A fresh touch to Margam
Dance-drama by the disciples of Chitra Visweswaran at Bharat Kalachar ... colourful pageant. Pic. by N. Balaji
IN SPITE of the `predictability' of Alarmel Valli's repertoire, there was a sizable, appreciative audience, at her dance recital, proving the value of the Bharatanatyam margam even today. Of course, in Valli's hands the style and so the margam, undergoes a transformation acquiring a freshness and a finish all its own, almost as if her energy and free spirited dancing can provide a shot of adrenalin to those watching her.
Part of that finish is to do with the perfect co-ordination between the dancer and her orchestra, which was led by the melodious singer Lata Ramchand, with C. K. Vasudevan on the nattuvangam, Ranjani Ramakrishnan on the violin and Shakthivel Muruganandam on the mridangam. In fact, the music was so good that it might have eclipsed a lesser dancer.
The opening "Shiva Panchakshara Stotram" composed in ragamalika, khanda nadai Adi talam, incorporating the pancha nadai, was full of pep and vigour and a spontaneous outpouring of bhakti. Her teermanams in the subsequent Thanjavur Quartet ragamaalika padavarnam, "Sami Ninne Korinaanura'' set to Rupaka talam reflected the same sparkling movement patterns and precise geometry, each stamp of the feet displaying Valli's absolute control over laya.
The harsh reality of being a performing artiste is that nothing can be taken for granted; it is like having to prove yourself again and again. The lilting swarams were performed without a break in between, tapping into Valli's endless store of energy.
The heroine of the varnam is in love with Lord Brihadeeswara of Thanjavur, her anguish captured vividly by the dancer's uninhibited mimetic skills and eloquent stances in the Pantuvarali phrase, "Prema Meeraga Tanjapuri Vaasa.'' Valli's continued exploration of Sangam literature provides interesting glimpses into ancient Tamil society, and "Minnolir Iveraral,'' her latest, an encounter between a rake and a young woman where the former tries to charm the latter with flattery, composed in Hemavathi and Mohanam ragams, was one such representation.
The portrayal from Kalithogai flitted between the flirtatious couple, and the woman recounting the meeting to her friend, Valli managing the switch of characters and situations with a twinkle in her eye and a skip in her step. But more effective was the other Sangam poem from Kurunthogai, `Siraipani' set in the melancholy, Sivaranjani ragam.
The music for both verses was composed by Prema Ramamurthy as was the exciting swaralaya in Hamsanandam ragam, Adi talam composed with a verse from the Purunannooru anthology. Despite Valli's brilliance there was a feeling of disquiet in the end. Are we as audience demanding more or was it just a temporary disconnect?
Vibrant group dance
A colourful pageant of Hindusthani and Carnatic music, vibrant group dances, and dignified interpretations, brought to life the devotional poetry of two esteemed Vaishnav women-saints Andal and Mirabai in ``Dwarakanatham Bhaje." Choreographed by Chitra Visweswaran, with the assistance of Sukanya Ravinder and composed by R. Visweswaran, the dance drama was presented by the senior dancer along with her disciples from the Chidambaram Academy of Performing Arts.
Chitra as Mirabai and Uma Namboodripad as Andal anchored the show while all the excitement came from the excellent group choreography and imaginative lighting.
The scene of preparation for the Kaman pooja in the Todi ragam, ``Thai oru thingalum" paasuram, was very aesthetic, as was the lively presentation of the Holi festival in the Sankara raag, ``Phagun ke dia," that had a thillana korvai woven within. The young dancers filled the stage with confidence, winding their way through diverse geometric arrangements that the well-practised movements afforded.
The finale was a memorable blend of dance and mime in which the whole group of dancers comprising Sukanya, Deepti, Leema, Archana, Sneha, Meenakshi, Chindumathi, Sindhu Shyam, Sangeetha, Ashmitha, excelled themselves in the roles of frolicking gopis whose clothes are stolen by Krishna that Andal pleads for. The chatusra gati sollus accompanying the water play of the gopis was easily the crowning glory of all scenes, the imaginative choreography slotted into a catchy rhythm. Simple yet very effective. Percussion handled by Aniruddhan, nattuvangam by Vasudevan, mridangam by Adyar Gopinath, tabla by Chandru kept the show going at a brisk pace.
Unfortunately the musical aspect of the production was uneven. While Visweswaran's versatility with both systems of music is admirable, perhaps there was too much of a burden on a single singer. He would have benefited with a partner. Sitarama Sharma on the violin was very subdued, while Devarajan on the flute was more audible. The tambura was handled by Muniaswamy.
Uniting the only woman Azhwar saint and the Rajput princess together on one platform through their single-minded devotion became all the more poignant because some of the bhajans have been popularised by M. S. Subbulakshmi. The production ended with a homage to the departed melody queen with Rajaji's composition, `Kurai Ondrum Illai.'
Full of rhythm
`Dark-hued' or `Shyama' is the name of Shobana's latest offering, the common thread running through the assorted items centring on a dark-hued character being the only justification for the title, besides being Kaali's benign avtaar. But that detail was only incidental, the recital was really an eclectic rasaa experience, Goddess Kaali being the only recurrent factor.
Shobana is a consummate artist, an unconventional one though, who is guided purely by instinct and bound by no other rules than her own sense of aesthetics. The foundation retains the classicism; it is only the edifice which is of Shobana's making. A powerful inner rhythm guides her nritta, while her expressional vocabulary includes the stylistic and the lokadhaarmic, quite similar to Padma Subrahmanyam's mono acting technique.
The unusual became the usual that evening. Take for instance the opening Anjali in Nattai ragam where only the melody of Randhini's voice and the rhythm of the bells on the dancers' feet pierced the silence, creating a sense of unsullied purity. This subtle artistry continued into the effervescent group choreography that brimmed over with the excitement of movement and rhythm.
The ragamalika, Adi talam varnam ``Jayam jayamena Kaaliodu aadiga," on Bhavatarini, the beautiful form of Kaali, written by Dr. Hridaya and composed by Rajesh Vaidya, dealt with the goddess' mysticism, her different forms ranging from the fierce to the benign, while detailing the abstractions of the Kali yantra, the Kundalini shakthi, and tantric worship including the partaking of the panchamakara. There was plenty of dramatic content in the gory mutilation of demons, in the drunken stupor of the goddess, and in the practice of sacrifice in worship, but they were conceived aesthetically, the drama not overplayed. Rich orchestration and excellent dance sequences accompanied by the Konnakkol rendering, sometimes performed alone, sometimes in a group, characterised the presentation. Shobana's keen sense of rhythm seems to have been imparted to her students, one of whom, Archana Ganesan, handled the nattuvangam with precision, guided by Ramakrishna, an ace mridangist. Rajaram on the ghatam, Sivaraman on the violin and Bhavani Prasad on the veena made up the complete orchestra.
The Ratipathipriya ragam, Adi talam thillana, by Ghatam S. Kartick was a scintillating show of expert choreography and good execution. Shobana's team of enthusiastic dancers comprised Suma Mani, Seethalakshmi, Archana, Ashwini, Bhavani, Revathi and Charanya. The opulent fare concluded with a recording of M. S. Subbulakshmi's Annamacharya krithi in Kurinji ragam, ``Ksheerabdi kanyaku," a gentle Mahalakshmi having the last word.
There must have been a surge of pride in dancer Mythili Kumar, watching her older daughter Rasika perform, while her younger daughter Mallavika conducted the programme. And the mother is justified in her pride, for both daughters proved to be inherently talented and hardworking as well. The unhurriedness that characterised the recital was reminiscent of days gone by, when there was time `to stand and stare.' Paying homage to the gods, Rasika handled the Ishta Devata Stuthi with fervour. She has an expressive face, and was very clear in her delineations that dealt with each deity in isolation. Her footwork was good and so was her timekeeping, that was more visible in the concluding thillana. She became a young girl who feels she is being persecuted for no fault of hers in the Khamas Deshadi javali, ``Appaduru Kulonaithine." Rasika's portrayal of the hurt and bewilderment at other's unkind remarks was sensitive.
The senior artiste from North America, Mythili took up the Yadukulakhambodi ragam, Adi talam, varnam, ``Sami ninne" where the nayika is in love with Lord Padmanabha. With a maturity born of continuous engagement with the art, Mythili was unpretentious in her admiration for the nayaka, and in her distress with his apparent indifference. Padmanabha's various forms as seen in different temples were also well thought out and illustrated. The agile dancer's tireless execution of the uniformly long theermanams also requires special mention.
But the most impressive in the varnam was Mallavika's precise, well-intoned nattuvangam. In fact she was easily the star of the show, supported effectively by Viswanathan on the mridangam. She displayed sensitivity in toning down during the abhinaya pieces, picking up once again towards the end in the Krishna Karnamritham delineation and in the Misra Sivaranjani thillana, a composition of Lalgudi Jayaraman set to Adi talam.
Radha Badri's music was delightful as were the accompanying musicians, Bhagyalakshmi on the flute and Muruganandam on the violin. This was wholesome fare traditionally served.
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