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Journey in aesthetics

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POETRY IN MOTION Purva strikes a pose during her performance.
POETRY IN MOTION Purva strikes a pose during her performance.

RANEE KUMARRanee Kumar

Purvadhanashree's `Vilasini Natyam' was a stunning presentation of a dying art form.

Purva emerged as an epitome of her guru's vision. Each piece that was presented was a gem in itself.

It was a journey in aesthetics and in the process, revealing a priceless antique treasure trove. The temple dance structure was perhaps the oldest forms of performing art whose roots lay in pure classicism with a dash of local flavour, perhaps in keeping with the patron and public, not to mention dedication to the divine (Devadasi). This glorious art was on the verge of extinction with the abolition of devadasi system when the missionary zeal of certain litterateurs and dance maestros like Swapna Sundari ushered in a revival of the dance form and presented this pristine art in its real form with the help of the last batch of survivors (devadasi clan). Since the temple dancers were also essentially entertainers, the new nomenclature of Vilasini gives a more cosmopolitan connotation to the practitioners of this dance. Purvadhanashree, disciple of Swapna Sundari, thus displayed the history and resurgence of the Vilasini Natyam on screen through interesting visuals as preludes to the actual presentation of the dance. No two items seemed alike or repetitive either in the nritta or in the natya and nritya aspects. Extensive abhinaya was the hallmark of Vilasini Natyam and Purva presented hers as Tholi Viniki (First glimpse). If such a vast repertoire was termed a `glimpse,' only a conjecture is required to visualise the richness of the Vilasini Natyam as a whole! The divinity of dance is the most predominant feature of the Vilasini Natyam and this was amply exemplified by Purva in every piece that she chose to present. From start to finish, the mark of respect to the art form is evident like the salutations to the saptaswaras, the accompaniments-the mridangam, the cymbals, the singer, the other instrumentalists, the stage, the guru, the audience and God, beginning with Vigna Vinashakara, (set to raga Maalika) in praise of the lord to make the performance a success. This brief dance gave the audience a glimpse of what was in store in Purva's arsenal. The entire performance was in an ascending order with more and more intricacy worked out either in footwork or in abhinaya. The pallavi in raga Manirangu had a laid out taala structure of eight beats. Purva glided through the most complex footwork ever seen, with alacrity and acumen and a facial expression that defied even a moment's exhaustion. For most part, there seemed a predominance of the arthachandra and shikara mudras, though a lot of other mudras did figure in tune with the content of the song. Poorva undertook the elaborate jatis in steady ascending cycles with astonishing accuracy to the beats. The Salaam daruvu (in Mohana), which followed, was a peek into the court (royal) art (Kutcheri aata) where the patron (a ruler) is eulogised with a salute at the end of every verse. This particular piece is addressed to Pratapasimha (scion of Thanjavur). Purva's salaami was perhaps the most aesthetic part of the song and dance. There was a lot of artistry in the item going by the purpose of the presentation during those times. The artiste got transformed from the dedicated temple dancer to the poised court dancer and immediately her demeanour underwent a drastic change -- so much for Purva's histrionics. The unique and ancient varnam in Bhairavi (Saami vinara raa) was exceptional in its lyrical theme and presentation. The narration of its origin prior to the commencement of the piece threw light on the character and structure of the varnam. The elaborate jatis (a Swapna Sundari's creation to lend a classical credibility) were executed with exceptional precision to rhythm and defined footwork play. The artiste could convey the story with emotive ease in her facial abhinaya. The varied mudras (gestures) to describe the Lord Shiva (in this case Koppeyswara) from top to toe showed her expertise at imbibing this ancient form. The Padam (set to Sahana - misrachaapu talam) Aadadaani janmamu... . was the quintessential Vilasini Natyam (Mezuvaani) where the dancer squats on the floor and conveys the beauty of the lyric through hasta and mukha abhinaya (gestures). And Purva seemed an adept at this. The only snag in the entire presentation was the lack of swing in body movement, which is an integral ingredient of a Vilasini. Shweta Prasad's vocal was as emotive as the dance numbers warranted. As usual Thanjavur Kesavan was his eloquent best. Sridharacharya put his percussion to perfection while Venkatesh's venu made its presence felt. Saikumar on the violin was subdued. The dancer's choice of costumes in shades of deep and pale yellow lent an aura to the sanctity of a temple dance as the colour is auspicious in Hindu tradition. Purvadhanashree breathed life (sans any stage special effects) into the endangered art much to the credit of her guru. Her three-hour solo made the shabby Sundarayya Vigyana Kendram shrink into oblivion.


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