U.S.-based Bharatanatyam dancer Janaki Rangarajan impressed Delhi audience recently with her contemporary approach to the form
The battery of cameramen and a well-filled auditorium (unusual for a Horizon Series performance at ICCR, New Delhi) showed that the reputation of the Bharatanatyam dancer based in the United States, had preceded her. Janaki Rangarajan’s impeccably groomed presence with not a hair out of place, sculpted bodily stances and the general exultation of Bharatanatyam done to a musically sublime tape in what sounded like the voice of singer Hariprasad (credits not mentioned at all), made the recital memorable. That the dancer’s long training under Padma Subramaniam has given her a strong technique was visible right from the curtain raiser of Muttuswamy Dikshitar’s Kriti Ardhanareeswaram in Kumudakriya. With beautifully held postures, and movements bringing out the tandava lasya contrasts (Padma Subramaniam’s sukha lasya was very evident), one felt that the nritta interpolations between passages done in the double speed, detracted from the introspective quiet of an invocation.
Lalgudi Jayaraman’s Charukesi Varnam “Innum en manam ariyaadavarpol” received elaborate treatment. With a mobile face for expressional dance, the dancer kept the abhinaya in the first half at the shabdaartha level, the bhaavaartha interpretation appearing more in the charanam refrain, “Kuzhaloodum azhaga Kanna kurai teerayo” where the dance effloresced into elaborations showing all the creatures of Nature mesmerised by the divine flute melody of Krishna. In the earlier half, however, as a sub-text two episodic sequences were woven in — one showing Rukmini’s love-filled offering of just a tulsi leaf sufficient to equal the weight of Krishna on the scales, as against Satyabhama’s ornate offerings which still remained well below the God’s weight. Even more evocative was the other narration based on the Krishna/Sudhama meeting. The jati teermanams, rhythmically perfect, in the movement visualisation, in the Bharata nritta approach, did not always cover large floor space but seemed to be rendered in the same area at times. For this critic the sarukkai-s, the paichal-s and mandi adavu-s were missing, but that is the contemporary approach. With so much going for her, Janaki could avoid moments when ornate poses struck for visual effect, take away from internalisation and the feel of a dancer whose self is merged in what she is showing. Also, with her excellent bodily control, her head does not do a full 90 degree turn in the movement following the hand stretched backwards in a straight line. But these are odd areas to look into in a generally highly trained and committed dancer.
“Netrandinerattile” in Husseni was chosen for the purely mimetic post-varnam part. The dancer’s interpretation was a stronger khandita nayika openly showing her anger and suspicion of the woman who through subtle signs of invitation beckoned to her beloved the evening before, instead of a nayika persuasively trying to ascertain the identity of the other woman in her beloved’s life. But the change in tone in the second half with the nayika extending a warm welcome recapturing the days when she and the man shared such deep feelings for each other, was well done. Unlike the approach of most dancers of this padam, Janaki reverted to the crestfallen jilted state in the end. The vocal support was par excellence. Poochi Srinivasa Iyengar’s tillana in Paras with a concluding homage to goddess Abhirami followed by a Sanskrit hymn as a prayer for the peace of mankind ended a fine recital.