Sunanda Nair shows the essence of the ‘Nalanda Bani’

Mohiniyattom artiste Sunanda Nair performed at Bharath Kalachar’s December Festival, 2018, Chennai   | Photo Credit: K_V_Srinivasan

Mohiniyattom dancer Sunanda Nair is the senior-most disciple of Kanak Rele, the illustrious Mohiniyattom dancer-researcher and Founder-Principal of the renowned Nalanda Nritya Kala Mahavidyalaya, the first college exclusively for classical dance in India, and Founder, Nalanda Dance Research Centre, Mumbai.

Not surprising then that there is a strong strain of academics and research in the ‘Nalanda bani.’ As Sunanda says, ‘Dr. Kanak Rele researched body kinetics and re-created adavus from the karanas of the Natya Sastra, interpreting them within the framework of the Mohiniyattom technique. She classified the adavus into levels depending on the angas, limbs, that were used the most — starting with the shiro-greeva bheda adavus (head and neck movement adavus) moving downwards up to the feet and the wrists. We use sopana sangeetham with emphasis on bhava not gamaka. We do not perform jatiswaram, varnam, etc or use thattu-mettu adavus, amongst others, which is believed to be a Bharatanatyam influence on Mohiniyattom that may have crept in, in Swati Tirunal’s court. My guru revived old and forgotten dance pieces. Our repertoire starts with Ganapati invocation, nritta piece - mukhacalam, ashtapadi, a padam and jiva, a slow to fast nritta piece. The basic mandalam position has the toes pointing forward not sideways like in Bharatanatyam, with about two feet space between the heels as in Kathakali.”

Sunanda’s recital of ‘pure’ Mohiniyattom was absorbing from an artistic point of view, and interesting academically. The slow melody in the pushpanjali ‘ta ri ta jam’ (Nattai) lent itself beautifully to the deep-seated mandalam and the wide circular movements of the torso, creating a visual poetry. Unfortunately this was our only peep into the Mohiniyattom movement technique. The imbalance was explained by Sunanda as storytelling dominates Kathakali, Ramanattam, Nangiyar Koothu and other art forms in Kerala.

The abhinaya is finely nuanced — the flow of expression, the degrees of emotion and any switch in emotion are meticulously decoded. The ‘Yahi Madhava, Yahi Keshava’ Ashtapadi, when the lovelorn Radha confronts Krishna who comes to soothe her the following morning, was a brilliant delineation. There is anger but it is dominated by the hurt of betrayal. Seeing the errant Krishna at the door, she is annoyed, takes a step back to cry, but this sadness changes to anger within seconds. She speaks to him smiling angrily, perhaps sarcastic but not quite, as she re-creates the other woman’s attentiveness and Krishna’s mesmerised response the previous night. The hurt stayed like a backdrop to the anger, sometimes more visible, but never gone. The effect was deeply felt emotion. The sad Kaapi and the subsequent Behag raga strains by Ishwar Ramakrishnan (violin) ushered in the emotions as did the bhava-rich singing by K.M.Vishnu. Sateesh Krishnamoorthy (mridangam) and Nandakumar (edakka) were musical and sensitive.

‘Ashtarasa’ (ragamalika, visualisation by Kanak Rele) was based on verses from the Natya Sastra, where each rasa was given time and placed within a context to facilitate a gradual build up, with cause and effect, vibhava and anubhava, projected. Sringaara rasa, for example, was detailed with utmost sensitivity — a heightened sense of being when one is in love, shown by the sensuous enjoyment of rain, flowers on the hair and finally the tenderness between the couple.

The Sabari episode from the Ramayana, in which Sabari, waits for years in the hope that Rama will visit her, was the last offering. Little things such as keeping the same anticipation on the face while showing the ageing in the woman and the passage of years, were beautiful .

Given this detailing, one could not follow how the old woman throws her arms up in delight when Rama finally arrives at her doorstep. That was one action that didn’t match in the 70-minute recital.

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Printable version | Oct 14, 2021 11:58:39 AM |

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