Bharatanatyam, then and now

Speaking as a practicing artiste, who has inherited that tradition from illustrious gurus, Malavika Sarukkai took a deep look at the art and the changes that has influenced Bharatanatyam. What elevated her morning lec-dem session at The Music Academy on ‘Tradition and change in Bharatanatyam’ was her sincere introspection into the dance’s deeper meaning without merely resorting to words. She demonstrated the changes that she had envisaged through excerpts from her stage performances. Clad in a peacock blue costume, she was accompanied by a wonderful live orchestra that added depth to the presentation.

She quoted from Douglas M. Knight’s book on Balasaraswati, and also from the speeches of Rukmini Devi to support her views on change.

For instance, Rukmini Devi had said, “No traditional artiste would argue against the notion of change." Malavika pointed out that many changes have occurred in costumes, repertoire, and the dance practitioners themselves among others. Feeling the need for more change, she demonstrated how themes will have to move on from those of a woman seeking the love of her beloved.

Stillness and movement

Malavika went on to present an excerpt from ‘Sthithi Gathi’, (Raga Madhuvanthi) that dealt with stillness and movement. The choreography showed how change can be brought without moving away from the core of Bharatanatyam. Change should not happen as a quick fix, she warned. In her case, the shift from the Margam to experimenting with different themes was carefully made after long periods of deep inner searching and hours and hours of discussion. In ‘Sthithi Gathi’, she goes from stillness to movement through segments of adavus.

Sruti in dance

‘Sruti’ in dance refers to harmony of the body and mind, and is wrought by a dancer when he/she delves into her inner self to find it. When this happens, dance becomes an observation of life. Malavika demonstrated this through an excerpt from ‘Yudhisthira's Dream’ (ragas Nilambari and Sahana). This piece shows a deer appearing King Yudhisthira’s dream when he is in the forest. ‘If you continue to hunt us, how will we survive? I am tried of running away from your arrows,’ laments the deer. Thus the dance moves from conventional themes to more universal ones such as environment.

Rasa in aesthetics

Looking at dance as one with other art forms such as paintings, sculptures, music and so on, the last segment of the session (raga Sriranjani, part of a ragamalika piece) was inspired by miniature paintings of the 17th and 18th centuries. In this presentation, Krishna and gopis are seen dancing in joy. Following the sound of Krishna’s flute, the gopis who yearn for his presence, experience an ecstatic awakening.

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Printable version | May 12, 2021 9:26:01 PM |

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