It requires some amount of willpower to wake up at 5.30 a.m. and head for a workshop during the vacation month of May. However, the excitement to learn and interact with the faculty at ABHAI’s (Association of Bharatanatyam Artistes of India) summer Abhivriddhishala, was a great motivtor.
Over the course of five days, the workshop at Narada Gana Sabha was arranged for the participants in two batches — 8-16 years and over 16. The day began with a yoga session (‘Turning Inwards’) by Rohit Vishwanath. An introspective approach that looked at the connection between Raja yoga and Bharatanatyam, it was an attempt to make the youngsters aware of the power of yoga and to not just look at it as an exercise regimen.
Senior dancer Narthaki Nataraj took the participants through the nuances of the Thanjavur bani varnam ‘Mohalagiri Konden,’ a famous piece choreographed by K.P. Kittappa Pillai in ragam Thodi and Adi tala. “This varnam, which is centred on Mannargudi Rajagopalaswamy,” Narthaki explained, “has been choreographed in such a wonderful manner that the arudis do not always start in samam (of the talam) after every theermanam.” She emphasised that the abhinaya differed every time she danced, as the bani allowed the dancer to resonate differently with the music every time she heard it. She encouraged the students to be a thinking performer remaining alert to each and every movement.
Narthaki’s performance of the varnam, especially the ending, entranced the participants. For those who had not interacted with her before, her proficiency in Tamil amazed them, so did her bhava and spirited nritta. She was assisted on the nattuvangam by Shakti.
Bragha Bessel, an exponent of the form, chose the Paras javali in Aadi tala, ‘Madapayale,’ a beautiful piece where Cupid plays tricks on the nayika, who awaits the arrival of her husband. She chides him for daring to shoot flowers at her and says, “Just wait till my lord comes back, then I’ll teach you a lesson.”
As entertaining just as she was educative, Bessel was a sheer joy to watch and learn from. As she performed, she held the attention of everyone in the room. She was assisted by Sudarshini Iyer and Ananthalakshmi on the vocals.
On the fourth day of the workshop, ABHAI introduced a ‘Learning with the Legends’ session with Vyjayanthimala Bali. Students whispered to one another, trying to predict the padam the veteran would choose and the pick was the Sankarabharanam padam, ‘Maname Bhushanamu’ in Misra Chapu by Karveti Nagar Govindaswamy. “A woman’s pride is her ornamental beauty, a truth all over the world,” said Bali, explaining the nuance of the piece. The padam was taught in repeated segments, accompanied by Girija Shankar (vocals), Subhashini (nattuvangam) and performed by the Bengaluru-based Gayatri Sasidaran.
Vyjayanthimala Bali’s session set the ball rolling for more such interactive workshops. The afternoon sessions began with one of the more softer styles of the form , the Pandanallur tradition by Meenakshi Chittaranjan. A sollukattu jathiswaram in Thodi, a composition of the Thanjavur Quartet was taught to the participants.
Open sessions too were conducted for body conditioning through Kalari by Vasanth and a Jathi Jaalam session by the Karnataka-based Kiran Subramanyam. An experienced Kalari artiste, Vasanth introduced the dancers to the stretches and relaxation methods, along with the basics of the art. ‘Jathi Jaalam’ touched upon the importance of understanding rhythm and trained students in varied jathis. Priya Murle taught the Varuna Sandhi Kavuthuvam, another Thanjavur Quartet composition in Varali.
The workshop ended with ABHAI president, Roja Kannan telling the young practitioners to develop perseverance and not miss learning opportunities. This writer, a young student of Bharatanatyam, found in Abhivriddhishala a great platform to learn, engage, explore and interact.