Designer, the new mantra

Priyadarsini Govind.  

(The concluding part of an article on adavus)

The relationship between music and adavus is fast becoming a thing of the past. Many young teachers and dancers today are sadly divorced from the intricacies of music, and this renders their nritta totally in variance with musical movement, particularly in jatisvaram, chittaswaram of a varnam and thillana. Dance is not only drsya kavyam (visual poetry); it is also drsya gitam (visual music). Every musical phrase is reflected in the dance. The very nomenclature ‘jatisvaram' says it all. It is a blend of music and laya syllables.

In a solo performance, there is only so much space a dancer can cover without seeming to run all over the stage or leapfrog sideways or in front. The present-day concert platforms with dimensions such as 60ft by 40ft often dwarf the dancer, who strives to act larger than life by running and leaping. The triple leaps diagonally across the stage, like the triple somersault in gymnastics, are great, when used sparingly. When repeated often, they tend to become tiresome.

The triple theermanam or muthaippu is executed ad nauseum into permutations running to 27 or even 54 cycles of thadinginathoms, all sound and fury signifying nothing. Instead of the traditional outline of the dance arena as a circle, the outline is defined as a rectangle with sharp corners. Therefore, three fourths of some of the movements are done in profile or facing the back.

A casualty

Many beautiful adavus seem to be fading into oblivion. Araimandi, the basic stance of Bharatanataym and its chief characteristic, is the first casualty. An illusion of deep araimandi is created by sitting for a brief pose, followed by several adavus executed in the standing position. To aid the illusion of the araimandi, the pyjama costume has been created with the three-tier fan reaching almost the ankle. Even if the dancer goes down just a couple of inches, the gorgeous fan spreads impressively. The dancer then happily executes most of the adavus in an almost fully standing position.

Full mandi adavus are already out along with Alarippu, where it is mandatory. Sarukkadavu, where the foot slides and the dancer does lunges, is performed by veterans such as C.V. Chandrasekhar and Rhadha, while the younger generation would gladly give it a go by. Nuances such as the delicate shoulder and wrist movements are seen rarely, if at all.

Some new choreographies make do with a limited repertoire of about 20 adavus that are not too taxing on the dancer. Gone are the days when a whole korvai of a jatisvaram or thillana was done entirely in araimandi. This reminds me of the breathtaking last korvai with non-stop dhi dhi teis, which rises to a crescendo in the thillanas of the Raja Rajeswari Kalamandir School of Mumbai, and Gurus Muthiah Pillai, Govindaraja Pillai and Kalyanasundaram Pillai.

Mannerism is the canker that eats up the beauty of adavus. Those days, the sharp eye of the gurus, who would conduct the recitals of their pupils, weeded out any mannerism that the dancer developed deliberately or involuntarily. No such checks seem to operate these days except under senior gurus, who still caution a pupil about a shoulder heave or a body jerk or a wrong look that has crept in. The dancers in their ignorance delude themselves that such mannerisms are their ‘style' and they look good. Like unnecessary brigas in an already perfect sangati, these mannerisms ruin the beauty of the adavu, a fact that becomes apparent when they are passed down to the disciples.

Threat to purity

The symmetry, logical progression, structural beauty and the flow in the adavu korvais, which are the hallmark of traditional nritta passages, are fast vanishing. In an urge to be different, the need to innovate seems to be threatening the awesome edifice of the pure dance aspect of Bharatanatyam.

A few years ago, a designer from abroad attempted to bring out saris with scalloped pallus, tinsel and cheap stones. The idea failed to gain ground at that time. The fad seems to have come back with the new designer saris that have flooded the market. The grace and grandeur of the traditional Kanchipuram pattu can hardly be improved upon. A few decades ago, there was an exhibition of rare Kanchipuram saris from Rukmini Devi's collection, with traditional borders, kottadis, thutharippu, veldhari, aathi vaazhaippoo and gorgeous combinations of contrast borders and pallus. The whole town was agog with excitement and the State Government Handloom Department revived the designs and produced them for a short period. We have fallen on days when an ordinary contrast attached border (korthu vaangiya karai) is not available any more as there are no weavers with the expertise to make such borders.

In Bharatanatyam too, designer adavus, to borrow a phrase from a dance critic, are taking over. It is time for dancers to open their eyes and ears and perceive the true beauty of what they have inherited and cherish it.

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Printable version | Oct 26, 2021 3:18:11 PM |

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