The current Margazhi has been packed with youngsters spilling their talent across various sabha-s with a plethora of performances. Navia Natarajan was much-admired as an upcoming star in the last few years.
With able training under gurus like Padmini Ramachandran and, later, A. Lakshmanan and Bragha Bassell in Chennai, she has matured to become one of the finest dancers on the scene today. Opening the evening of performances on Wednesday at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan under the banner of Kartik Fine Arts, Navia managed to gather more fans with her brief presentation.
After a quick Pushpanjali, she continued into an excerpt from the ‘Sharada Bhujangaashtakam’ composed by Adi Shankara. This unusual item picked for dance was set to Khanda eka tala and Navia’s execution of its crisp choreography was commendable. She followed that with a traditional Tanjore quartet varnam, ‘Sami ni rammanave’, in Khamas. This oft-performed classic is the tale of a nayika cajoling her friend to bring her lover, the Lord Brihadeeshwara. In spite of a few predictable sanchari-s, Navia’s dance along with the melodious voice of the singer Nandakumar Unnikrishnan started on a positive note.
In places, Nandakumar seemed to mumble through the sahityam but the nayika bhavam was rendered intact by the dance before the jati-s began. Is it a new trend among dancers or gurus to go out of their way to choose jati-s that are extra-long to exhibit nritta? Do these composers think of how strenuous it could be to the dancer and the viewer to wade through tediously boring jati-s in a traditional varnam that could have otherwise been enjoyed sans all that? It was precisely these long jati-s that made the dancer meander all over the stage, often reaching its edges and precariously swinging back.
Those ultra-long jati-s put even the neighbourhood Kapalishwara of Mylapore to sleep, forget beckoning Brihadeeshwara sitting far away in Tanjavur. Keeping the traditional jati-s of the varnam might have done just as well, considering Navia’s abhinayam was superb. While Prasanna is an excellent nattuvanaar, it would be good if he stuck to rendering the traditional time-tested jati-s before he can attempt composing his own.
From there to a verse from the famous Amarushatakam, Navia portrayed the emotions of a khandita nayika with ease. It would have been more convincing if her sanchari-s were not too direct to the poetry.
Too many actions crammed the subtlety of the performance. Mahesh Swamy’s mellifluous flute blew life into the act once again. With some reworking on her choreography, Navia could design this into an excellent piece for her repertoire.
After this slow piece, she regained her heartiness in the Swati Tirunal tillana in Bhoopalam, proving she was undoubtedly one of the most talented and promising youngsters we have around.
(Veejay Sai is a writer, editor and a culture critic.)