Balasaraswathi’s dance and T. Brinda’s music were brought alive once again by their grandchildren.
Hamsaa, an organisation that’s committed to broadening the exposure and appreciation of the performing arts recently puttogether a programme by Aniruddha Knight, in Chennai.
Aniruddha, who is the grandson of the legendary dancer T. Balasaraswathi (Bala), spoke to raiskas about the tradition followed by their family and stressed the importance of music to dance. He is the ninth generation artist in the family of Veena Dhanammal, grandmother of Bala, who belonged to the Devadasi community; in this matrilineal community, the women not only headed the family, but also propagated dance and music.
Aniruddha is not just the only male dancer in 250 years, he is currently the only dancer in this lineage. “Bala was considered great, because she brought something otherworldly, which was sublime,” said Aniruddha.
For a performance to be considered great, it should have a cathartic effect on the viewer. Taking padams and javalis, which are meant essentially for dance, he said in Bala’s tradition, abhinaya is what happens at that moment on stage, what evolves from the artist’s imagination and not pre-conceived. Of course, it takes several years of practice, observation and the art of imbibing the nuances from others.
It is a give and take between the dancer and the vocalist and it is essential for the dancer also to know music. So much of bhava comes from the music.
This was amply demonstrated by him and the accompanying musician, his cousin T. Girish, grandson of T. Brinda, another grand daughter of Dhanammal. Singing a short raga is important before starting the padam as it introduces the flavour of the song.
Girish sang a beautiful Pantuvarali raga before taking up a couple of lines of ‘Nithirayil Soppanathil’ for which Aniruddha improvised abhinaya and also joined in the singing. It was shown how the popular ‘Thaye Yasodha’ in Thodi is dealt with somewhat differently in their school.
The Ramanataka song ‘En Pallikondeer Ayya’ has a history in their family. It is usually sung in Mohanam, which Bala and her mother T. Jayammal felt sounded rather aggressive and changed it to Madhyamavathi, which altered the mood totally. At this point, the flautist T.R. Moorthy, a disciple of T. Viswanathan, brother of Bala, demonstrated how Jayammal used to sing it.
“Learning is a continuous process of absorption and interaction; each generation brings its own flavour to the art,” said Aniruddha. Does he watch other dance styles and do they influence him?
He does watch other dancers, be it Bharatanatyam, Kathak, ballet or modern dance, and enjoys them too. But he does not allow any of them to influence his style, as he is proud of his family’s tradition.
‘Ninnujoochi’ in Punnagavarali was taken up finally for demonstrating abhinaya with excellent singing by Girish.
While the mridangam support was by Gopinath, on the flute was T.R. Moorthy. It was on the whole a nostalgic evening, where Bala’s dance and T. Brinda’s music were brought alive once again by their grandchildren.