Exploration of expressions

ANJANA RAJAN says Veteran Kalanidhi Narayanan offered valuable tips in her review in The Hindu.

The fifth morning of The Music Academy’s Dance Festival featured abhinaya doyenne Kalanidhi Narayanan.Kalanidhi NarayananA fine introduction by Sujatha Vijayaraghavan led into the well-attended lecture-demonstration. While the doyenne sat on a chair on stage and voiced her thoughts on the subject, Bragha Bassel, one of her leading disciples, performed illustrative portions from various songs.

“In 1973, I came back to teaching, persuaded by Y.G.Doraiswami,” recalled Kalanidhi, remarking that her special interest in abhinaya lay in exploring the situations inherent in the lyrics and expressing them in as many ways as possible. By way of example, she showed how the same mudra, such as shikhara to represent the question ‘what?’ could be imbued with innumerable moods, pointing out that not only the position of the eyes and facial expression, but the entire body would be affected by the bhava.

“According to the feeling, the hand and body react,” she said, adding that this approach could be taught only up to a point. Each of her students, she added, built up the art individually and each would have a unique manner of expression, since an artiste’s experience, age and imagination all played a role in the abhinaya created.

However, there were certain basics, she pointed out. “You have to keep the character, the basic rasa of the padam in mind.” Most padams, she explained, have a descriptive portion in the anupallavi.

Citing the famous composition “Indendu Vachitivira,” she said, since it is in the voice of a khandita nayika, the sthayi bhava must be maintained even during the line, “Mandaragiridharudaina…,” where Krishna is referred to as the great Mahavishnu who held up Mount Mandara during the churning of the ocean of milk. “You can’t forget the anger,” she warned.

Another practical tip she offered was how to mime the different characters with enough space on stage so as not to confuse the audience. Much of her advice was common sense, but necessary in a confused scenario where one sometimes wonders whether the dancers themselves are clear on the basics of the technique.

“Only one hand cannot tell a tale,” she added. “The whole face is more important. Without hand gestures, the expressions alone may not be understood, but without expressions, the hands alone cannot explain.”

Bragha performed extracts from a number of compositions, including “Yaro Ivar Yaro,” which her guru said she chose because it is often mistaken for a female voice, whereas a careful reading of the lyrics shows it represents Rama expressing his attraction for Sita. Here, as in the padam “Vadaraka Pove,” Bragha excelled in the subtle shades that produce memorable cameos of a lover.

Poignant look

In the latter padam, her last look — where the sad nayika, despite having told her sakhi she does not want to see her lover now that her beauty and enthusiasm have all wasted away, still is obviously anxious to catch a glimpse of him — was poignant.

Leela Samson, director of Kalakshetra, brought the week of morning lecture-demonstrations to an end with an interesting talk and performance that evolved out of a necessity to change accompanists due to illness. In the first portion, she spoke of jatis and teermanams as they have evolved in the Bharatanatyam format, specifically choosing a number of percussion patterns created by mridangam vidwan Karaikkudi Krishnamurthy.

Acknowledging his contribution to her own and other dancers’ growth, she said, “When I was a child he had already set the path for mridangam playing for dance.” Pointing out the innate musicality of the jatis composed by Krishnamurthy, she demonstrated a number of these, explaining the way the dance steps were placed within the recited syllables so that each complemented the other.

Earlier, she performed the Bibhas raga composition of Madhup Mudgal, “Babhoova Bhasmai,” extracted from Kalidasa’s Kumara Sambhavam, in which Siva is portrayed getting ready for his marriage to Parvati. Explaining why she had used teermanams from Rukmini Devi Arundale’s famous dance composition for the Thodi varnam “Roopamu Joochi,” she said, “The reason I reinserted them into my piece is because they are teermanams I loved so much that I didn’t want to do them only when I presented ‘Roopamu Joochi.’”

She used the teermanams also as examples of the old style prevalent in the 1960s and the present-day, when jatis are extremely elaborate, long and ornate, and the equally elaborate dance work creates a “filigreed” effect.

In “Babhoova Bhasmai,” the dual nattuvangam by Shobana Swamy and Sheejith Krishna provided a powerful effect during the jatis. Sheejith’s recitation of sarvalaghu sollus during her simple striking (sama thattu) also enhanced the mood of the piece, in which Kalidasa evocatively describes the lustre of Siva, whose passion for his bride gives an extraordinary beauty to his ordinary adornments — snakes, tiger skin, his third eye and vibhuti, etc. The piece went down very well.

Leela also performed to a recorded thumri sung by Vasundhara Komkali, as an example of how inspired music brings out the best in a dancer, and to the Revati tillana by Lalgudi Jayaraman. Vocal by Deepu Nair was an asset, along with mridangam by Vijayaraghavan, veena by Ananthanarayanan, flute by Muthukumar and violin by Easwara Ramakrishnan.

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