Alarmel Valli. File Photo: K.V. Srinivasan   | Photo Credit: K_V_Srinivasan

It was dance of contrasting tones that one was treated to during the week gone by. A feisty social activist, dancer Mallika Sarabhai voices existentialist angst through her art. “The Dammed” presented by Darpana Performing Group on the concluding evening of the 38th Vikram Sarabhai International Arts Festival at the Shri Ram Centre, came through as a searing indictment of both establishment and society, oblivious to the wretchedness of displaced people (numbering 66 million according to the UNCHR) — driven out of their homes with woefully inadequate rehabilitation, in the name of so called ‘progress’. Uncomplicatedly simple in gesture, movement, and narration, the skill of the multi-media dance drama lay in simultaneity and juxtaposing of the audiovisuals, the sound tape and the parallel criss-crossing movements of live performers, grim faces sculpted with the inevitability of doom, visualisation by London–based Dutch choreographer Naomi Deira, evoking dramatic intensity of gut wrenching power.

The opening sequence pertained to the Narmada project, resulting in the displacement of thousands. The extra-ordinary visuals on the screen, showing desperate figures clinging on to poles, neck-deep in ever rising water levels, screamed hopelessness in the bleak look in the eyes — the submerging of all hopes and life.

Sabarmati in Gujarat was yet another beautification project, rendering thousands homeless. The last sequence was about the ousted artistes from Delhi’s Kathputhli Colony (performers in delightful stiff skirts with doll like mechanistic movements), desperately struggling with large drums and poles, in the teeth of unimaginative alternate accommodation provided in multi-storeyed buildings.

Polarities of mood

It was an experience of polarities of mood and tone from the dance of pain to the enchantment spun by Alarmel Valli’s Bharatanatyam interpretation “How do I reach you?” at the Habitat, spun round songs of Annamacharya’s poetry. The dancer’s journey began with poet/writer Arundati Subramanyam’s ecstatic endorsement of the many-sided genius of Tallapaka Annamacharya’s verses to which she became alive through a translation “The God on the Hill” by an Englishman. The songs discovered years later in 1922, engraved on copper plates tucked away safely in the Tirumala Devasthanam, showed the sophisticated craft of this 16th century genius writing poetry underlining the divine/secular, and the male/female inter- relationships, covering the range of the devotional, the philosophical and the erotic. Arundati’s lucid introduction and reading out of the English translations of songs chosen, substantiated by Alarmel Valli’s own articulate pinpointing of special features of each, made for an entertainingly enlightened event. The devotee’s adulation as curtain-raiser, marvelling at the all- pervading presence of Venkateswara as “Sriman Narayana”, embodying all the cosmic elements, was enriched by the interweaving with a verse from Tamil Sangam poetry eulogising omnipotent Divinity of the fragrance in the flowers, the brightness in the Sun, the coolness in the Moon, the heat in Fire, the truth in the word and virtue in valour. With Nandini Anand’s magnificent vocal support, and fleeting but meaningful interventions on the violin by K. P. Nandini, flute by Sruti Sagar, and percussion by Shaktivel Muruganandan, the sheer excellence of the musical accompaniment enhanced Valli’s movement involvement and grace. Changing from devotion, was a peeved Alamelumanga as khandita, “Kopamu Meerina meede..., rejecting Venkateshwara’s flattering advances and sarcastic in exchanges with the Lord. But desire getting the better of her anger, she finally relents. The music in Athana combined early belligerence with the final surrender. The winsome tone next portrayed Alamelumanga as the sensuous, provocative dancer performing behind the translucent curtain, “Alarala kuriyaga aadenade” in Shankarabharanam, a popular lyric for dancers in the South. The title song in a sense, “Yedupaayamo” portrayed the ardent devotee’s anguished cry for some way to reach the Lord — everywhere and in everything and yet formless, unseen and intangible. The music in raga Charukesi captured that yearning in the verses, with Valli’s rendition deeply involved. To end on a positive note was Alamelumanga as swadheenapatika in “Eninavadu” — her irreverent, tongue-in-cheek, mock humility in referring to her husband with friends underlined by confident joy and security of knowing she rules his heart fully. Prema Ramamurthy’s ragamalika score, effervescing in Behag, Mohanam and Kamas, suited the poetic tones.

Eternal companion

The sakhi as the eternal companion, sent as dootika on behalf of the friend, and as one not completely above falling prey to temptation herself, is a significant part of the love triangle, inspiring countless music and literary compositions. After S. Kanaka’s recital on the Dootika years ago, with late K.S. Srinivasan’s poetry selections, one was treated to “Dooti Vilasam” by Geeta Chandran at the Chinmaya Auditorium. Designed in three sections — “Just the Other Day”, “The Plea” and “The Shattered Glass”, the performance began with a mimed narrative of an interacting twosome, exchanging gossip, playing pandi or ball, replete with teasing, laughter and fleeting misunderstandings. Sudha Raghuraman’s wordless, ragamalika viruttam style music of swara/ tana syllables freed the dancer from tala/ time signposts, the Bhairavi conclusion catching the nayika lost in love thoughts, paving the way for the next sequence. “The Plea”, with classical weight and depth, was symbolised in the varnam in Surutti, a composition of Subbarama Dikshitar. Addressing the Raja of Ettayapuram, the object of her friend’s desires, the Dootika pleads the case of her friend whose accomplishments and physical allure constitute the ideal mate for him. “Saami nee kenta nee telputura, sutati suguna mu”. How do I tell you of the great beauty and qualities of my friend?” she asks. After the myriad images of her beauty and her talents in the pallavi and anupallavi, the charanam statement expressing her everlasting love for the Raja had in Geeta’s choreography images of Divinity like Vishnu as Anantashayana, interpreting Ettendra as emissary of the divine. The teermanams composed by Lalgudi Ganesh, with Guru S. Shankar’s nattuvangam, had all the rhythmic punch and clarity in the danced version. “Shattered Glass” saw two convincingly interpreted padams. The Saveri “Unnai Doodanuppinen” portrays the Nayika reprimanding the sakhi as messenger, arriving with telltale signs of love that betray her disloyalty. The next well known composition in Saurashtra “Aduvum solluval, anekam solluval” showed the Nayika talking about the rags to riches story of her friend, now too big to remember the days she came begging for jewellery and clothes to wear.

The desire for a reconciliatory ending, with the sakhi asking for forgiveness and all forgiven with the two companions again on the old footing, seemed simplistic.

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Printable version | Feb 26, 2021 1:31:39 AM |

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