By focusing on 19th and 20th century Vaggeyakaras, 14th edition of Natyarangam’s annual festival has uncovered composers, whose works hitherto unexplored for Bharatanatyam, reveal the potential for dance visualisation.

Vaggeyabharatam, the fourteenth consecutive thematic festival mounted by Natyarangam, the dance wing of Narada Gana Sabha Trust, reinforced the intertwined music/Bharatanatyam integrity, becoming a learning experience for choreographers, dancers and top guide musicians providing the foundational research base.

Not Natya Sangeet like Kathakali music, the traditional musical heritage of Bharatanatyam, while in the highest classical traditions, was largely conceived for the dance. By focusing on 19th and 20th century Vaggeyakaras, the festival incidentally uncovered composers, whose works hitherto unexplored for Bharatanatyam reveal the potential for dance visualisation.

Inaugurated by chief guest Vyjayantimala Bali after invocation by Nandini Anand, Alarmel Valli began with the Thanjavur Quartet, as the vaggeyakaras providing the base for the Bharatanatyam Margam. “Sami nine Korinaanu Raa” the Ragamalika varnam, (with recorded music due to unavoidable circumstances) sans a few sahitya passages “in the Pandanallur tradition with same korvais as taught to me by my Gurus Chokkalingam Pillai and Surbbaraya Pillai,” in the “Prema Meeraga Tanjapurivasa line” brought out the layered sringar, wonderment and devotion of the nayika for the Lord. The recorded version, in the typically Valli fast pace and zip, interspersed with long rhythmic sequences as common today, was different from the slow flowing nectar of olden day presentations with those arrestingly tight, short jatis appearing like flashes of brilliance after every interpretative passage.

Valli’s musicality was best seen in the delightfully communicative Javali “Mutta Vaddu Raa” depicting the enraged Khandita warding off advances by the two- timing lover, with Nandini Anand’s vocal support. The Tillana in Kanada was the finale.

Woven round the father/son Veena Kuppier and Tiruvotriyur Tyagayyar compositions with Suguna Varadachari as guide musician and Nandini Ramani helping with the choice of lyrics, Aishwarya Narayanaswamy’s entrance with Pushpanjali in Valaji, Adi talam was dazzling. Composed primarily for singing, the Dhanyasi “Kaapadu Gananatha” and Kalyani homage to Saraswati were translated into stunning visual images in Guru Anita Guha’s choreography, strikingly rendered by the dancer whose height with an immaculate araimandi and clarity in full stretches gives movement an expansive quality.

The Tana Varnam in Kedaragowla, depicting the devotee’s adoration for Tyagesa in procession, with details of the ‘Ajapa Nadanam,’ with that extra throb imparted by the subtly articulated heaving torso of the dancer, with the jatis contrasting softness with assertive quality at cardinal points with articulated rhythmic syllables against moments held in frozen stillness, was a triumph in concept and execution. After Veena Kuppier’s Nadanamakriya lyric, the Surati “Paradevi Amba” with Devi as graceful “madanajagamanu” and powerful “Mahishasuramardini,” while well rendered, dragged the programme. The Devi lulled to sleep in “JoJo’’ (Kedaragowla) made for an apt finish.

I am most sad that much of the audience had left before the a scholarly recital based on compositions by the 19th century Maha Vaidyanatha Sivan and Ramaswami Sivan, with much substance and little flashy hype by Manjari Rajendrakumar who had R. Vedavalli as guide musician. With Hariprasad’s involved singing and Sheejith Krishna for Nattuvangam, Ramesh Babu (mridangam) Anantanarayan (veena) and Kalaiarasan (violin) here was classical depth at its best. Totally within the grammar of Bharatanatyam adavus and the Kalakshetra discipline (imbibed from father Chandrasekhar) Manjari at no stage tried gimmicks to impress. The Abhogi Vaidyanatha Sivan “Sarada Deviye nee charanam sharanam” praying for grace was followed by the Khambodi varnam “Panchajakshi.” The sakhi pleading with the Lord, the cause of the nayika wasting away in longing, with the final appeal to his compassion had the same, quiet, underplayed expression. The Vachaspati “Veru Tunai Kaanene” had the Markandeya episode as part of dance narration.

The most painstakingly researched finale based on the fifth part of Sivan’s marathon composition in 72 melakartha ragas “Pranatati Hare Prabhu Murare” in ragas Sri, Manaranjini, Charukesi, Sarasangi, Harikhambodi, Sankarabharanam and Naganandini had nritta punctuations by the dancer whose episodic treatment was based on the Siva myth. Music and dance were of a high order. Kudos to Manjari!

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