Aesthetic mix of trend and tradition
A dancer who mesmerises with her quiet charm, Meenakshi Chittaranjan is always trying something new. The artiste talks to CHITRA MAHESH about her evolution.
THE QUIET lane on De Silva Road, Alwarpet, Chennai, reverberates with the sounds of feet going through the basic adavus. There must have been about 20 children - all between 6 and 12. Their faces reflected the seriousness of purpose, despite it being one of those routine workouts that form the basis of good Bharatanatyam.
And their guru is no pushover. She makes sure that till they get it right she is not going to give them a break. And, the children don't seem to mind. They would also like to get it perfect. As she watches them fondly, she tells you how she got to this point in life mature and mellow as good wine, beautiful in thoughts, dignified in her pursuit of good art and above all, a dancer who mesmerises with her quiet charm.
Says Meenakshi Chittaranjan, nee Sabhanayakam, after a rather hectic season in December, ``I have taken up thillanas probably they say, 70 to 75 years old. The thread of the performances for the season seemed a little different the attitude of the heroine and I continued that train of thought in the padams as well. I chose something where she is not all the time pining or wilting. Actually that is something very relevant, because much of traditional dance is full of the pining nayika. Now in the 21st century, how many women relate to that?"
She continues, ``I was just getting a bit tired. Though the time tested ones give you a lot of options in presenting that heroine, what I did probably ten years ago has undergone a change now.'' She feels that the greatness of these items lies in their immense scope for ideas to set in. ``Sometimes I feel that with the new ones, you are not able to create so much. It is probably in the structure of the music. The old Varnams, for instance, have been composed by people who knew dance. So their compositions seemed very suitable - for example in a simple line of ``Mohamaana en meedhil." So many dancers express the situation of the nayika being in love in so many ways - and even today, when I am doing that line, I'm flooded with so many new ideas. The way it has been structured and the way the lines are sung and the swara patterns (especially because they are basically dance compositions) give one immense scope for improvisation."
How does Meenakshi relate to the modern trend that has gripped Bharatanatyam? She says that if the movements are aesthetic, if it has been created in a manner that is only a little different from the old, (even she is doing that constantly) if the lines are clean, it is fine." But is it easy to create a new paradigm? Very, very difficult, says Meenakshi. ``The experiment has to go on and any experiment for it to stand the test of time, takes long. Only, one has to be very careful that one does not mar the style." Does she think that Bharatanatyam has gone through an evolution and changed over the years? She thinks it has. ``Yes of course. I can feel the changes. My personal experience over the past 30 years, what I was taught and the strict rigidity that had to be maintained with the clear boundary lines that were laid down, have now definitely opened up. We have been given a little more space. And there is individualism that prevents the art from becoming a manufactured product. This is probably what is keeping Bharatanatyam alive and kicking.''
Bharatnatyam, Meenakshi feels, is very vibrant. ``Basically because we are dealing with human emotions emotions that have not changed over these years. It is the same love, hate, anger, jealousy and so on that still exist in everyone. What happened, maybe thousands of years ago, is still there. After all, it is only these emotions that we are showing through dance. So it can never go out of fashion or lose its appeal. But there is a change of pace; there is a change in time because the basic lifestyle itself has changed. Something this art is able to accommodate. But one has to be an intelligent dancer to be constantly aware of these things and try and find the right balance.'' And is this attitude evident in the students she has? To begin with students are put through a rigid course. ``You can't introduce all this individuality and creativity at this stage. The foundation has to be extremely strong and the best way to do it is to follow the time tested method of no compromise in the basic learning process. It's a beautiful and reliable setup like the typical menu in a Tamil home starting from paruppu sadham, sambar, rasam and then thayir sadham it is good and wholesome. The Bharatanatyam structure is made up of kowthuvam, alarippu, jathiswaram, varnam, padam and thillana. It has been planned in such a way that a child can grasp all the nuances of this art.''
How has her journey into this fascinating world of dance been? When it started, she says, probably it was just something her parents put her through. ``I was just attending it like school. I wouldn't say that I had any great passion or spark. Much later, after my teens, it dawned on me that it was not just a class. I enjoyed dressing up and the little bit of attention. A stage came when I started feeling the dance. I seemed involved with every movement. I started thinking. Earlier I was only repeating movements what I was told to do and certain things everybody did. Later it struck me that I should think about the lines that I was emoting and how deep it could go. There, I must say, the course with Kalanidhi Narayanan was a big eye opener. Because till then the teachers, the nattuvanars, were just teaching. There was no great dialogue or discussion on every action that we were doing, especially when it came to the abhinaya, the padams in particular, which are so full of emotions." And how does she see herself going from this point onwards? ``I hope to delve deeper and deeper. There is so much material, except that it is so exhausting and time consuming to identify new things because we don't have a readymade infrastructure whereby we can immediately set it to music. A scriptwriter and a musician are needed to get it all together. When we identify some idea, some poetry, which is nice, the next step is to find it a musical form. Often I have attempted, spent time and translated it to dance and then it didn't work at all. Something was missing. So trying something new, takes a lot of time. But I hope to find that time and keep moving in that direction.''
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