The dance seminar that took place at Thennangur recently had a lingering effect on both the artists and the rasikas alike.

The sky was yellow with a tinge of orange. The birds were chirping. The Bell was chiming. Even as ‘Om Namo Narayanaya’ was wafting through the air, a group of people was performing Surya Namaskaram facing the temple. No. We are not talking about a yoga class nor are we trying to describe the beauty of the dawn.

The aforementioned sequence happened very recently at Thennangur, a picturesque village about 120 km from Chennai and it was part of the ‘Annual Dance Camp’ organised by Natyarangam, the dance wing of Narada Gana Sabha. This year’s camp, the 14th in succession, attained a special significance as it coincided with the 17th anniversary of the Panduranga Temple.

It is indeed very difficult and in fact well nigh impossible to define the Camp. Is it a ‘workshop’? Is it ‘training’? Is it a ‘seminar’ or is it a ‘symposium’?

It is none of the above and yet what one gains at the end of the camp lingers on for a long time (for many it is for a lifetime).

Appealing sessions

“Any performance should linger on in the minds of the audience for a long time,” said Malavika Sarukkai, a dancer par excellence during the ‘aangika ‘sessions.

Her correcting the postures of the participants asking them to make some minute changes even in ‘Natyarambham,’ was appealing and revealing. It was a learning experience not just for the dancers but also for a rasika. How we take many things for granted in life without ever questioning ourselves!

Ganga came alive at Thennangur and flowed musically as Malavika along with the participants imitated the river with ‘jal jal jalati’ syllables. It was gentle, feathery, breezy and effervescent. The entire hall resonated with sustained vibrancy.

Ganga continued to flow in the voices of Ranjani and Gayatri, during the Vaachika sessions. Ragas shimmered with resplendence making one visualise allusive images. Infused with a haunting air, their Hindolam enticed and invited the artists to dance. This amalgamation of music and dance was meaty, moving, tender and sublime.

The sisters spoke about the importance of purity in music and stressed that intellectualism should never be at the cost of purity. Each raga has a unique quality and evokes different emotions. At the same time, the emotional depth depends on the way a particular raga is rendered. Subhapantuvarali, for example, is a raga that evokes karuna rasa. But when rendered too fast, the rasa loses its colour and flavour. They also sang some phrases of Kedaragowla with gamakam and some plain phrases to show how gamakas can act as a game changer in a raga. It is imperative that a dancer understands such subtle nuances and use the ragas to suit the respective moods.

For body and mind

Alignment of sruti is vital for pristine music. Similarly alignment of all organs is vital for a healthy body. In the yoga sessions of Jyotsna Narayanan, one realised and felt the silken thread that runs from the centre of the head. Each and every movement - forward, upward, sideways, twist - was done holding the thread and feeling the Praana and the Apaana.

The yoga session was a perfect start to the day making all the participants calm, relaxed and energetic. It exuded radiance and what was amazing was the way the movements were linked to dance. After all, isn’t dance itself a form of yoga and a quest for excellence and perfection?

The virtuosity of Prof. C.V. Chandrasekhar came to the fore yet again during the Saatvika sessions. This revered guru, who has been the convenor of the Camp for 13 years right from the first year, seems to be losing age by the year. Be it the Jaalam in the ‘Sakhiye’ varnam or the subtle eye movements in the Kshetrayya Padam ‘Moguduchi,’ the finesse with which he showed the variations was enchanting.

His artistic endeavour continued in the aangika sessions with Malavika Sarukkai, which saw some breathtaking moments and movements with the pancha nadai in three speeds being a visual rhythmic poetry.

Dance is poetry in motion. But what is a poem and what is poetry? In her Poetry appreciation sessions, Dr. Sudha Seshaiyyan asked these questions to participants making them think and seek the answers themselves.

The importance of wearing the right kind of costumes and appropriate jewellery to accentuate the beauty of the performance was stressed by Malavika Sarukkai in the Aaharya sessions. Most importantly, the costume should be comfortable to the artist and should never be a distraction to the audience. The costume that adorned the utsava idol of Panduranga during the Dolotsavam bore testimony to this fact. Adorned with garlands, necklaces, crown and music, He was beautiful. If the costume and jewellery were the handiwork of the archakas of the temple, music was the ‘voice work’ of Ranjani and Gayatri during Dolotsavam. The duo took us on a divine trip with the dancers, led by C.V. Chandrasekhar, dancing spontaneously to the music. Layers after layers of emotions were peeled even as the music and dance reached a crescendo. Swaras and ragas acquired new colours and nritta and abhinaya acquired new dimensions in front of the Lord.

With space and time as the aadhara sruti, the presentation was repeated during the Garuda Sevai the following evening. The mellowing tone of the nagaswaram (T.G. Murugavel and party) mingled with the willowy grace of the dancers in all the four praakarams of the Temple. What does one make out of the expression of Garuda, who, holding the Lord with reverence, sports a mystic smile? Divine, Ecstatic, Receiving, Spreading.. It typifies the Thennangur camp too.