Though senior Bharatanatyam dancer Vidhya Subramanian has been a known name in the art circles for decades, this season may be a watershed in her journey to becoming a consummate artiste. Vidhya performed at Narada Gana Sabha.
Vidhya’s ‘Guru Margam’ brought two artistic schools together — the Lalgudi bani of Carnatic music represented by vidwan Lalgudi Jayaraman’s senior disciples, his son and daughter, Lalgudi GJR Krishnan and Vijayalakshmi, and the Vazhuvoor bani of Bharatanatyam represented by her as a senior disciple of Guru Swamimalai S.K. Rajarathnam. Classics such as Vidwan Jayaraman’s Charukesi padavarnam (‘Innum en manam,’ Adi) and the Mohanakalyani thillana (Adi) were presented through Guru Rajarathnam’s choreographies alongside contemporary pieces composed and visualised by the inheritors of these banis.
There was an elaborate orchestra that included the famous violin duo, Krishnan and Vijayalakshmi, besides Mumbai Shilpa and Murali Parthasarathy (vocal), Karthikeyan Ramanathan (mridangam), S. Srilatha (nattuvangam) and Muthukumar (flute). ‘Guru Margam’ commenced with a contemporary invocation to Guha through Vijayalakshmi’s lyrics ‘Hari Ayan siram padam darisikka’ tuned by Krishnan in Gambhiravani raga, Misra Chapu tala. Vidhya’s presence on stage was commanding, moving beyond the graceful, lasya-dominated style, which she retains, as she performed the swara and sollukattu passages and described the glory of Siva, the father of Guha.
Vidhya breathed fresh energy into the beautifully descriptive lyrics of the varnam, adding a spiritual angle to the heroine’s yearning for Krishna. Having been trained by the legendary abhinaya expert, late Guru Kalanidhi Narayanan, Vidhya’s emotive skills were never in question; it’s the new maturity in ideating that draws attention. She brought sensuality to the portrayal of the heroine stringing a garland of vyjayanthi flowers and asking Krishna whether she should garland him or herself since he is anyway indifferent. A reference to Krishna’s avataras was cleverly introduced during the muthayi swara sahitya ‘…pagaliravelaam ninaindurugiyum..’ orchestration.
The Vazhuvoor sollukattus were re-visualised in the theermanams; the new expansive steps did not however always suit the sollus. Preceding the varnam was a poignant verse by Vijayalakshmi, ‘Kaattu moongilaam’ composed in Chandrakauns in which she compares herself to an unpolished forest bamboo, praying for Krishna to fill her with music. The accompanying music was good, and when joined in by Vijayalakshmi and Krishnan, superlative. With so many inputs, the varnam ought to have been the star of the evening, but there was more to come.
A lullaby ‘Nilaavum vandhadhey’ tuned in Behag, Khanda Chapu, penned and tuned by Vijayalakshmi was an exceptional mood piece. It brought together the best from the musicians, the dancer and the poet. Most exceptional artistically was however ‘Manam enum kulamadhil thedugaiyil’ (the metaphor of a tank is used for mind) written by Vijayalakshmi and tuned by Krishnan in ragamalika (Vardhini, Bagesri and Surya), Sankeerna Chapu tala, which speaks of the mind that struggles to separate the good thoughts from the bad, just as a flower struggles to find its way out of the muddy water, until it realises that the power lies within. It was an abstract theme and hence experimental for Bharatanatyam. However the combination of aggressive music, poetic words and the expressive delineation built up the mood.It’s strange how collaborations take off at the most surprising places.
Why do composers do what they do is an intriguing question that is often left unanswered. . Lalgudi Krishnan was inspired by Tyagaraja’s only composition in Gambhiravani, ‘Sadaa madin’ to compose the invocation, setting it in Misra Chapu tala to reflect ‘gambheeram.’ What about the abstract piece? “I used Vardhini to denote the confusion of the mind and Surya when it calms down. As regards the Sankeerna Chapu-nine beats, the meter of the composition and the meaning talks of lack of clarity, so the composition when set to this gives a twist as it proceeds like Adi but gets extended,” said Krishnan.
Vidhya did well to include Lalgudi Vijayalakshmi’s emotion-filled poetry. Especially moving was ‘Kaattu moongilaam’ which incidentally was written after the demise of her illustrious father. The use of Khanda Chapu for the lullaby? Vijayalakshmi explained, “When you pat your child, you don’t pat in even beats! That’s why I chose thaka thakita!”