Music

In sync with the steps

Mridangam vidwan Nellai D. Kannan details the techniques needed to accompany a Bharatanatyam dancer

Renowned mridangam vidwan Nellai D. Kannan presented a lecture-demonstration on ‘Mridangam playing for Bharatanatyam’ under the auspices of Natyarangam, as part of its effort to explore the different aspects of Bharatanatyam. It turned out to be a special occasion and drew applause when Kannan revealed that he was completing 40 years in the field, exactly on that day.

Kannan began his lec-dem with the line, ‘Nandhi Maddalam Kotta,’ from the familiar kriti, ‘Kalai Thooki’. He paid tribute to the great nattuvanars and acharyas for whom he had played. He specifically mentioned Vazhuvoor Ramaiah Pillai, Kittappa Pillai, Dhandayuthapani Pillai, K.N. Pakkirisami Pillai, Thanjavur Arunachalam and Pandanallur Chokkalingam Pillai. He cited the innovative styles of Pandanallur Srinivasan, Arumugam and Kanchipuram Ekambaram who was associated with T. Balasaraswati.

Kannan praised the way the stalwarts played for jatis.Playing for adavus was popular. He talked about playing rendaam kaalam (second speed) for adavus, which enhanced the visual beauty. The keezh kaalam would be so charmingly presented by natyacharyas that it was easy to follow them. Kadirvel Nattuvanar and Govindaraja Pillai of Sri Raja Rajeswari Bharatanatyalaya of Mumbai were two good examples, he said. Kannan pointed out that the best way to gain experience was to practice and perform.

“I used to play a lot more for rehearsals than for actual concerts and that is perhaps one of the secrets of my success,” said Kannan. “By playing the mridangam for sampradaya bhajanai, you gain knowledge of the different kaala pramanam. My father, Nellai Devarajan, had a troupe of nearly 15 mridangam players. It was during his time that my basic foundation was strengthened,” he added.

Nellai Kannan had interacted with several natyacharyas, and for his lec-dem he chose to enumerate his experiences with two of them. The first segment focused on his experiences of playing the mridangam for guru Adyar Lakshman. Kannan first played the Thodayamangalam in his dance class. Although Kannan had learnt it in the bhajanai sessions, he did not disclose this to the natyacharya, who however, was quick to question his familiarity with the piece. He next asked Kannan to play for an alarippu, which he did and completed it with a makutam.

When Lakshman asked him, “Did you understand the alarippu?” Kannan replied, “These are khanda alarippu and tisra alarippu (5+3+3).” The guru said that it was tisra dhruva talam and complimented him for playing with ease the talams, which they learnt with much difficulty. He then demonstrated playing for the jatiswaram and confessed that it took nearly four months for him to internalise it. Kannan said that those who play for Bharatanatyam could confidently accompany vocalist in kutcheris. Mridangam maestro Trichy Sankaran once said, “Enjoy the song, do not start playing immediately; wait for the right opportunity to join in. You should know where to embellish the line.” Kannan recalled how Guru Karaikudi Mani had showed him how to play for different nadais.

Kannan said playing for sancharis in classical dance was an art. He demonstrated this by playing for the line, ‘Tamadam Seyyadu Vandarul,’ and went on to play for padams and javalis, and elaborating for Sakhi Prana. It was a challenge to stretch it to suit the bhavam of the line. ( ‘Izhuthu vaasikkanum’.)

The second segment was on the repertoire of guru Swamimalai K. Rajaratnam. In this he was ably assisted by nattuvangam artist, vocalist and dancer Swamimalai Suresh (disciple and nephew of the natyacharya), whose wife and disciple demonstrated the pushpanjali in Chakravakam. Suresh recited the jatis for ‘Innum En Manam Ariyadavar Pola,’ a Lalgudi varnam, for which Kannan demonstrated his mridangam artistry.

“In trikaala jati, the mridangam should not spoil the beauty of the sol,” he said. Before singing for the kriti, ‘Kaa vaa vaa,’ Suresh sang a virtham, ‘Oru karam adithal,’ where the transition from virutham to kriti was smooth and so was the mridangam accompaniment. Suresh demonstrated blending of the talam and the sol. Kannan also showed how in the past , they had played for the adavus.

Kannan emphasised that the arudhi in varnams should be short and said that “Both the eyes and the mind should be totally focussed on the dance. It is not proper to write down the jati and keep looking at the paper while playing it. You must memorise them.”

Acknowledging that Bharatanatyam is about team work, Kannan said that he, as the mridangam player, was like a mirror. On a concluding note he declared that “I listen to all, but I play according to my kalpana”. That summed up his style. He added, “I enjoyed whatever I did!” That perhaps summed up his quality and as an ace accompanist in the orchestra.

While Ananthasri assisted in nattuvangam with vocalist Radha Badri for music support, disciples of Roja Kannan participated in the lec-dem.

The lec-dem would have been more interesting had he demonstrated playing for different nadais and highlighted the differences between schools in techniques in a dance orchestra.

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Printable version | Mar 29, 2020 3:27:12 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/music/In-sync-with-the-steps/article16287484.ece

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