Umbilical Connection Dance

Music and dance are like inseparable twins

Chandralekha   | Photo Credit: Raghavendra Rao

To think of music and dance as two separate entities, or even two sides of the same coin, is perhaps not an accurate representation of their ethereal relationship. Their relationship is akin to that of a foetus inside a mother’s womb, kicking excitedly, dancing, in response to the mother’s voice, which it perceives as music.

Hailing from a family passionate about music and dance, I have had the fortune of experiencing the two forms being showcased in different permutations and combinations. My earliest tryst with dance began when I was around eight years old and started learning Bharathanatyam from T.K. Mahalingam Pillai of Raja Rajeshwari Kala Mandir, Bombay. As I progressed, I was lucky to be taught the ‘Daanike’ varnam in Thodi, one of the important pieces in the Bharatanatyam repertoire. The varnam dates back to the 1800s, and was composed by the Thanjavur Quartet.

Overlapping art forms

Though my involvement in dance receded once my attention completely turned to music, the connection remained. Among the stalwarts in music and dance who visited my parental home was the legendary Balasaraswati. T. Brinda, my guru, was Balasarawati’s cousin, and both were granddaughters of the renowned Veenai Dhanammal. While Brindamma’s music was like the ‘Ajapa Natanam’ of Tiruvarur Tyagesa, Bala’s unique style combined music, dance and bhava into one power-packed delivery. This was one of my first experiences of understanding the potential of these two overlapping art forms.

Inspiration from such personalities during my childhood has greatly shaped my own performances; consequently, a little bit of animation and drama has seeped into my music. A singer seems stationary during a performance, but every nerve, muscle and cell in her body dances to her own singing. I remember a particular experience in the mid-1990s with the well-known choreographer Chandralekha, when I composed the music for two of her choreographic works — ‘Yantra’ and ‘Bhinna Pravaaha’.

Chandra always had a standard tip to her dancers — to keep their lower spine firm, no matter what the posture. This yielded remarkable results, with the dancers moving with vibrancy even at the slowest tempo. My mind goes back to my sessions with the renowned Voice Master Eugene Rabine in Germany, who taught me the method of holding my spine erect to achieve a open and liberated throw from the voice. Once I incorporated these inputs into my performances, I deciphered a marked change in both my delivery and the reaction of my audience.

Later, music-dance collaborations honed my understanding of other intricacies. One such instance is a joint performance with dance exponent Lakshmi Viswanathan. In an event hosted by the Bhulabhai Memorial Trust, Mumbai, she did a brilliant extempore abhinaya to my niraval of the line ‘Manasukentho Ananda’ from Tyagaraja’s Thodi kriti ‘Ninnuvina Sukhamu Gana.’ More recently, in February 2017, eminent dancer Malavika Sarukkai and I did ‘Sammohanam’, a performance based on the concept — the dancer sings with the body and the musician dances with melody.

During these experiences, I discovered yet another dimension to the music-dance relationship — the way in which the singer and dancer instinctively adapt to each other; different points when one takes the lead and the other mellows, the dynamic tension which ensues; this is itself a dance. It reveals an important tenet — the rapport between musician and dancer plays a significant role in the quality of the performance.

At this point, I am reminded of the special moment on stage when Padma Subrahmanyam danced spontaneously to my rendition of the viruttam, ‘Karunai Enum Varidhiye’ on Kanchi Maha Periyava, which was captured on television. Padmaji’s abhinaya left the 2000-odd people in the auditorium, including myself, in tears.

In the past several years, I have enjoyed the privilege of sharing the stage with great exponents such as Birju Maharaj. On every such occasion, I am reminded of the beautiful words of Charles Baudelaire: “The dance can reveal everything mysterious that is hidden in music, and it has the additional merit of being human and palpable. Dancing is poetry with arms and legs.”

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Printable version | Jun 12, 2021 5:00:12 PM |

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