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A lamp for love's labour

LEELA VENKATARAMAN
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DANCE Alarmel Valli and Shovana Narayan took up the theme of love at Bhavan's Sangeet Samaroh. LEELA VENKATARAMAN

Just Grace Alarmel Valli at Bhavan's Sangeet Samaroh. Photo: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar
Just Grace Alarmel Valli at Bhavan's Sangeet Samaroh. Photo: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

B haratiya Vidya Bhavan's Sangeet Samaroh celebrates years of effort to project, showcase and spread awareness of India's integrated culture flowing from a haloed past on to the present into the future. This year's programme included performances, among others, by Alarmel Valli and Shovana Narayan.

Alarmel Valli and poet/writer Arundhati Subramaniam, in a collaborative venture, marrying English poetry to Bharatanatyam interpretation, wove a magical evening at Kamani. Valli, in crying form, set the ball rolling with a sensuous ode to love, based on verses from Bhoja's “Sringara Prakasham” and Kalidasa's “Ritu Samhar”. If one celebrated love as the king of all rasas, with each of the states of being encompassed in its emotional entirety, the other in the description of Nature's bounty exemplified the atmospherics of love in Nature with the concluding note addressed to protagonist Manmatha triggering male/female attraction through his flowered darts.

Setting the tone with Kamas raga, the score by Rajkumar Bharti, rendered through the melodious, bhava-soaked singing of Nandini Anand Sharma aided by sensitive instrumental support, was joyfully visualised in the movement music of Valli's lissome, graceful dance. A contrasting mood, (from Sangam poetry's Kuruntogai) flowed from Valli's oft-presented item, spelling poetic desolation of love, in the midnight hours of a cold winter, when the nayika sits lamenting love's disappointment. Abhinaya is the art of suggestion and the dancer's gentle shrugs symbolising the bull shaking off the flies settling on it with the soft tinkling of the bells round its neck, all seeming to enhance the feel of loneliness, were subtly communicative.

Sringar's angry virago in the javali “Muttu voddu Raa” projected the nayika rejecting the advances of the philandering lover, commanding that hands which had clandestinely engaged in caressing and embracing the other woman be kept off her person. Again changing to love's happy face, Kalittogai verses (music for Sangam pieces composed by Prema Ramamurthy) visualised a young maid's confession to a friend of the ruse hatched to make the shy personable man (bravely spearing elephants but lacking the courage to voice the love his smitten looks confirm) declare his feelings. Requesting that he push the swing she is perched on, she soon lands in his arms after pretending to swoon.

The crowning finale “Vigil” based on Arundhati's English poem, portrayed the contemporary woman with contrary feelings. Contemptuous of the eternally waiting woman's classical image, her reflective intellectual honesty admits that she can cut a similar image waiting for the beloved now. “But only till the light fades,” she says, in a final assertion of her identity, not willing to lose herself in a total surrender.

Caught in all its emotional contrariness, the excellently recorded score by Raj Kumar Bharti starting with Charukesi, going into rare ragas like Vijayanagari and Suchiritra, puts two ragas like Kamboji and Hamsanandi face to face, in a comparative reflection of two images — one evocative of past woman and the other evoking a contemporary feel. The genius lies in the superimposition of Carnatic music with the English poetry, the two streams running in total togetherness, the seamless weaving of music and word making neither sound culturally alien or dissonant to the other. And how intelligently the movement images by Valli brought out the archetypal woman of yesteryear and of today! Everything came out of complete internalisation of the poetry by both dancer and musician. An exhilarating experience!

Darkness to light

The other senior dancer Shovana Narayan connected the metaphor of darkness to light with knowledge removing ignorance, with the abstract content of Kathak dance, following the invocatory verses of the “Asatoma Sadgamaya” hymn, when the light of movement-knowledge activates the subtle body and its energy centres leading to the ultimate illumination in the awakening of the Kundalini Shakti. A seamless non-stop start-to-finish recital, one felt would have underlined the idea more forcefully than breaking what was a short programme into nritta sections like Gati.

The darker side of man not being allowed to overcome his more refined half was illustrated through a poem “Vishangi”, Shovana's interpretation a homage to the recently departed poet Kanhaiyalal Nandan. Fed periodically on antidotes of poison till her body is so venom-potent that one kiss is sufficient to kill a man, she becomes a weapon for destroying enemies. Vishangi loses her heart to a comely man who reciprocates her love. Hit by the realisation that even her touch could kill, she leaves him, allowing finally for true love to triumph over desire. Shovana was badly let down by the music, unimaginative in conceptualisation and rendition, with the decibel level reaching heights when even the padhant began to sound like jumbled cacophony. One wondered if non-working monitors cutting out all sound from the stage contributed to this state of affairs.


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