The dance recital by Malavika Sarukkai, set to Aruna Sairam's vocals, was a visual extension of the mental image created by music.
“Malavika, in the chiselled lines of her dance, has perfected Bharatanatyam to a point where its geometrical exactitude cannot be bettered.” That's what the eminent dance critic Leela Venkatraman had said in this newspaper about Malavika Sarukkai's accomplishment, 15 years ago. And this is what she wrote recently: “While artistic freedom is every dancer’s right, for one of Malavika’s stature exploring fresh avenues, the challenges of living up to expectations and standards set by one’s own prowess can be daunting.” (The Hindu, Friday Review, October 5, 2012). These were the significant comments I recalled specifically in the course of an innovative joint performance of music and dance in the Music Academy's main auditorium on Saturday last, where the stage and limelight were shared by diva Aruna Sairam and dancer Malavika Sarukkai. For both those observations would have been remarkably true of Aruna's music also!
With her leisurely and majestic singing style, she does invariably seem to be chiselling the melodies and songs into lovely sculptures in sound. And as regards that second statement, you have only to change the names, and the seasoned critic might have been talking word for word about Aruna Sairam!
The first half of the programme was devoted to a clinical presentation of a couple of Tamil verses from Sri Andal’s ‘Naachiaar Tirumozhi’ rendered in ragas Hindolam and Aarabi; a brief vocal sketch of raga Kharaharapriya, followed by crisp, dance worthy sequences of improvised swaras; a soulful Hindi Meera bhajan in Kalyana Vasantham; and a romantic Sanskrit song from Jayadeva's ‘Gita Govindam.’ These initial numbers, which depicted the feminine devotee’s adoration of Lord Krishna in spiritual and romantic terms, progressed more or less on conventional lines.
It was in the second half of the programme that the collaboration between Aruna and Malavika resulted in a performance which acquired a grand and truly fascinating dimension. The magic materialised as soon as Aruna began to sing one of her favourite Abhangs ‘Teertha Vitthala’ in Marathi. For many years now Aruna has bound the rasikas in a spell with her vigorous Vitthala songs; and here was Malavika creating an actual visual impression of the listeners’ subconscious awareness of devotees in temple scenarios dancing in ecstasy!
And that mood was reinforced by the number which followed -- Oothukkadu Venkata Kavi's ‘Kalinga Narthana Tillana.’ Music-lovers have always consciously imagined a dancer when listening rapturously to Aruna's version of this lively piece of music -- and here was Malavika again, providing an actual visual extension of that mental vision, enacting the roles of both the awesome and evil serpent and the young God Krishna vanquishing it. Truly a rewarding and mutually beneficial encounter between diva and dancer!
Excellent accompaniment was provided by: S. Srilatha (Nattuvangam), Nellai A.Balaji (mridangam), Sai Shravanam (Tabla), Vishnu Vijay (flute) and Srilakshmi Venkataramani (violin).