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Illuminating show on dance choreography

It was a happy confluence of teachers and disciples as Sri Shanmukhananda Sabha, Mumbai, celebrated its Golden Jubilee. NANDINI RAMANI writes...

"Karthikeya Kavutvam" by the students of Sri Raja Rajeswari Bharatanatya School.

"ALL THE rasas are the living streams of life that flow into the ocean of cosmic spirituality and that is what every choreographer must remember," said Dr. L. M. Singhvi, President, Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts Trust, New Delhi, inaugurating the two-day dance symposium at Sri Shanmukhananda Fine Arts and Sangeetha Sabha, Mumbai, which recently celebrated its golden jubilee. The event, a major happening in the dance scene of Mumbai, was a colourful committed pursuit into the varied aspects of dance choreography. It was a confluence of dancers, dance students and teachers, living through an experience of joy and harmony, during the different sessions of the symposium. A dedicated team of office-bearers, and volunteers led by S. Seshadri, octogenarian trustee of the Sabha, made it a successful attempt, well-coordinated by Viji Iyengar, one of the secretaries and a senior disciple of Guru Mahalingam Pillai.

The programme schedule provided a well-balanced choice of presenters of both traditional and contemporary ideas, focussing on the varied nuances of dance choreography, in its manifestation. Most of the sessions were interesting and educative, and were well received, particularly by the enthusiastic students of dance who had come in large numbers on both the days.

Some of the best presentations came from certain local artistes, some of them from Chennai. Noteworthy among the local scene were Asha Joglekar of Archana Nrityalaya, senior teacher in Kathak, and Nalini Raghu, senior Bharatanatyam teacher at Anushakti Lalit Kala Sansthan, and Darshana Jhaveri of the reputed Jhaveri Sisters who deserve special mention. Apart from these, the renowned T. K. Kalyanasundaram of Sri Raja Rajeswari School and Sachin Shankar (ballet unit) made the event special with their esteemed participation.

The lecture-demonstration by Asha Joglekar was a perfect synthesis of word sound and image. Focussing on the details that gradually develop to form the combinations in Kathak choreography, particularly the different varieties of Bhramaris and Chakkars that form the integral part of this dance tradition, the speaker linked them beautifully to visual poetry of movements, embellishing it with an apt creative touch. It was a joy watching the students of Asha demonstrating some segments with a thorough understanding of the technique.

Equally interesting and informative was the lec-dem by Darshana Jhaveri of the Manipuri Natanalaya (Mumbai, Kolkata and Manipur) of the rhythm patterns in Rasleela (classical dance dramas with aspects of Manipuri dance) and Sankeertan (invocatory to Lord Chaitanya), described with appropriate examples of the different stages and gesture in each of these to stress their deeply-rooted religious significance. Taj Rajmel, a gradual development of rhythmical nuances, representing the different stages of the soul uniting with the Supreme (Chaitanya), as depicted in Sankirtan, the importance of the prime instrument of mridanga (Pung) as the soul of Manipuri dance, the dance arrangement based on the syllables of the drum, the aspect of creativity within the traditional boundary, the different Yatis used (pipeelika, for instance), and the diverse varieties of rhythm combinations, were discussed at length by Darshana with lively demonstration, assisted by her student.

Intricacies of laya

Nalini Raghu, senior teacher of the renowned Thanjavur School of Pichaiya Pillai (son-in-law of Pandanallur Meenakshisundaram Pillai), presented an impressive in-depth analysis of the intricacies in laya with special focus on cross-rhythmic patterns in solo and group choreography. Nalini's crystal clear approach in defining and exploring this aspect of rhythm revealed her years of toil in the study and practical experience in this sphere, by no means an easy task to achieve. Nalini's skill in vocal music and mridangam play add to the rhythmical choreography. Nalini also has some dance compositions, dance jattiswarams and varnams to her credit.

Starting from the simple Tisra Alarippu segment, several solo and group combinations were demonstrated from the Bharatanatyam repertoire, to explain the different venues available for cross-rhythm orientation. The usage of Usi in the contexts of Jati rendering as well as the commencement of Adavu pattern were suitably explained, and their role in enhancing the beauty and enjoyment embedded in the visual presentation, were highlighted. Nalini also explained the beauty of laya intricacies employed by Kadirvel Pillai of Mumbai (also a Pichaiah tradition) with whom she collaborated and those of the doyen Thanjavur K. P. Kittappa Pillai. Firm adherence to classicism and total grip over these intricate areas of dance marked the performance of each student of Nalini, revealing the deep involvement of both the teacher and the taught.

Jhelum Paranjape of Smitalay (centre for Odissi) spoke on innovative choreography and with demonstrated the aspect through excerpts (in solo and in group). Innovation in movements of Odissi, adapting Marathi language for Odissi, and usage of different accompaniments were the other features discussed by this artiste in her presentation, with examples. Presenting a sloka from Leelavati, a mathematical treatise of Bhaskaracarya's (of the 12th century), (an exercise already successfully attempted by contemporary artiste, Chandralekha) Jhelum Paranjape outlined her approach to innovation in thematic productions.

Jhelum Paranjape performing Odissi with her students.

Among the veterans from Mumbai who participated, T. K. Kalyanasundaram, a direct descendant of he lineage of Panchapakesa Nattuvanar, gave brief introductions to the pieces presented by his students from Sri Raja Rajeswari School. Short numbers like Kautvams and excerpts from Kutrala Kuravanji highlighted the subtle nuances employed in both Nritta and Abhinaya. Noteworthy was Sri Rajeswari Kavutvam. Much of it was left for the audience to experience, and have the feel of traditional dignity of the repertoire.

Dr. Kanak Rele of Nalanda Centre, was brimming with energy and enthusiasm, as she dwelt on the nuances of theatre in the performing Arts of Kerala. Dr. Rele, a senior exponent of Kathakali and Mohiniyattom exhibited, her expertise through certain sequences in both forms, focussing on the aspect of Manodharma while elaborating on each character (Nakhatundi Lalita, Pootana in Kathakali apart from a poem from Akam Poetry and the role of Kaandhari for Mohiniyattom).

Sachin Shankar spoke of his experience in the field of creative dance and explained his training and technique of ballet that he used for his productions as early as from 1953. The emergence of a new, vibrant form of dance introduced by his mentor Uday Shankar, opening up fresh venues for expression in new directions was explained.

From Chennai, Kalanidhi Narayanan, Abhinaya exponent, in a very simple, brief presentation linked the different rasas through suitable padam and javali compositions.

Anita Ratnam impressed the audience immensely with a fluent communication of her ideas of contemporary technique for traditional themes.

Anita was precise, and well co-ordinated in thought and action, bringing up her views on conceptualisation of the different ideas and strengthening them with appropriate visualisation. "Penne, Penne," describing the faceless female in society, the use of cloth at various points of depiction for "Penn", and again in Nachiyar and Panchajanyam and finally the depiction of a discordant nightmare with movement technique, were some of the examples shown by Anita to support her presentation. The lines, diagonal movements and working at different levels, like low, medium, upper and aerial, used in group productions, were explained.


Padma Subrahamanyam, who chose to talk on Indian Dance for Non-Indian Music, simply stole the show with her demonstration of "Jatayu Moksha", for Tchaikovsky's music (overture for Romeo-Juliet) a video clipping of which was screened for this purpose.

The different Chaaris used in her dance technique, and her profound skill for dramatisation made the moving episode of the divine bird into a captivating portrayal.

Earlier, Padma gave touching references to relate her insight and involvement to venture on such fusion works. She received a thunderous response when she rendered a Russian song of love that she danced years ago during her cultural tour of that country.

Her voice was vibrant and reverberated with the strength of an opera singer, filling the entire atmosphere, a feat that Padma exhibited with such ease.

Adyar K. Lakshman, renowned teacher and nattuvangam expert gave a lively lecture, stressing the salient features of nattuvangam and the integral role of music in choreography.

Kuchipudi exponent, Shobha Naidu, discussed the choreographic angle of her tradition, with relevance to solo items of repertoire as well as in dance-dramas like Bhama Kalapam. Ambika Kameshwar, dancer-teacher dealing with special children, explained her approach to dance as a medium for healing disabilities and as a tool for over-all improvement.

In the evenings, the audience were treated to lively presentations by Priyadarshini Govind (Bharatanatyam) on the first day and Anita Ratnam in Nachiyar ballet, on the following day.

Critic Subbudu's keynote address was read out on the inaugural session and the valedictory address was presented by Indu Raman.

* * *

Firm faith in sampradaya

MEETING HER at the Dance Symposium at Sri Shanmukhananda Sabha was a happy moment. She is a keen rasika of fine arts and herself a fine musician. She had bagged the best singer prize from the Music Academy as early as in 1965. She is a devoted student of the Veena Dhanam tradition, having learnt from the renowned T. Brinda and T. Mukta. "My husband H. A. S. Mani was my first guru. My musical horizon expanded with further training from the stalwart, Thanjavur Sankara Iyer," said Alamelu Mani, who has been the Principal of the South Indian School of Music in Matunga, Mumbai since 1963 where she trains innumerable students. Alamelu Mani is a senior artiste who is regularly featured in AIR and Doordarshan. "Music is the soul companion of my life," said Alamelu Mani, who firmly believes in Sampradaya suddham both

in Patanatharam and in practice. Not many people might be aware of her potential and that she is respected as one of the finest teachers of Carnatic music that Mumbai can boast of. Her residence was frequented those days by stalwarts of music and dancers of great repute like Bala. Enchanting music therefore filled every nook and corner of the house. Each of these remains a memorable event.

The world should thank her for her best offering — son Hariharan whom she has moulded in the best of our musical tradition. It is the solid foundation in Carnatic music that Hariharan obtained from his mother and mentor that has made him what he is today, a celebrity singer.

The mother remains the perennial source of inspiration and a resource person for the son providing an enriching influence on his Ghazal renditions. — N. R.

* * *

Where the art is nurtured

THE TWO-DAY symposium at the Sri Shanmukhananda Sabha enabled one to appreciate the conducive atmosphere created for Bharatanatyam in this part of the country, and the devoted service of the different teachers and schools. A comfortable interactive mood was prevalent everywhere, adding to the zest of the younger dancers. Among the audience, one could find Rajee Narayanan, the respected senior teacher whose dance compositions are well-known for their quality and content.

Guru Thanjavur Kalyanasundaram.

Senior most teacher in Mumbai, Kalasadan Mani, the 80-year-old veteran who is celebrating the Golden Jubilee of his institution, was quietly observing the proceedings with keen interest.

Among the next generation of teachers in this metro, it was interesting to talk to Nalini Raghu, an unassuming, strict disciplinarian in every sense, who teaches some 400 students in the Anushakti Lalit Kala Sansthan, which has completed almost three decades of service in the field of Bharatanatayam. Nalini is assisted by Srinivasan and his wife Rama at this centre. "In order to make this art reach people of all categories, the Sansthan runs this five year course for a nominal tp people of all categories, the Sansthan runs this five-year course for a nominal fee and on completion, arangetrams are held only in groups. I feel that I am devoting my quality time when I am teaching these sincere aspirants, without expecting any gain or fame; I learnt from one of the best teachers of the Thanjavur Pichaiah traidition; it had beautiful, intricate, in-laid laya nuances that fascinated me from my childhood when I was in Thanjavur, to learn the art for several years under the guidance of Lakshmikantham, a renowned dancer of her times."

Many interesting anecdotes unfurl as Nalini speaks with enthusiasm. One can sense a deep passion for this art, and a life-long commitment that Nalini expresses through her work. Nalini comes from a family that is deeply interested in fine arts. Incidentally, she is the elder sister of the illustrious Kamal Hassan.

Jayasri Rajagopal (disciple of Padman Subrahmanyam), Jaysri Nair (disciple of Kadirvel Pillai), and Sucheta Chapekar from Pune were all seen engrossed in the sessions.

Nalini Raghu.

It was a pleasant experience to talk to the students of Thanjavur K. Kalyanarsundaram witnessing a crisp Kavutvam danced by little Sruthi, great grand daughter of the renowned Kamalambal of Thanjavur and the grand daughter Kalyanasundaram and Mythili was even more heart-warming.

It was touching to see the Guru-sishya bondage and the reverence the disciples displayed even as the veteran thought of them as the torch-bearers of this great tradition.

When Amarnath Sury, one of the Secrataries of Shanmukhananda Sabha, announced in between the sessions, that they would soon be starting Bharatanatyam classes, the audience responded with joy.

The Sabha's service to Carnatic music by imparting training at their Sangeeta Vidyalaya is well-known.

The day is not far off, when this institution would be celebrated as a major centre for two of the best among the performing arts of South India.

N. R.

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