PHOTO: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar
ZESTFUL Urmila Sathyanarayanan performing at the India Habitat Centre
It was refreshing to see the clean lines and energy of Chennai-based Urmila Sathyanarayanan, who gave a Bharatanatyam recital at New Delhi's India Habitat Centre in its HCL Concert series this past week. Her performance was set to the theme of `Stree Shakthi'.
Urmila chose the "Mathe" daru varnam in the raga Khamas, Adi tala, a composition of Harikesanallur Muthiah Bhagavatar, which she laced with brisk footwork, jatis and swara patterns. Dedicated to Goddess Meenakshi the Valorous One, the lyrics recount the story of the birth of the Goddess as the daughter of Malayadhwaja Pandya, king of Madurai, and her conquest of the demons Chanda, Munda, Shumbha and Nishumbha. Urmila's transformation from the compassionate Goddess into the fearsome Kali was effective.
Past, present and future
For the main part of the programme, she took up a Tamil poem of Va Ve Su, "Pen: Netru, Indru, Naalai" or "Woman: Past, Present Future". The first part deals with the ideal woman Savitri - who used strength of character to save her husband Satyavan from Death - and contrasts her with Nalayini, who reduced her self-respect to nil in entertaining every whim of her sick husband, to the extent of carrying him to the house of the girl he was infatuated with.
The second portion was about woman in the present. Educated women are emancipated to an extent, but carry the dual responsibility of office and home. And at home, as wife, mother and homemaker, she is expected to play innumerable roles. As for the uneducated woman, she does manual labour to support her children and drunkard husband, works herself to the bone and yet is paid half the wages of a man. Where is the balance, asks the poet. The audience responded with amused recognition to some of the familiar situations depicted by Urmila using the Bharatanatyam vocabulary, like the mrigashirsha hasta for the telephone, or standing in Aindra sthanam to depict a woman sitting at a desk before a keyboard. Even holding on to the handbag on her shoulder when leaving for home made a recognisable image in the Bharatanatyam mode. The final section declares that the future of women is glorious, that there will at last be a balance between the sexes.
The poem had been set to music by Swamimalai S.K. Suresh, who also provided the nattuvangam.
Mridangam was by Hari Babu, flute by Nataraj and violin by Veeramani. It was a well-balanced and supportive team.
It is known that the dance performances under this series are usually set to some theme. At times the struggle of the dancers is evident in selecting music and poetry suitable for the given theme. In Urmila's case, the poetry she chose was interesting enough, but it seemed the extra effort that went into pruning her art for the sake of the theme could have been saved.
Urmila is a dancer who delivers an exemplary performance in the standard format, but not everyone is cut out for experimental work. The stress on thematic presentations can work towards the detriment of the art if not handled with care.
With every field succumbing to fads and fashions, perhaps the organisers or selectors should discuss the format and treatment of the programme more carefully with the artiste.
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Chennai and Tamil Nadu