There were some rough edges too.
In one corner of the stage, there was a black and white photograph adorned with jasmine flowers. It was of the legendary dancer Balasaraswati (1918-1984) whose genius and artistry gave Bharatanatyam a place outside the temples and royal courts. Paying homage was her grandson, Aniruddha Knight (disciple of Lakshmi Knight and Shyamala Mohanraj), who was performing for the Brahma Gana Sabha inaugural. As an inheritor of the Veena Dhanammal music legacy and the Balasaraswati dance legacy, Aniruddha carries a heavy burden. How does he feel about it? His response is a matter-of-fact shrug, “Music and dance ruled in my home; they are my childhood memories.”
This natural impulse is obvious. The good and the not-so-good, everything about ‘Aniruddha and his dance' is natural. He seems like he is just reacting to the music and the words. He makes a strong first impression with his quiet maturity, a sense of control and an impressive physique. But his dancing style is more to do with content than craft; not once will he allow the sthayi to slip away though he may not care to polish the arc of the circle in the kitathakatharikitathom adavus.
But there is a danger here. As a torchbearer of this tradition, he would do well to correct the grammar of adavus. Especially for the sake of people like me who have not had the good fortune to watch Balamma. The association of ideas may not be fair to her legendary grace and dignity. Also to be corrected is a sometimes excessive tapping of the foot while keeping the beat. And continuing it in the Prenkhana posture (when one foot is placed on the other knee) is most unbecoming.
The recital otherwise brimmed over with an old-world charm, with a repertoire of old choreographies (nritta korvais by Guru Kandappa Pillai). Aniruddha opened with a khanda Alarippu, followed by the gem of the Kandappa-bani, the ‘Mohamana' varnam (Bhairavi, Rupaka, Ponniah).
The emotional landscape of the varnam depicting a woman pining for her lover, Tiruvarur Tyagesa, was punctuated with short, crisp korvais that sparkled yet left the delicacy of the mood undisturbed. Without long drawn-out sahitya sessions, the emotions of the nayika came through with sensitivity. The dancer was faithful to the lyric without over-doing the ‘female' impersonation. The second half of the varnam had long thattu-mettu sequences that carried forward the sthayi beautifully, not being overshadowed by the beauty of the lilting swaras accompanying them.
The post-varnam segment brought out the musician in Aniruddha. While the Neelambari padam ‘Neela Mayyil' (Arunagirinathar) slid by without a trace, the Ninda Stuthi, ‘Ethai kandu' (Kalyani) and the Kshetrayya padam ‘Paiyada paimeda' (Nadanamakriya) brought out the best in the singers (Saraswati Sankaranarayan, Usha Sivakumar) and the dancer. Nadanamakriya was the soulful highlight of the evening with Usha's singing and Aniruddha's involvement. Aniruddha closed with a well-crafted thillana (Mandari, Adi, Thanjavur brothers).
Balamma's ‘family orchestras' were well-known, but the present one was an almost-family affair. Douglas Knight (Aniruddha's father) handled the mridangam, while the musicians, including T.R. Moorthy (flute) were those who had participated in Lakshmi Knight's performances. Nattuvangam was by Ranjini Menon and tambura by Vivek Bhola. The musical standard was high, particularly in the post-varnam pieces. Aniruddha's musicality and emotive depth are his strengths; only the nritta requires studied application.