The life and choreographies of Guru K.J. Sarasa was celebrated over a two-day dance festival, ‘Sarasa Natya Mala’ by the present and former students of Sarasalaya in Chennai recently.
As Sarasa Teacher’s vibrant pieces were presented, one could see the musicality at the genesis of all movement and how she sought to entertain through traditional Vazhuvoor-style steps and rhythms. She dramatised nritta through striking eye movements, rhythmic korvais, and fast-paced adavus, and the straightforward yet effective way she made the dancers look dynamic while using up the stage space.
Sarasa Teacher’s only considerations were drama and beauty -- she did not mind using movements from other dance styles if she thought they would fit into the song. She stressed on individuality and encouraged creativity in her students, welcoming suggestions on any change.
A faithful reproduction with in-built room for adaptation was the rule of thumb. For example, the juniors’ brisk Pushpanjalis (Nattai, Adi and Hamsadhwani, Adi) and ‘Vaarana Mukha Vaa’ had been adapted for a group by dancer Shanmuga Sundaram, who runs Sarasalaya today.
The most stunning was the Khamas padavarnam ‘Saminirammanave’ (Adi, Ponniah Pillai) adapted by Bhargavi Gopalan, Lavanya Shankar and Swarnamalya Ganesh into a vibrant group presentation. The dramatic possibilities in the pallavi and anupallavi were explored thoroughly by each in turn, making the varnam a bit tiresome, but their coordination and stylish execution was a treat.
In the same vein, if Kavitha Ramu’s version of ‘Maragadamani maya’ (Arabi) was a bit slower than the original, this senior dancer certainly possesses the artistic licence to present it her way.
Shanmugam’s chiselled movements and agility impressed in ‘Sankara Sri Giri’ (Hamsanandi, Adi, Swati Tirunal), while Sailaja’s energy in the Chokkanatha kavuthuvam and the burning devotion to see Nataraja in ‘Aadiya Paadathai’ (Pantuvarali, Adi) came through the dramatic choreography and execution.
The arudi, though the smallest nritta segment in the truncated Malayamarutham Varnam on Andaal, ‘Maayan vara kaanene’ (Adi, music composition K.T.Sivaganesh), had so much character, charm and lasya, it complimented the pace and energy of the jathi korvais. They were performed briskly by Srekala Bharat and intoned by Shanmuga Sundaram.
A. Lakshman scored with sensitive abhinaya in ‘Navarasa Nilaye’ (ragamalika, Adi, K.N. Dhandayuthapani Pillai) and drew spontaneous applause for the sringaara rasa episode, when Rama and Sita fall in love at first sight in Kamban’s famous words, ‘Annalum nokinaan, avalum nokinaal.’
The beautiful imagery of Devi in Urmila Satyanarayanan’s ‘Kanchadalayadakshi’ (Kamalamanohari, Adi, Dikshitar) and the saucy heroine in ‘Nee Matale Maayanura’, captured the innocent and not-so-innocent aptly.
Guiding the dancers was Meena Loganathan, Sarasa Teacher’s niece, who seems to have inherited a natural gift for laya and nattuvangam.
The skilled musicians were Girija Ramaswamy, Chitrambari, Roshni (vocal), M.S. Kannan and Srinivasan (violin), Dhananjayan and Viswanathan (mridangam) and Sruti Sagar (flute).
It was a memorial, homage and an interesting Bharatanatyam festival, all at once. It was presided over by dignitaries in the field such as Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam, Prof. Sudharani Raghupathy, Prof. Chitra Visweswaran, Prof. C.V. Chandrasekhar, Leela Samson and S. Raghuram. The festival was coordinated by Shanmuga Sundaram.
The comperes were S. Janaki and Sailaja.