Up-and-coming dancer Harinie Jeevitha, a Bala Shree awardee, has it all: a personable presence, an excellent sense of timing, grace, agility, suppleness, perfection in execution, an expressive face and a palpable passion. She is a disciple of Sheela Unnikrishnan, an exponent of the Melattur style of Bharatanatyam, who can take credit for this level of proficiency.
The recital, a part of the HCL Concert Series at the Music Academy, commenced with a traditional Mallari in Gambhira Nattai , composed by mridangist Guru Bharadwaj in the 23-count misra jaathi Dhruva tala in vilamba, madhyama, tisra nadai and dhurita kalas.
Visualised with a suggestive movement vocabulary by Sheela and augmented by beautiful music, the brisk opening made one sit up and take notice.
Allusions to the dancing Lord Nataraja in the ragamalika, misra chapu tala Sabdam, ‘Thillai Ambalam,’ gave Harinie the opportunity to strike some impressive poses that defied normal standards of flexibility. While the sabdam showcased her confidence, the Dhanyasi varnam, ‘Nee inda maayam’ (Adi, Papanasam Sivan), brought out her maturity.
Well-rehearsed and in control, the dancer breezed through the brisk jathis (Guru Dhandayuthapani Pillai’s sollukattu compositions visualised by Sheela). She braved Guru Bharadwaj’s nimble-fingered fillers between sollus and kept up an energetic high through the many utplavanas (jumps).
The vibrant jathis aside, the lyrics were presented as lively episodes but for the pallavi. Sheela’s nattuvangam was sharp and lively - the episode of Kama (Cupid), raining love darts on the suffering heroine, emerging as a standout piece with excellent timing and interpretation.
Kama shoots his flower darts with his back to the audience, while the nayika, dramatically wounded by the darts, faces the gathering.
The arudis of the charanam swaras also need special mention - the straightforward thai dhi dhi thai ta jam (3) turned into a dramatic sequence with Krishna leelas depicted in them.
So much vibrancy, however, led to the dilution of the sthayi in the varnam. One lost track of the nayika and her longing for Krishna. The jathi too had an imbalance in the composition of adavus. Most steps were ‘contemporary’ in the sense of standing and movement steps with araimandi seen in bits and as a stark contrast in the subsequent thattu mettu sequences. The ‘big’ steps add grandeur and excitement no doubt, but not to be used to the exclusion of heavier stamping adavus.
Sheela shifted gears in the subsequent Syama Sastry Saveri keerthana, ‘Sankari Sankuru’ (tisra gati Adi) to show that she can carry off a slow, meditative piece as well. Preceded by the Sri Lalitha Sahasranama dhyana sloka, the piece had heavier adavus in the swara passages, was quiet, devotional, in short everything that the varnam wasn’t.
The sharp tone of the panchamam-tuned mridangam lowered its volume and slowed the rhythm, with soft beats made by the tips of the fingers. The melody from Ananthanarayanan (veena), whose Khambodi was also appreciated was beautiful, as was flautist (Devaraj)’s contribution. The last-minute replacement, Tygarajan (vocal), impressed with his strong voice.
A Kshetrayya padam, ‘Evvade’ (Sankarabaranam, misra chapu) presented a mature Harinie as a seemingly innocent and affronted nayika, who is secretly flattered with Muvva Gopala’s attention. She finished with a Swati Tirunal thillana ‘Thaam thaam nam’ (Bhoopalam, Adi), a lively piece in which Sheela had visualised Kathak-style counts for each hand and one for the neck, never missing out on an opportunity to add theatrics. And when Harinie executed a two-legged jump to land on her toes in a full-sit mandi adavu in the end, one could not help marvelling at the energy and the passion.