Bhanumati presented adavus in fresh formations, while Lakshmi Viswanathan opted for history.
INSPIRING NARRATION: From Lakshmi Viswanathan's ballet, "Vidya Sundari," Photo: S. R. Raghunathan.
Bharatanatyam dancer B. Bhanumati and her Bharatanjali group were the toast of the evening when they performed at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan auditorium under the auspices of Kartik Fine Arts.
Bhanumati's approach to dance can be said to be at once old and new, in that the effect is purely devotional, yet she seeks to present age-old adavus in fresh formations.
In the short programme, said to be the group's first full-fledged performance in Chennai, though they have clocked over 500 performances in Karnataka, the accent was on abhinaya.
In a situation where everyone seems to be trying to outdo everyone else in terms of complicated footwork and dramatic abhinaya, the innate quietness of Bhanumati's choreography stood out.
The songs too were all of a melodious, meditative nature.
Take Syama Shastri's swarajati in Bhairavai, "Kamakshi." Its slow tempo and spiritual nature make it a choice only of those dancers who understand that bhava, translated somewhat inadequately in English as `expression,' is born in the heart, not in hastas or facial expressions. This was treated like an `extended' solo.
Bhanumati began the abhinaya, but as dancers entered in pairs or single, they either formed tableaux to bring out the theme or replaced her as the solo interpreter.
The opening number was an invocation from the Mysore palace tradition, known as poorvaranga vidhi.
Set to Adi tala, it had similarities to the much more commonly seen alarippu, with its drum syllables and upward reaching movements of the dancers. What adds attraction to the poorvaranga vidhi is the inclusion of rhythmic poems to Ganapati and others.
Another striking number was Siva stuti. For once there was no effort to project Siva as a thundering dancer whose every step strikes up an earthquake. The dance arrangement had a meditative quality instead.
Bhanumati provided nattuvangam except when she danced herself, when she handed over the cymbals to her disciple.
Despite a tired throat, she recited the jatis musically. D. S. Srivatsa sang soulfully.
N. Narayanaswami on the mridangam provided fitting support.
An alert mridangam artiste is always an asset when negotiating the fractional pauses and dramatic friezes required in group work. Veena was by Chitra Lingam and flute by Narasimhamurthy.
Earlier, Srilatha Suresh, a disciple of Guru Delhi V. Krishnamoorthi, gave a short but spirited Bharatanatyam performance at Kartik Fine Arts, supported by her guru who gave a rousing display of nattuvangam and vocal.
While Srilatha has clean lines and competently executed the thunderous jatis, one found the gap between her feet widening beyond acceptable limits when sitting in the araimandi position or even while performing certain adavus like tat tai ta ha and the like. This was particularly visible in the Siva Tandavam and the tillana that came at the end, since speed and force of footwork seemed to be the driving motives here.
Srilatha also essayed Devi Ashta Rasa, in which various moods of Parvati were conveyed, with confidence.
Of recent history
Lakshmi Viswanathan's dance ballet, ``Vidya Sundari" - the legend of Bangalore Nagaratnammal,' was a good reminder of how recent history can be incorporated into the Bharatanatyam format, which often seems caught between the two extremes of stories from the Puranas at one end and complete abstraction at the other.
The story of the famed dancer and musician, abandoned by her father and guru and brought up by her mother to be a great artiste, has all the elements to inspire today's audiences. She fought the stigma against women performers, and after settling in George Town in Madras, became the secretary of the Madras Devadasi association.
Later she campaigned to allow women to sing at the Tyagaraja Aradhana dedicated to the composer she was devoted to.
Another significant act of Nagaratnammal was to publish the 18th century erotic poetry of Muddupalani at a time when the British had imposed a ban on publishing such work.
Lakshmi Viswanathan brought out the story with the help of Tyagaraja kritis, some of the love poems and other musical motifs in the traditional dance drama style, using sutradhars to introduce the story. She played the elder Nagaratnammal, while a competent group of her students played supporting roles.
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