PERFORMING OR teaching two dance styles side by side makes for more diversity, although there is the risk of one style affecting the other. It is perhaps a concern for dancer Anandavalli, who teaches and choreographs in both Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi in Australia. The invocatory "Vinayaka Anjali" in Hamsadhwani ragam, Adi talam, was consequently confusing since the Kuchipudi technique was dominant in a Bharatanatyam recital. Fortunately, the confusion was restricted only to the opening piece.
Anandavalli's deep involvement and informal manner gave the performance a homely feel, almost like a chamber concert. Her unhurried approach allowed the audience time to savour the delectable fare she presented, from the Husseini swarajathi "Maiyyal konda" onwards.
The choreography of the Tamil translation of the swarajathi by mentor Udipi Laxminarayan was nothing short of brilliant in the mathematical complexities of the sapta talas incorporated into the Rupaka talam compostion after the charanam. And to the dancer's credit, she was able to keep pace with the demanding changes in rhythm. Complementing Anandavalli's graceful nritta was her emotive expertise visible in the sancharis; describing the nayaka as a Shiva bhaktha, she stood with folded hands in front of the altar with so much devotion in her eyes, it did not seem like playing a role; similarly, Chamendra Wodeyar's procession in the line `Durairaja meechum' was dealt with a fitting sense of awe.
The orchestra had an expert line-up: nattuvangam by Udipi Laxminarayan and his daughter Madhuvanthi Prakash, percussion by Shakthivel, vocal music by Shantha Jayaram and violin was by Muruganandan. It was only P. R. Venkatasubramani on the keyboard who was out of place, except in the javali.
While Anandavalli is a well-rounded dancer, abhinaya is her forte. Her big, expressive eyes do make a difference, but it is her inner composure that shines through, and that's why her 'bhakthi' is so moving. "Mukthi allikkum" in Chenchuruti ragam, Misra Chapu talam, a philosophical composition questioning the use of money or learning if not accompanied by devotion and humility, was a moving delineation, the best that evening.
An unusual javali in Hindolam ragam penned by critic and scholar V. A. K. Ranga Rao, "Mandayaanara madakarinini ra" portrayed a sensuous woman, `with the gait of an elephant' who makes advances to her paramour; Anandavalli's delicate and dignified handling gave the piece an added lustre. One can only hope the dancer does not keep up her promise to retire from performing. There is yet much to be learnt from her.
It is said that a civilisation can be judged by examining the status of women in the society. From the vedic times, women in ancient India enjoyed an exalted position, that's why probably this civilisation was so prominent. `Stree Kavi Ratna,' senior dancer Padma Subrahmanyam's latest production, seeks to explore this aspect with the works of eminent women-saint poets and scholars of India, like Gargi and Maithreyi, both of whom were associated with Rishi Yajnavalkya, and Karaikkal Ammaiyar, among others.
Padma has scripted her own formula for successful communication. There is a studied irreverence that the dancer maintains for her protagonists, that allows her to introduce some lightness into serious situations. But this should not be confused with flippancy, which may imply a lack of application. Rather, one can envision the detailing in the music and movement choreography that blend so well together in her productions. There were some endearing segments of choreography that were given an added depth with Padma's warmth. One was the ninth century saint-poetess Avvaiyar's Aathichoodi set in Mohana. It was presented as a delightful session with young children, to whom the explanations are made with amusing examples.
Two paasurams, `Aazhi mazhai Kanna' and `Vaiyathu Vazhvirgal' presented Andal commanding the rain-God to pour down emptying the ocean for the good of the people, and advising the people of the dos and don'ts while performing puja for rain. Beautifully composed in Amritavarshini and Bhagyashree ragams, Padma made it more meaningful with her portrayal of Andal as a young, enthusaistic `mugdha' nayika.
The orchestra was led by the sweet-voiced Gayathri who also wielded the cymbals. She was assisted by singer Vijayalakshmi Krishnamurthy. B.Kannan on the veena provided melodic and percussive support side by side. Nellai Balaji on the mridangam, Venkatesh on the flute, and baby Shyamkrishnan on the mini dholak, were part of the well-co-ordinated effort.
The only place where the tuneful music seemed to detract from the piece was in the Akka Mahadevi segment. The haunting folk tune and rhythm of `Aiyya, aiyya Chennamallikarjuna' set in Hamsanaadham ragam, detracted from the dilemma expressed by the 12th century Kannada Saint about the impossibility of trying to reach the One who is beyond speech, mind or sound vibrations, through meditation, music, chanting or love. But the dancer's characterisation of the devotee with only her long hair to cover her body, living in the forest amongst wild animals and dead bodies was very good. The best was however saved for the last, where Meerabai's bhajan ``Pyare Darshana deejo aa' composed in Abhogi was made into a musical masterpiece, with the sahitya interspersed with swarams and rhythmic interludes. One may be sceptical about the treatment of such a bhakthi-laden composition in which Meera yearns for a glimpse of Krishna. But Padma proved equal to the task of being able to handle the intensity of the bhava while alternating with the nritta sequences.
The bhajan that commenced on a note of studied casualness, gradually built up to a crescendo that matched the growing intensity of Meera's feelings, until in the end while meditating there is a burst of emotion from deep within and she suddenly sees his form in her mind's eye. She puts out her hands to check if there really is a form... Meera finally opens her eyes while clinging on tight to Krishna's arms and finds her dreams have come true... There cannot have been anyone in the audience not moved by that splendid dramatisation...
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