The hour-and-a-half long Abhimanyu exploits the blatantly martial nature of Chhau and channels dance though the Mahabharat’s ancient web of connivance, guile and physical violence. Of Chhau’s three sub branches—Seraikella Chhau from Jharkhand, Purulia Chhau from Purulia in West Bengal and Mayurbhanj Chhau from Mayurbhanj in Orissa—the ballet draws from the third. Unlike the first two, Mayurbhanj Chhau does away with masks though other props are still an important part of the performance.
The ballet is directed and produced by the Kendra’s director and vice-chairperson, Shobha Deepak Singh. Justin McCarthy, the production adviser for the ballet , deserves a special mention for the high production values espoused. Everything, from the costumes to the minimalist sets and the lighting, is nothing less than perfect. The casting is appropriate—a young male dancer, Ram Hari, plays Abhimanyu. Vidya Sharma, who plays his wife Uttara, is evocative as well, though the ballet clearly belongs to its lead dancer.
The most remarkable aspect of the production—important as it is for any ballet production—is the precision and synchronization at different stage sections. For instance, at the beginning, while Abhimanyu’s parents, Subhadra and Arjun, are entangled in an erotic embrace at the front, we see a depiction of Abhimanyu in his mother’s womb at the back of the stage. During the rest of the ballet, swords clash in perfect unison in elaborate martial sequences. The characters of Abhimanyu, Krishna, Arjun and Duryodhan ( played by the same dancer) manage to marry their aggressive footwork and movements with subtle emotions.
Cast: Abhimanyu (Ram Hari), Krishna/Yudhishtra (Raj Kumar Sharma), Arjun/Duryodhan (Swapan Mazumdar), Dronacharya (Shashidharan Nair), Uttara (Vidya Sharma), Subhadra (Havisha Sharma).
Produced and directed by: Shobha Deepak Singh, choreography, Shashidharan Nair, music, Barun Gupta, script, Neelabh, lighting, Gautam Bhattacharya, and production adviser, Justin McCarthy.
A Festival of Ballets is on till 15 May. Parikrama will be performed at 7pm on 14-15 May at Kamani Auditorium, Copernicus Marg, New Delhi. Visit here for future performances.