‘NaMaargam…’ was clearly an irreverent experiment that worked in its entirety.
‘NaMaargam-Knot the Path,’ a contemporary classic Bharatanatyam ballet, was an important event in the cultural calendar. Attended by the glitterati from the dance world, the event celebrated Guru Sudharani Raghupathy’s 65 year-association with Bharatanatyam and was held in aid of ABHAI (Association of Bharatanatyam Artists of India).
The event was important because, it marked not the fact that the traditional Margam will forever be suspect, but that there is enough room to experiment in the classical idiom, without ever offending its core.
Team NaMaargam led by its mastermind, musician-percussionist K.S.R.Anirudha, and dancers Priya Murle, Krithika Subrahmaniam, Priya Dixit and Prabha Dixit (son and senior students of Professor Sudharani Raghupathy respectively), experimented with standing the Bharatanatyam repertoire on its head.
They commenced with a thillana (Hamsanadham, Adi) and ended with a Nattai Mallari (Adi) in a tongue-in-cheek exploration of pushing boundaries. It was irreverent and classy, but it was clearly an experiment that worked in its entirety. Will it spark a trend for future generations of dance-aspirants?
Most arresting was the musical score by Anirudha in which he overlaid Carnatic music (compositions of Vidwan Madurai N. Krishnan) with chants, the spoken word (Sanskrit, Tagore) and different streams of music (Johann Strauss, indigenous Tamil folk, etc).
Together with stunning sets by cultural commentator Chitra Mahesh, evocative of a temple courtyard at dusk, rich lighting by artist M. Natesh, and sophisticated visualisation by the dancers, it turned into a poetic experience. It was the whole package that enriched and teased the senses.
Introduced by actor-dancer Shobana, ‘NaMaargam’ kept you guessing; just as you relaxed having recognised something familiar, the soundtrack would throw a surprise element...
The thillana, for example, took on bhajan-like overtones towards the end and you wondered if this was the next in the repertoire when you realised that the charana had been musically re-arranged in the bhajana padhdhati. Anirudha used a Tirumoolar verse, ‘Anandam Vachiyam’ (Malahari), as a catchy refrain through the 55-minute production, had a title song, included lines from four varnams in one sequence, made cheeky interjections preceding jathis, used the Alarippu in four gatis back to back and strung colloquial Tamil proverbs together in lieu of a javali ‘because it creates instant rasa just like a javali!,’ to mention a few adventures.
While the music dominated the landscape, the tall sets and the dancers dominated the physical presence. Interesting visualisation with staggered entrances, theermanams performed alternately and in different directions, gave the visuals a beautiful floating effect and kept the mood unpredictable. Why the dancers who were word-perfect, chose to be unnecessarily sedate is a question.
Less apparent was the spiritual angle of the production -- the search for eternal bliss emphasised in the ‘Ananda...’ refrain as the spiritual seekers yearn for compassion in the varnam, face obstacles in the alarippu and find release in the ethukadai jathis following the alarippu. The biggest loss actually in the filigreed production was the dilution of the sthayi bhava.
As they say, you need to know your Shakespeare to create or even appreciate a spoof, and that begs the question- how much of ‘NaMaargam-Knot the Path’ was understood by the ‘wider audience’ that the team wanted to attract?
Repeat Performance: Wednesday, Dec. 19 for Karthik Fine Arts, at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan