T.M. Krishna was at his impressive best, while Madhavi and Arushi Mudgal swayed with grace.

When the varnam is a soul-stirring majestic edifice in a Bharatanatyam presentation, should it be given a ten-minute treatment in a vocal concert? Or, does an evocative varnam presented as a major piece become as effective as any kriti rendered in that position? How about presenting two varnams as centre pieces in a concert? Also, is it viable to sing Bhairavi pieces twice in the same kutcheri?

T.M. Krishna on the first day of Baani, a two-day festival hosted by dancer Alarmel Valli, made hearts dance through his approach to the kutcheri given the audience that day and the occasion that venerated the centenary of guru Pandanallur Subbaraya Pillai. It was also an event that celebrated Alarmel Valli’s 50th year as a dancer. Considering the occasion, Krishna’s approach that day was to give a concert that would make a dancer’s heart dance and the audience’s heart sing. In one of his impressive performances recently, T.M. Krishna answered all the above questions with one repartee – why not – if the audience loves every moment of it?

He gave the varnam its rightful place by placing centrally not one but two evocative varnams – ‘Mohamana En Meedu’ (Bhairavi) and “Sarasakshi” (Natakuranji). He preceded the last varnam with the concert’s highlight, an elaborate Natakuranji alapana. A deeply introspective Krishna gave it a grand swaroopam, particularly in his flights of fancy in the tara sthayi sancharas. Violinist H.K. Venkatram resonated in an equally meditative mood. Kalpanaswaras in sarvalaghu followed the Natakuranji varnam.

In fact, Krishna began the concert in deeply meditative slow mien with a languorous ‘Sri Dakshinamurthe,’ Dikshitar’s kriti in Shankarabharanam.

After the two varnams, the singer paid homage to Mukthamma on her centenary by singing once again in Bhairavi. This time it was ‘Rama Rama,’ the unforgettable padam in which the Brinda-Muktha duo revelled. He followed this with a javali in Kalyani, ‘Entatikulike.’ Mridangam by K.V. Prasad and ghatam by Chandrasekhara Sharma added to the concert.

The second day of Baani featured an Odissi performance by Madhavi Mudgal and Arushi Mudgal. The performance stood out for Madhavi’s excellent abhinaya. After the Mangalacharan in typical style by Madhavi, Arushi presented a vivacious ‘Aaahlad,’ a celebration of movement in dance ending in a crescendo.

Then Madhavi enraptured the audience, which stood its ground despite pouring rains that day to watch her presentation of two Ashtapadis from Jayadev’s Gita Govind. The first, ‘Yahi Madhava,’ showed Radha as khandita nayika, who is enraged with Krishna. Dusk falls, Radha lights the lamp and looks through the window for Krishna, yet when he comes, she show anger and disgust. Krishna cajoles her in the next song, ‘Priye Charusheelae.’

Arushi next came up with ‘Khela Chanda,’ a depiction of Krishna’s childhood. This song was crowded with events, but choreographed well. Arushi has excellent technique and is exuberant. She could concentrate more on abinaya.

Madhavi then came up with two four-line poems from the 6th and 7th century Gupta period. Rarely has one seen such pure abhinaya in two pieces one after the other. The duo enthralled at the end with a rhythmic Bhairavi composition, describing the Bhairavi raga.

Overall, it was a delightful and insightful festival.

Valli’s support system

Through Baani, dancer Alarmel Valli was not only recalling the immense contribution to and greatness of her legendary guru Pandanallur Subbaraya Pillai, but she also used the platform to thank all those who helped her along her artistic journey… her accompanists. “They are people who have walked with me along the way and played a vital role in shaping me as an artist,” says Valli.

Among those honoured that day were vocalists G.P Kamala and Latha Ramchand. “Kamala amma has been singing for my guru. She was so attuned to his style that she knew exactly what he wanted from her as a singer. She also sang for my arangetram,” says Valli. As for Latha, she has been accompanying Valli for over 15 years now. The other artists to be felicitated were Sakthivel Muruganandam (mridangm), Sivasubramaniam (violin ) and C.K. Vasudevan (nattuvangam).