How does one describe the quality of something which makes a dancer an eternal favourite of the audience? It is ultimately an indefinable quality which neither dance competence nor stage presence can explain. For even given these as a base, there are dancers who do not make the grade.
In the case of Alarmel Valli’s overweening popularity, undiminished over the years, the palpable joy in her dance would seem to communicate with the audience who are with her in whatever she does. Her recital predictably attracted the largest audience.
The dancer began with a special invocation to Prakriti based on a mix of verses from Abhigyana Shakuntalam, Silapadikkaram, Atharva Va and Subramania Bharati - portraying two faces of Nature serene and romantic on the one hand and cataclysmic in destruction on the other, the music by Rajkumar Bharathi also taking on many hues of a ragamalika.
The water falls, peacocks, green woods and clouds contrasted with the mood of the monstrous waves and agitated Nature based on Bharatiar’s ‘Dikkugal Ettum Sidari.’
The varnam ‘Kaana Aavalaanen Endan Naadanai’ both composition and the ragamalika score, a joint effort of the dancer and Prema Ramamurthy, was built around the conventional sensual/spiritual yearning of the nayika for the Lord of Dance in this instance, with the onset of Spring kindling her desire making her chide him for his show of indifference to her feelings. The dancer in the opening line showed the ever increasing desire, with the nayika seeing only the peerless Lord of Dance in the rising Sun, the clouds and the rain drops and every aspect of Nature.
Having seen this varnam performed more than once by the dancer, I must admit to a sense of loss in not having the feel of the usual Pallavi and Anupallavi rise to a climax in the charanam refrain - which one is wont to experience in the traditional varnam. And also in the overlong jatis, while one has always admired the dancer’s superb feel for laya, I cannot throw aside the feeling that the varnam has a protocol where the jatis should translate into arrangements of adavu movements (particularly given Valli’s fine dance lines) instead of ‘nadais’ which have a joyous rhythmic lilt but do not do full justice to the sollus in the teermanam.
Valli’s best has always been her visualisation of old Tamil poetry of the Sangam age. Her work shows with what compelling immediacy these ancient verses can communicate, their message as relevant today as when they were composed. The work she chose - ‘Kayamalar’ - was based on the Kalithogai, Prema Ramamurthy’s score again a ragamalika. A human situation, it shows a young girl finding the suitor she fancies too shy to approach her and speak his mind, deciding to give the young man a lead and helping hand by asking him to push the swing holding her harder. Whether the audacious invitation results in a declaration of his feelings, is left to the imagination. Such little episodic nuggets caught in dance narrative have a unique charm. While Valli’s dance was self explanatory, one would have liked more clarity in vocalist Nandini Anand’s sahitya. Sakthivel (mridangam), Srilakshmi Venkataramani (violin) and Govindarajan (flute) comprised the rest of the music team.