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Updated: January 3, 2013 16:57 IST

Compelling artistry on stage

Rupa Srikanth
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Abstract style: Malavika Sarukkai. Photo: K.V. Srinivasan
The Hindu
Abstract style: Malavika Sarukkai. Photo: K.V. Srinivasan

q’s is right when she says that our understanding deepens over time and that old choreographies re-visited come with new insights. Her recital ‘Darshan - Seeking the Divine,’ for Kartik Fine Arts, presented some familiar choreographies and a few unfamiliar ones too.

One did notice some change in the manner of presentation – Malavika has ridden her style of the distracting timekeeping and the agitated mudra movement during moments of deep engagement. There is still tension in the body, but now it easily translates into intensity of emotion, which is what it was always meant to do.

Malavika’s is an abstract style that takes off from the grammar of Bharatanatyam, and yet is not bound by it. One may not find, for example, a trikala jati at the beginning of a piece or a tattu-mettu sequence at the end of a line of interpretive lyrics, nor will one find the traditional Bharatanatyam Pushpanjali-Thillana repertoire in her performance. In her free-style choreography, one thing is clear and that is, exclusion of the traditional is not the goal. The goal is to present mood pieces.

The music is also subject to free-style choreography. The grammar of music is untouched with ragas and talas used appropriately, but its path is unconventional as swara patterns or sollus strung as swaras are seamlessly woven into the vibrant soundscape.

There is a corollary here - Malavika’s traditional pieces are not as effective.

The devotional Yamunakalyani song ‘Krishna Nee Begane’ (Misra Chapu, Vyasaraya) was presented with excellent vaatsalya bhava (motherly love), but it was not as intense as say, the opening ‘Tandaveshaha’ (Hamsadhwani, Adi, music composed by Seetharaama Sarma, lyrics from Balaraama Bharatham), a predominantly nritta piece in which the dancer gets a vision of Siva and Parvati.

The dancer chose to represent the thandava through strong movements as in flat-footed stamps and one-legged lifts (Urdhva Thandava), besides the trademark razor sharp movements. The effect was not just masculine but strong and majestic. Little touches such as the spotlight on the damaru with the stage in darkness, during the closing moments of the thandava also made a strong impact.

The nritta for the finale, ‘Sthiti Gati’ (Madhuvanti, Adi, Prof. C.V. Chandrasekhar) representing the opposite concepts of stillness and movement, had dramatic ideas such as equal silence and equal movement for some tala cycles, starting a jati with a ‘muzhu mandi’ adavu and a three-avarthana arudi for the swara sequences. It spoke of her sharp time sense and great flexibility, but it was still the focus on the mood.

‘Savyo Bhujasthe’ taken from Swati Tirunal’s Bhakti Manjari, tuned by Rajaram in Khamas (Adi), Atana (Misra Chapu) and Simhendra Madhyamam (Jampa) ragas, dealt with the different perceptions of Anantha Padmanabha’s left arm as seen by goddess Lakshmi, the asuras and the devotees.

Malavika’s quiet clarity delivered the philosophical subtext, with perception being a mirror of your inner self, as well as the more obvious portrayals.

The music was so inspiring that one could easily have closed one’s eyes and enjoyed the feast, if not for the compelling artistry on stage.

The master craftsmen who added mood to melody and danced along with Malavika were: Murali Parthasarathy (vocal), Srilakshmi Venkatramani (violin), M.S. Sukhi (mridangam), Neela Sukanya (nattuvangam) and Venkatram (tambura).