Bhargavi Gopalan’s Bharatanatyam recital at the Rama Rao Kala Mantap was a sprightly affair, largely due to the dancer’s effervescent stage presence. The centrepiece of the performance was the varnam in Nattakuranji, “Swami naan undan” by Papanasam Sivan. A good choice of varnam sustains the performance, and the combination of a mellifluous raga and Sivan’s emotion-laden lyrics ensured that Bhargavi engaged the audience during the piece dedicated to Lord Siva.
The dance interpretation was studded with rhythmic flights, the nattuvanar’s cymbals often crossing rhythms with his syllables during the jatis, which was a tough job. All flights did not land smoothly however, and the arudi endings in which dancer and percussion should come together perfectly and precisely with the singer seemed a bit rushed.
There’s no harm in taking up bristling rhythmic challenges, but ideally they should blend into the whole that is a varnam, not disturbing either the mood (sthayi bhava) or the musical flow. Also, at times the credit for sharpness of the jatis could only be given to the percussion artists rather than the dancer, whose feet did not enunciate all the syllables. In the charana swaras, the complex tatti mettu patterns sometimes overshadowed the abhinaya.
The music featured a number of innovations in the singing, such as introducing taanam during elaboration of abhinaya in the line ‘Thamadam Seyyadhu.’ Another example came in the line ‘Naamamritham paaname yen jeevithame,’ where chanting of “Om namah Sivaya” was inserted. All these added to the spectacle but one wonders how necessary it is to accommodate so many changes in someone else’s composition, especially a composer whose every word is an emotional outpouring and soaked in raga bhava. This is not to say that followers of the classical idioms should not improvise with set pieces, since improvisation is the essence of the art, but rather to voice a question — which changes are justified? Those that are, are possibly those that blend seamlessly.
Later Bhargavi presented Periasamy Thooran's “Thottu thottu pesa varaan” (a nayika’s complaint about Krishna who is always looking for an excuse to touch her), with pleasant, light abhinaya. More variety in facial expression would have added to the piece, as was the case with ‘Jagadoddharana’ of Purandaradasa, where the adbhutam aspect was well established. The dance interpretation brought out the contrast between Krishna seen as a child through Yashoda’s eyes, and the Lord of the universe. Among the striking juxtaposed images was the mother shielding her child as a snake crosses their path, and Krishna as the vanquisher of the serpent Kaliya.
Bhargavi’s jumps (utplavanas) are refreshingly light and her eyes are full of mischief. If she improves her fitness she will be a far better asset to the Bharatanatyam scene. Combining colours not usually partnered, like orange and magenta, in the costume seems to have become popular with dancers of late. Given the lights and stage settings Chennai’s sabhas are able to provide, these are not usually happy choices.
The dancer was competently accompanied by Balakrishnan (nattuvangam), Murali Parthasarathy (vocal), Vishwanathan (mridangam) and Shethalai Shivakumar (violin).