CHITRA SWAMINATHAN

Kalanidhi Narayanan's lectures, demonstrations and workshops have elicited widespread interest in India and abroad.

There's no art without expressions. And expressions do not mean just facial. It's the body language...

Whenever I attend dance festivals, I get to hear so much about Balasaraswati's dance. If only her performances were recorded. But the new generation learners have just words and pictures to conjure up an image of the legendary artiste, laments Nitya Raghuraman, an amateur Bharatanatyam artiste.This was Priyadarsini Govind's reasoning when she coaxed the veteran abhinaya exponent Kalanidhi Narayanan to do an eight-set DVD on Ashtanayikas. "I was quite apprehensive when Priya (Priyadarsini is her student) and Swati Soft Solutions (who bring out DVDs on dance) mooted the idea. She convinced me it will be useful for future generations. `Surely it is not for publicity. We need to preserve and pass on the knowledge and expertise,' she said and I agreed. In fact many of my students have been telling me to document my work for future references," smiles Kalanidhi or Maami (as she is fondly referred to in the dance circles).She then points out to the CDs stacked on a shelf in her modest drawing room. "Over the past 10 years, one of my students has been recording the workshops I have conducted in different cities across India." Her lectures, demonstrations and workshops have elicited widespread interest in young learners, professional dancers and art lovers in India and abroad.Kalanidhi was a visiting scholar and teacher at the New York University and the University of Austin in the U.S. "Not just Bharatanatyam, I have taught students pursuing different dance forms and have dealt with compositions in different languages. Emotions have an universal language," says Kalanidhi.Explaining why Ashtanayikas was chosen for the DVD presentation, Priyadarsini, who has coordinated and anchored the production, said they form the core of abhinaya. If you could understand and convey these eight moods, you could actually deal with any situation in dance. And imagine learning it from the queen of emotions. Each DVD features a detailed introduction, lecture-demonstration and explanation of the meaning of every line of the song chosen and performance by a senior student of Kalanidhi Narayanan."I wanted all my sishyas to be part of the project. For me, the guru-sishya bonding doesn't stop with dance. It's about learning, sharing and caring. I am delighted when I see my students going places. That's the most satisfying moment for me. Many a time I get to learn a lot from them," says the guru.Kalanidhi Narayanan learnt and performed Bharatanatyam during the movement for its revival in the 1930s. She was initially trained by Kannappa Mudaliar of Conjeevaram (now Kancheepuram). She also learnt the art from Mylapore Gowri Ammal and Chinniah Naidu, whose forte was abhinaya. So young Kalanidhi 's face mirrored the myriad moods beautifully. Though she gave up dancing just before her marriage ("because my masters and my greatest inspiration, my mother had passed away"), she came back to the field in the year 1972, after a gap of more than 20 years."My mother was a very good looking woman and used to sing well. She was also fond of dancing. Since she could not learn, she tried to fulfil her dreams by initiating me into the art. "Despite people mocking at her for making me learn dasi attam, she persisted with my father's support. Today every moment I think of her for giving a meaning and purpose to my life." Another person she feels indebted to is art-patron Y.G.Doraiswamy. "He was the reason behind my second coming. `Just refresh your memory and you will be back to your old artistic self,' he put it simply. He brought to me my first student Alarmel Valli. From that day till today, it's been a creatively fulfilling journey." Why did she choose to specialise in abhinaya? "Specialise? There's no art without expressions. And expressions do not mean just facial. It's the body language. But remember, you can't infuse too much emotion into movements and vice versa. There has to be an aesthetic balance. Once the balance is achieved, your dance looks wholesome." Talking about the modern approach to master things in minutes, she says, "it shocks me when artistes try to learn a fresh piece two days before a performance. It takes time to involve, understand, assimilate, interpret and emote. It's a proven process."On the argument that today's audience prefers to watch fast-paced rhythmic pieces, says the veteran, "Dance is not about tapping the feet, it's about touching the soul."