‘Padavarnam’ was a seminal work for Urmila Satyanarayanan for two reasons — it established her commitment in training students, and secondly, established her individuality as a dancer-teacher. The presentations, though time-tested, had new elements, new movements and new emphasis to demonstrate her creativity, and represented a departure from the days of gurus K.N. Dandayuthapani Pillai and K.J. Sarasa.
The movement vocabulary included sharper, more angular movements on the diagonal, extensions of the nattadavu family, and some Ravi Varma-inspired poses and steps. There was a change in the treatment of varnams as well, with less extended abhinaya passages and more nritta.
The Sunday morning recital presented three of her accomplished senior students — Sowjanya Suresh, Akila Bala and G. Shruthilekha. They were confident and beat-perfect. Every dancer has his or her strengths, and as an attentive teacher, Urmila has done well to recognise and encourage these.
‘Padavarnam’ turned out to be a margam with two padavarnams, ‘Sakhiye inda velaiyil’ (Anandabhairavi, Adi, Shivanandam-Thanjavur Quartet) and ‘Nathanai azhaithu va’ (Kamboji, Adi, Tiruveezhimizhai Kalyanasundaram Pillai). There was no overlap in treatment and interestingly, the sakhi mattered in neither varnam.
The senior most dancer, Sowjanya, shone in the Anandabhairavi varnam, skilfully tackling the elongated jatis, (Karaikudi Shivakumar) but it was the bhava that was mesmerising. Able to hold on to expressions for a length of time, Sowjanya presented some well-nuanced sancharis.
In the opening phrase of the pallavi, the emphasis was on the recollection of past interludes rather than the padartha abhinaya of cajoling the sakhi, and in the second part, ‘Endan samiyai azhaithodi va’, she presented Rukmini’s letter to Krishna and how he saved her, depicted the nayika’s surrender. The sthala puranam of Mannargudi Sri Rajagopala’s mismatched earrings was depicted well. There were, however, some instances that required more clarity. One imagines that the crinkles will be ironed out over time.
Akila has well-rounded skill sets. She handled the opening tisra Alarippu (K.N. Dandayuthapani Pillai), with additions of attami in mandi adavus on all four sides and the shodasa upachara and homage to the ashta dik palakas within the tisra framework, and kept precise time.
In between the padavarnams there was a light-hearted javali, ‘Sarasamulade’ (Kapi, Adi, Poochi Srinivasa Iyengar), in which the nayika tries to convince Krishna that the time is not right for a dalliance, with the family around on a clear moonlit night. It is not straightforward because the nayika has to show that she is flattered by the advances, but not ready to reciprocate for fear of being discovered. Akila rose to the demands of the role with reasonable clarity. The broad smile she gives Krishna while possibly shutting the door on his face was the winning moment of the piece. She presented the closing Tilang thillana (Adi, Lalgudi Jayaraman) with some smart endings while landing on one leg.
Agile and accurate
There was a surprise package in Shruthilekha, a smart young dancer, in the Kamboji padavarnam.
Beyond the opening formalities, one sees lightning footwork, superfast execution, agility and ease in handling any speed in nritta. She carried the ‘Urmila araimandi’ at all times. Each jati was almost an event with different reference points — one was a long one, the other full of twirls and jumps, another in tisram, and the last superfast one was amazingly accurate. There was also a seamless move from jati to arudi without a break.
Precision is her forte, which she carries to all aspects of dance. Presenting Subramanya’s procession, with him on the chariot, and the Kama-nayika encounter were different ideas that were portrayed correctly.
The musicians were praiseworthy: Hariprasad (vocal), Saikripa Prasanna (nattuvangam), Nagai Sriram (mridangam), Sashidhar (flute), and Kalaiarasan (violin). The nattuvangam and music were some of the strong points of the programme.
The Chennai-based author
writes on classical dance.