There was fine understanding between Sumitra and Sunanda.
Sumitra Nitin and Sunanda Narayanan, senior disciples of Guru Rhadha, and daughters of musician-researcher Sujatha Vijayaraghavan, are mature Bharatanatyam dancers with an eye for correctness, in the execution of steps, timing and expressions. Their recital for Narada Gana Sabha where they presented Guru Rhadha's traditional choreography, was predictably of a high standard.
They opened with an intriguing chatusra Alarippu that was sandwiched between the patriotic ‘Vande Mataram’ written in Bengali and Sanskrit, and Subramanya Bharati’s Tamil version, composed and compiled by Sujatha in Desh raga, Adi tala.
Musically layered using sollus and swaras along with the lyrics and the syllable recitation, Alarippu was broken down into segments and brought into context with symbolic mudras such as the flag, etc. This was a fine confluence of artistic effort.
It was interesting to note that while the sisters were well-rehearsed and coordinated in both the pure dance and interpretive parts, they were not overly so especially in abhinaya. Intense devotion in the mukthayi swara sahitya, ‘Tirumalai tannil sadaa kadal alai pol’ portraying devotees who achieve bliss when they get a glimpse of Lord Venkateshwara, in the Shanmukhapriya padavarnam (‘Devar Munivar,’ Adi, Lalgudi Jayaraman), came through with the sisters’ unfettered portrayals. And even when they said the same thing at the same time, it was not necessarily in the same way.
The showstopper jathi of the varnam was the Ethukadai jathi with the famous Vazhuvoor sollukattus ‘Nangi tonga.’ It was filled with continuous off-beat and gati changes and Guru Rhadha’s recitation took on extra verve to enhance the theatrical quality of the mathematical statements. Dhananjayan, here and in other korvais, relished the gaps between beats, while always remaining alert for opportunities to dramatise as he did during Venkateshwara’s magnification of form during the depiction of Vamana avatara.
The composition of steps kept the dancers largely grounded and within a few square feet on stage, so one wishes they had pushed the envelope in terms of duo presentation to add to the visual dynamics. They did attempt to alternate avarthanas in korvais or swara lines, but on its own it was not enough. There were some interesting mirroring steps in the last swara segment; more is welcome.
Two good musicians, Girija Ramaswamy and Sujatha, steered the performance with an involved Kalaiarasan (violin) providing them strong melodic base. While they worked well together in most pieces, the padams, ‘Sundari en Soppanaththil’ (Khamas, Ramanathapuram C.S. Sankarasivam) and ‘Chinnanjiru Kiliye’ (raagamaalika, tisra gati Adi, Subramanya Bharati) suffered due to lack of coordination. Sujatha’s introductions were interesting.