Ten dancers will interpret the verses of great vaggeyakaras through adavu and abhinaya at this year's Natyarangam festival from August 30 to September 4.

Great composers of the 19th and 20th century such as Poochi Srinivasa Iyengar, Neelakanta Sivan, Subbarama Dikshitar, Tiger Varadachariar and Veenai Kuppier will come under focus at ‘Vaggeyabharatam', Natyarangam's (dance wing of Narada Gana Sabha Trust) 14th annual Bharatanatyam festival, from August 30 to September 3, 6 p.m. in Chennai. To be inaugurated by doyenne Vyjayantimala Bali, the fest will honour dancer C.K. Balagopal.

Ten dancers will speak the language of Bharatanatyam even as the Narada Gana Sabha hall reverberates with lyrics of these vaggeyakaras. In the process, the festival hopes to reaffirm the classical values of music for dance and bring to light rare compositions for interpretation through adavus and abhinaya.

Here's what the dancers plan to present in the Margam format:

Alarmel Valli: (August 30) The veteran opens the event with the Thanjavur Quartet, whose descendants Pandanallur Chokkalingam Pillai and son Subbaraya Pillai are her gurus. “I think the highlight for me will be the Paras tillana, which I performed at my arangetram nearly 30 years ago!” smiles Valli. “I have chosen rich compositions that have stood the test of time and tried to see how they fit in today's context. I open with the Thodi Varnamalika, a favourite of my gurus.”

Aishwarya Narayanaswamy (August 31, 6 p.m.): “Six months ago, when I was asked to work on the compositions of Veena Kuppier and Tiruvotriyur Tyagayyar, I honestly did not know who they were. I began reading about them and learnt their songs in Telugu. With help and encouragement from Suguna mami (Suguna Varadachari), Nandini Ramani, and my guru Anitha Guha, I've chosen seven pieces,” says the pretty dancer. “It has opened up a whole new world for me.”

Manjari (August 31, 7.30 p.m.): “‘Vaggeyabharatam' has made me aurally more literate and has reinforced my belief in the wealth of Carnatic music,” says Manjari. She will be performing to the works of Maha Vaidyanatha Sivan and Ramaswami Sivan. “My guide Vedavalli mami helped me choose the kritis best suited for Bharatanatyam. That's when I realised how challenging it is. But the experience has made me more knowledgeable about Carnatic music.”

T. M. Sridevi (September 1, 6 p.m.): This young pupil of Sudharani Raghupathy will interpret Subbarama Dikshitar's kirtanas through dance. “This is a golden opportunity. My first task was to read the ‘Sangita Sampradaya Pradarshini.' Then, with T.M. Krishna's guidance, I chose the songs.” The demanding part was however the choreography. Guru Sudharani and Priya Murle stepped in and “the rest fell into place. I am nervous and excited all at once.”

Praveen Kumar (September 1, 7.30 p.m.): For the Bangalore-based student of Prof. CVC, choosing from the vast repertoire of Mysore Vasudevachar posed quite a challenge. “It was a great trip down music lane. I discovered that the composer had actually penned a couple of javalis with a hero in mind. So, I chose ‘Prematho Naatho Mataladavae' in Kanada. I am also presenting kirtana in Kamalamanohari and a tillana in Suddhasalavi, a rare raga credited to him.” Divya Sivasundar (September 2, 6 p.m.): This disciple of the Dhananjayans is enthusiastic about delving into the works of Neelakanta Sivan. She is all smiles, “My guide Saraswathy Ram is Sivan's direct descendant, and so I got first-hand information about his songs. She's been a great source of support. Choosing the six pieces took quite a bit of thought and I am happy with the end result. I hope the audience feel the same.”

Gayatri and V. Balagurunathan (September 2, 6.30 p.m.): Says Balagurunathan, “Our presentation will bear the Kalakshetra stamp. The compositions of Tiger Varadachariar, Veenai Krishnamachariar and M.D. Ramanathan are strong in lyrical content. We have zeroed in on rare items and tried to flavour them with our own style.” The couple will present six items, with two solos. “We have a great responsibility. The composers are legends and to emote to their lyric can be daunting. For example, Tiger's padavarnam was composed specially with Rukmini amma in mind. Nobody performed it after she did in the 1950s. We have to be extra careful as we will be observed closely.”

Radhika Vairavelavan (September 3, 6 p.m.): “I never thought the compositions of Poochi Srinivasa Iyengar would offer so much scope for dance. The variety in the lyric, ragas and talas is inspiring,” says Radhika. “My repertoire comprises a rare Suraranjani kirtana, padam, varnam, tillana in Kapi and Kavadi Chindu.” Urmila Sathyanarayanan (September 3, 7.30 p.m.): “This is a blessing as I get to dance to my teacher, Dandayudhapani Pillai's compositions, all over again,” says Urmila. “I learnt for nearly four years from the legend, and so this was like going back in time. I realised so much has changed since I danced to some of the pieces years ago. I am presenting Pushpanjali, Sodasha alarippu, Khambodi varnam (which is not available in Pillai's book), which Chandramma (Pillai's wife) gave me, Kanada tillana and Dasavataram, and the rare padam ‘Yaaradi Indha Vaasalilae'.'

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