Description of the deity and the caring mother were examples.
The spare neatness of the Music Academy stage, the clarity and the soothing volume of the acoustics, as also the empathetic audience of the day, definitely added to the quality of Narthaki Nataraj’s Bharatanatyam performance.
The very manner of her stage entry proclaimed conviction in presenting a margam in the old style. Starting with a ringing sollukattu she depicted “Aathaalai, abhiramiyai” from the Abhirami Andaadi with the enchantment of the verse intact, aptly launched in Mohanam. Phrases like “maadulampoo nirathaalai” likening the deity’s hue to the pomegranate flower, were evoked with a feel for the striking image, at once wondrous and tender.
Narthaki showed that bhakti is not a matter of the obvious, of surrender and supplication alone, it needs subtlety in entering a world where the chosen divinity is also an object of aesthetic appreciation. Girija Ramaswamy’s lucid Tamil enunciation contributed to this appealing portrayal. The same ability to dovetail movements with the music was evident in “Sri Kamakshi” in Vasantha, bearing the everfresh stamp of the Syama Sastri school.
The varnam was introduced as a rarity from the Thanjavur Quartet treasury (Sarasijakshudu, Rupakam), but there was nothing unique about the performance itself. The dancer followed the traditional route with absolute fidelity whether in mudra, movement, or sanchari. The jatis were short and crisp in the old style, leaving the audience (used to marathon twirls and leaps all over the stage) wondering whether to applaud or not. Notably, these jatis were grounded in the centre of the stage first, before venturing into other directions.
The sancharis when they came, were marked by restraint, admirable in an age of excess. But this restraint also translated as fewer nuances. The varnam’s striking ideas (I must be part of you like the pitambaram) were not shaped in the abhinaya with layers and contrasts. However, the nayika’s pride in the lover emerged tellingly. Satisfactory as it was, there were no exceptional moments to grip a heightened attention, or linger in the mind.
Those moments came later, in the thalattu. To those used to more classical forms of Pillaitamizh this thalattu about searching all over the forest to find the right cow for the best milk for the special child (‘Kadellam thedi karaampasu otti…’) glowed with an endearing homeliness. Narthaki’s approach followed the flow of the language. She was able to cast the spell of the real while maintaining the stylisation of the art form, enhancing the appeal of vatsalya. With every little vignette – bathing, dressing, feeding, playing, creating a cradle, and putting the child to sleep, the illusion gained in dimensions. Narthaki’s success was to make the viewer experience all these familiar actions appear new, caring and special. The mother’s angika abhinaya acquired a new softness, as she revelled in the beauty and the innocence of the little one.
In her recital Narthaki emphasised variety in talam (Khanda Triputa, Adi, Rupakam, Sankirna Chapu) which also made for tautness. Tillana (Attraikirai thedi, Nalinakanti) and mangalam (Patharai panivarku, Madhayamavati) rounded off the show with the resonant words of Arunagirinathar and Sundarar.
Girija Ramaswamy (vocal), Binesh Mahadevan (nattuvangam), Nagai Sriram (mridangam), Kalyani Shankar (violin), R. Tyagarajan (flute) and Karukurichi Balaji (veena) gave the kind of melodious support Narthaki’s style required.