“Ageless magic of the margam”- Alarmel Valli

 Here is an article fromThe Deccan Chronicle identified for us by Mr. K.T. Jagananthan . The following is an interview by Ms. Alarmelvalli”Some decades ago, when globalisation was still an unfamiliar concept, I performed in a tiny jewel of a mountain village in Italy. The setting was picturesque — a village square with a breathtaking view of the valley. My audience was a large gathering of farmers, villagers and tourists who had come to watch what had been billed as “Classical temple dance of India”.

The programme was an uncompromisingly long margam (traditional repertoire) complete with alarippu, varnam, padams and thillana. In those distant days, to that uninformed audience, Indian culture, let alone Bharatanatyam, must have seemed strange indeed — art from an alien planet.  Yet, at the end of the performance, their response was overwhelming and heartwarming. An elderly woman in a black skirt knelt at my feet and kissed my hands, thanking me, tears streaming down her face, while others queued up to express their joy. In all the years that I have performed, in diverse forums in India and abroad, whether in a sabha or opera house, college or museum, village or temple, to audiences spanning a vast spectrum of cultures, tastes and experiences, I have almost always presented a complete Bharatanatyam margam. And, I have marvelled at its unfailing power to transcend cultural and linguistic barriers and to touch people at the most intense level, to become what Ruth St. Denis says of dance — “a means of communication between soul and soul, to express what is too deep, too fine for words”.

There is a perception today, that the margam is obsolete, boring, lacking in contemporaneity, that it puts the dancer in a figurative strait-jacket. I remember the amazement of a modern dancer on hearing that all the dances in a margam I presented at the International Festival in Vienna, had been choreographed by me and that even the poetry and music for some of the dances had been specially commissioned. He had been given to believe that the very concept of choreography was incompatible with the classical Indian dance repertoire!

In my view, the margam, with its perfect structural balance and harmony, is but a beautiful framework for the performance that gives ample scope for individuality and creative expression. It is up to the dancer, to invest it with life and meaning. The margam gives me a vast and diverse palette to choose from, with exciting colours to paint my dancing spaces. If it is “boring”, surely we have ourselves to blame. In our age of sensationalism and short attention spans, group programmes and dramatised thematic presentations make for easier comprehension and appreciation. The solo performance and margam can make enormous demands of both dancer and audience. Planning an interesting and balanced margam is vital for an artist to communicate successfully, to forge that invisible link between audience and artist. But I do not subscribe to the view that dancers should play to the gallery, for to do so, would be to underestimate and patronise the audience.

Since I first began learning dance, I have seen many innovative changes in the margam. An invocation may range from the minimalist beauty and geometry of an alarippu, through the kritis of famous composers, to compositions entirely conceived of and structured by the dancer.  In one of my invocatory dances, celebrating the magnificence and beauty of the sun, I used verses from both Sanskrit texts and from the Kamba Ramayanam and also introduced a tanam from the concert repertoire, shaping it to suit the dance idiom. Contrary to the opinion that the margam is limiting, I find it infinitely liberating, for it does not tie me down to any one subject, but offers me the freedom to traverse myriad themes in the span of a single performance.

The strength, power and beauty of the margam, lies in its ability to integrate the physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual dimensions of life. Martha Graham, a great modern Western dancer/choreographer said “I think the reason that dance has held such an ageless magic for the world, is that it has been the symbol of the performance of living”.”

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One response to ““Ageless magic of the margam”- Alarmel Valli

  1. i admire your blog! its a treasure of knowledge in the school of dance… thanks for sharing all the pearls with us.
    good luck!
    i have linked your blog in mine!!! ( thats a small token of appreciation i could give u):)

    Thanks Meghna
    Regards,
    Sangeetha

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