Thinking patterns

Lec-dem by V.P. Dhananjayan. Photo: S.S. Kumar   | Photo Credit: S_S_KUMAR

Held in the comparatively less used theatre for dance events Tattvaloka, “Nritya Samrachana”, a joint effort by Apsaras Arts Singapore and the Sruti Foundation Chennai, offered an intriguing mix of the known and the not-so-well-known aspects of classical dance. V.P. Dhananjayan’s lecture with demonstration by students Pavitra, Divya and Gopu Kiran, on aspects of composing and innovating a repertoire based on margam principles, (but with special accent and consideration for the sidelined male dancer according to the master himself), began with changing the then dancer’s casual walk on to the stage for the alaripu, into a more stylised entry suiting the formal proscenium theatre. His Natyanjalai incorporating the ten mandala sthanakas, the fivefold 3, 4, 5, 7, 9 arithmetical combinations in rhythm, and the hasta mudras, concluding with the nritta rendered to pure percussion, provided suitable introduction to the Bharatanatyam technique with fivefold obeisance to Vighneswara, Saraswati, Vishnu, Shiva and the guru. The centrepiece of Nrityopaharam, despite initial criticism, established the couple in the dance world, its all-bhakti mode, thematically woven round the Krishna myth based on Turaiyur Rajagopalasarma’s musical inputs. Nandini Ramani’s lecture-demonstration concentrated contrastingly on features of a sampradaya varnam, with her training under S. Balasaraswati and Sri Ganesh son of Bala’s Guru Kandappa Pillai. Perhaps the accent on the legendary abhinaya aspects of Bala made Nandini focus on the less understood subtleties of the rhythmic legacy of this lineage — where just a few ‘sollus’ creating clean architectonic geometry of rhythm specialised in unarticulated points, cross rhythm patterns, an unrelentingly held araimandi position — all with the singing of the lyric never pausing. With tricky to grasp micro intervals of starting and ending points in the tala cycle, constant repetition was the only way of mastering these nritta passages, where quiet efficiency was the rule. The trikala jati (opening nritta passage of a varnam in three tempi) using the Tat Tai Ta Ha adavu mostly, Tisra nadai jatis used in the famous varnam “Danike takujanara” were demonstrated by Nandini and her daughter.

“Scripting for solo dance”, featuring Sujatha Viyagaraghavan and Gowri Ramnarayan, provided insight into the composer’s mind of how seeds for a thematic idea are sown. Concentrating on her latest work “Yashodhara”, Gowri touched on the challenges of scripting. Redolent with images from Ajanta painting, Sanchi sculpture and literature, not to speak of a whole soundscape (here the singing of Amrita Murali), one interacted with experts from other disciplines. Symbolism even in the costume colours — with recurring images — of the lotus, visual of the haunted eyes of Prince Siddhartha in all his regalia in the painting on stage, an angavastra used in the Bharatanatyam moves of Yashodhara suggestive of a nostalgic link with the past. From virohini and dukhini, in her survival attempts, Yashodhara turns to painting. Her surrender in total renunciation comes after reconciliation with the Buddha.

Starting from “Pibare Krishna Rasam” in 1968, where Krishna visualised in different manifestations was based on poetry/lyrics by poets from across the country, Sujatha’s concept of “Desh” from Vedic age to freedom from “Veda Vakyam” to “Satya Dharma Paripalanam” highlighted attitudes of dharma versus adharma using Ramayanam on one side and Kurukshetra on the other, one with music set to raga Mohanam and the other to Revagupti. The final message lay in colours of the tricolour used symbolically. In “Buddha Deva” composed in the margam mode, from a pushpanjali in Arabhi and Durga, from the Tamil Manimekhalai, to her own varnam composition where the ‘artha’ of ‘Sidhartha’ becomes the central motif, to Tagore’s Natir Puja scene, Sujatha has a flair for transferring poetry into different contexts. Another example was the lyric “Naan oru vilaiyattu bommaiyya” in a segment visualising Sita pleading with Rama that she accompany him to the forest. She used instrumental interventions at suggestive points of a dance narrative.

Narasimhachari spoke on the jugglery of arithmetic in nritta compositions. How combinations of 8 (5+3), 10 (5+5), 12 (5+7) had Tisra, Khanda and Mishra coming together, how the speed dictated the jati composition. (In a composition already set to madhyama speed, the higher pace can only take combinations in 3 rather than 4 to enable dancing comfort.) Using the phrase ‘Tat Jham’ was also demonstrated. Visuals from the “Pallaki Seva Prabandham” with an interaction of Parvati — whose dialogue is scripted in the original — and Shiva (whose answers with no script were based on solfa passages), were informative. As was the mention of “Landscape of Emotions” in which the nritta passage suggests not just the tread of galloping horses but also the growing excitement of the hero setting off to meet his beloved. Use of folk rhythms and Tolu Bommalata visuals for the pallaki procession were absorbing elements.

V. Bhanumathy’s ability to explore the geometry of Bharatanatyam movement for group choreography has no second. The dancers create straight lines, horizontals, triangles, squares, circles, without diluting the araimandi concern or changing what Guru Dandayudapani Pillai had taught. Even the arudis create group patterns. One saw entrances, exits patterned with lines forming and melting without jerks, Trained to a point of automation, one wondered about how the solo psyche of these dancers, so used to working in a group, changed.

Padma Subramaniam nursing a sore throat and unable to sing, demonstrating music for dance, was like Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark. But she demonstrated a scene from “Viralamalai Kuravanji”, which she learnt from the devadasi Annamma. Having been trained under several teachers like Salil Chowdhury, from Meera bhajan in Hindi structured in the varnam format to creating music for visualising karanas, Padma spoke of how many of her compositions of music could be called ‘Lakshana geet’ incorporating dance technique. Rising and falling notes could be denoted by movement confined to head, torso or below waist. C.V. Chandrasekhar showed how mnemonics, sounds, for him meant music, imparting mood to a situation. The subject of set, light and dance designs saw some interesting snippets of works by Apsara Arts of Singpore whose productions like “Nirmanika” have dance with collaborative artistic lighting highlighting the beauty of architecture.

In “Aalam” or “Banyan Tree of Life”, juxtaposing a Ravi Varma painting with a freeze by a live dancer, and the latest extravaganza “The Untold Story” narrating the life of the Khmer Queen of the Emperor Suryavarman II, saw light interacting between dance and temple backdrop creating magic, though monetarily such lavish creations are beyond the reach of Indian artists. Dancers like Ramli Ibrahim dwelt on working light as part of the designing of a work. Roja Kannan, Amrita Murali and N. Srikanth demonstrated how Bharatanatyam dancers combined their strong points and created work with which they had travelled the world.

The Dance and Media discussion produced much froth. But then as one person in the audience said, considering the economics of dance writing, was it fair to complain of lack of professionalism?

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Printable version | Jan 23, 2022 2:15:40 AM |

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