The Indian dance drama "Gajamukha," performed Friday at Lisner Auditorium, was primarily powered by the production's superb musicians. Not that the story of the elephant-headed Hindu deity, Lord Ganesha, faltered -- nor did its interpretation through movement and text, nor did the dancers. Rather, the five-part production was like a regularly scheduled flight. It relayed the tale in predictable directions, using the broad strokes of story line rather than delving into nuances of meaning or unearthing symbolism from the wealth of texts and poems on Ganesha that every classical Indian dance choreographer has at hand.
It was the vocalist O.S. Arun who gave the production lift. His voice is intelligent. He is adept at picking up the mood of the dancers and rendering nuances with the quavering notes of South Indian music or the flourishes of North Indian music.
"Gajamukha" is told in three scenes: how Ganesha was created and how he got his elephant head; the curse of Nandi the bull; and the story of why the moon waxes and wanes. These are enclosed by an opening invocation dance (the best of all the sections) and a concluding imitation of a temple ritual.
"Choreographer" is too limited a term to describe what Jayanthi Raman, like others in Indian classical dance, does when she creates a work. A subject is chosen, texts perused, and scenes or themes gleaned. Musicians are engaged to prepare music for the production as the dances begin to take shape. Perhaps some new texts (as in this case) are commissioned.
Raman is relatively staid in her conception of "Gajamukha." Where she has flown off in a contemporary direction is in the inclusion of many dance (and music) styles in one production. She incorporates folk dance, pop dances and classical dance genres. In doing this, she joins the community of contemporary Indian choreographers. Watching "Gajamukha" is akin to watching "Giselle" with some scenes in ballet, some done as jazz and some as modern dance. Radical? Yes. Does it work? Questionable. The observer is made more aware of the mechanics of innovation rather than of its impact.
Six of the dancers and all five musicians were brought from India (principal dancer Raman lives in Portland, Ore.). L. Narendra Kumar was a standout for conveying character with flair and refinement. Yet all of the dancers were clearly professionals, the instrumentalists rocked, and vocalist Arun successfully piloted the production to a shaky but safe landing.