Alarmel Valli juxtaposed love and devotion within the timeless framework of Margam.
Reputed artist Alarmel Valli’s performance was a dignified interplay of sringara and bhakti, within the timeless template of Margam. Undoubtedly, thematic performances have several attractions and in comparison, the delineation of the nayika pining for the divine lover may seem clichéd, but expert interpretations accentuate the rich artistic potential in depicting the heroine in love. Valli is well known for her nuanced expositions and, over the course of the performance, she smoothly unveiled ideas relating to these concepts.
It was not surprising, therefore, to find that the main piece, Kaapi varnam, was sandwiched between two Annamacharya kritis, one based on bhakti and the other, sringara.
The padavarnam dominated the ambience due to the sustained power of ‘back and forth’ exposition of the twin philosophies of Bharatanatyam. The Ponniah Pillai varnam dedicated to Lord Siva was commendable for the expert juxtaposition of images of the pining nayika and the anguished devotee. In her distinctive mode, long jatis with graceful nritta were followed by a relaxed exploration of ideas.
It was interesting to note that while the artist stuck to a clear demarcation of the nayika and the bhakta for the pallavi, in later moments, she chose to suffuse the boundaries between the two personalities and also to switch emphasis from one to the other. ‘Sarasaalana,’ dedicated to Lord Brhadeeswara, fluidly correlated the lady lover who tenderly invited Lord Siva, with the entreaty of the devotee seeking liberation from the cycle of life and death.
While Valli did not launch into expositions of legends in the first half, she briefly captured such sketches like the Lord of Dance or the bearer of Ganga in his locks, for the sahitya in the latter half.
‘Sriman Narayana’ in Bowli was a fitting introductory number and was interwoven with pilgrimage scenes that provided brisk actions to the tune of evocative lyrics. ‘Yelina Vaadu’ in ragas such as Behag and Mohanam depicted the goddess Alamelumanga revelling in Lord Venkatachalapathy’s adoration. The descriptions of tender moments spent with her husband and his adulation for her were clear vignettes enjoyable for the immediacy. Although handled with apt subtlety, the picture that emerged here was more human than divine in the absence of contextual descriptions or high flown metaphors.
The final item, Swaralaya, set in different ragas, was a pure dance number; some concise emotive sections after this would have rounded off the flow of mood in the performance.
The orchestral team’s efforts in the form of nattuvangam by C. K. Vasudevan, vocal music by Murali Parthasarathy, mridangam play by Sakthivel Muruganandam, flute by Sruti Sagar and violin by Ranjani Ramakrishna synchronised with each movement of Alarmel Valli.