by Supriya

In review: Voyance takes a look at Amith K’s recent performance in Kerala, where he performed two items choreographed by his teacher, Guru Nirmala Panicker.

When you pursue a career in dance (or any performing art), you quickly realise that the stage is an extremely uncomfortable place to perform. Not just that, the costumes are uncomfortable, the make-up and jewellery are usually stuffy and yet you fall in love with performing on stage. There are many things that a dancer must overcome to become comfortable on any stage: getting accustomed to the bright lights that blind you right on the spot, controlling the urge to lick your lips to stop them from drying up rapidly, and learning to ignore your sweat glands that have suddenly turned on like floodgates! And then there is the feeling of time and your body having slowed down; you feel every single move and every small mistake you make in full consciousness. Everything is magnified.

Being a dancer unable to overcome these little aspects of performing on a stage is never a bad thing, in my opinion. As I mentioned before, the stage is an uncomfortable place, and it takes time and experience to become a good performer.

Amith K performing at Layam Koothambalam, Tripunithura | Photo Courtesy: Sreeraj T (@storiesbysreeraj)

With Amith K, I know, his journey started the same. But during his performance for the Navakerala Sadhas on November 19 at the Layam Koothambalam in Tripunithura, Kerala, he showcased his growth as a Mohiniyattam performer. From his very first performance at Irinjalakuda a year ago, where he presented his unique interpretation of Tagore’s ‘Chitra’, Amith K has arrived, and he is here to stay.

Overcoming the little challenges (mentioned above) that every dancer has to face, you now see a skilled and transformed body on stage. The moment he takes position on the left side of the stage, shaking off the nerves, till he finishes each item, you see him be the storyteller through his dance, without breaking out of character even once. 

From being the man who followed his teacher’s technique while he danced, he has found his own way and style with Mohiniyattam; his individuality shines through. The way he now subconsciously rests his arms in the perfect ‘dolam’ and then raises it to the rhythm of the song, it is ALL HIM. The grace and lasya that are so natural in Mohiniyattam, are second nature to Amith on stage. 

Amith performed two items choreographed by his teacher, Guru Nirmala Panicker, at the event: a Devi Stuthi composed in Madhyamavathi Ragam and Adi Thalam and a Varnam in Reethigowla Ragam and Adi Thalam, written and composed by Guru Nirmala herself. 

The Devi Stuthi is composed in praise of the Devi, who is kind and removes all sorrow. Amith beautifully depicts Devi, who is beautiful, as the ruler of the worlds, and who is seated on a magnificent lotus. The stuthi further describes how Devi, with her long tresses that fly like the vandu (beetle), resides in her celestial abode on the palkadal. Amith enchants us as he shows us how the little beetles play with each other; his eyes and hands (in Mukuram mudra) mimic the swift, sweeping movements of the insect.

Photo Courtesy: Sreeraj T (@storiesbysreeraj)

The Varnam was about Shiva, the one who reduces Kamadeva to ashes when disturbed while meditating, and the one who turns into Neelakanta after consuming the poison that emerges from the sea (when the devas and the asuras churn the sea to retrieve amrit or elixir from the bottom of the sea).

Amith beautifully transforms from a calm, meditating Lord Shiva to an angry Lord Shiva and also the clever Kamadeva in the first half of the Varnam. His expressions are smooth and not overly animated, as you see in a lot of dancers. He wonderfully tells us the story of when Kamadeva was ordered to wake the Lord from his meditation. He seeks help from Vasantha, the god of spring, and together they create the perfect setting for Shiva and Parvathy’s union. When the moment is right, Kamadeva strikes Lord Shiva with the arrow of love. Lord Shiva instantaneously opens his third eye to burn Kamadeva, the God of Love, into ashes.

In the next section, Amith does justice to the choreography, as he depicts the gods and the asuras proudly and eagerly challenging each other for the Samudra Manthan to see who will be able to retrieve the elixir of life that lays at the bottom of the ocean. Amith shows us how Mount Mandara is brought to the scene to be used as the rod and how Vasuki, the lord of the serpents, is used as the rope to churn the sea. 

Amith then masterfully enacts how the gods and asuras start fainting after consuming the poison that emerges from the sea. When he faints on the stage the first time, you almost feel it isn’t choreographed. That is how well he holds on to the characters and keeps you enraptured as he continues to tell us the story.

Amith then turns into Lord Shiva, who is here to help, and consumes the poison himself. The Lord, who starts reeling under the poison’s influence, is assisted by his consort Parvathy, who comes and holds a tight grip over his throat to stop the poison from spreading all over his body.

Photo Courtesy: Sreeraj T (@storiesbysreeraj)

Lord Vishnu also joins and closes Shiva’s mouth so that he doesn’t spit out the poison either. Amith skillfully adopts and transforms himself into various characters. Like the worried Parvathy, a concerned Lord Vishnu, and then into the Lord Shiva, who is now called ‘Neelakantha’; the lord of all the nine rasas and dance itself.

Amith uses the stage well, moving around and using the space that is available to him, especially during the pure nritta portions of the Varnam. At the end of the performance, you are left wanting to see more, hoping the story lasted longer, or that the music did not end. 

But like all good things, it did end. The storyteller in Amith is enchanting, and his mode of storytelling through Mohiniyattam is perfect, no doubt. It is safe to say that the artform is safe in his hands. Amith is comfortable on stage, and the stage loves him. I look forward to seeing more from this enchanter, more of his own interpretations and stories, through this artform that has chosen him. 

By Supriya

Supriya began her journey as a published writer with an internship with a leading newspaper in the country. From there, she has been a dedicated writer for various publications over the years. A trained Odissi dancer, she holds a deep passion for art forms and heritage.