After a loooong break, I am back to blogging another post on historical snippets series. In this post, we not only come across an interesting topic, we will see some photos as well.
In music there are embellishments, also known as ornamentation (List of embellishments in western classical music can be found here). One such embellishment in Carnatic music is Gamakas, without which I think the music would be bland. Since dance is known as visual music, can we find an equivalent of Gamakas in Bharatanatyam? Now, that needs some thinking and that’s what K. V. Ramachandran discusses in the paper titled “The Grace Notes of Dance” published in the Journal of Music Academy of Madras in 1954 .
According to another blogpost that I came across, K V Ramachandran was a music and dance critic [2, 3]. He is credited as the one who discovered Sangraha Chudamani. Read about him here and here. He was known for his strong views, which after reading this 1954 article, you would find some strongly worded sections. Quoting an interesting note from the Guruguha blog, for the following photo (emphasis added).
Interestingly given perhaps the reluctance of dance artistes to model abhinaya for him, he himself along with his wife (in madisaar) performed some of the postures for camera, to serve as illustration for his articles!
This reminds E. Krishna Iyer’s similar way of popularizing the art form, where he put stree vesham (in lady attire) and performed and pictures exist in internet.
Disclaimer: I have attached the link to the pdf as part of this post. I am not really quite sure of the copyright, although the website had no mention of it anywhere. So, I will remove the document if anyone points to any copyright infringement.
Could the listener have a pleasant experience of a concert if there were no gamakas introduced at the right moment by the musician? The answer is “No”. So, the author starts the article with the question:
are there factors in Dance analogous to the Gamakas, the conscious and deliberate employment of which enriches and exals the art and the omission of which debases it?
The answer, in his view, lies in flexion of the body. Body flexion ranges from
subtle nuances, buoyant rise and dips, tender swaying of the head,
to movements like the
flame deflected by the breeze
The reason he mentions is the participation of the Upangas makes a rich impression of the dance, thereby making it more authentic than a drill. Hmmm…could a flexion make a movement more aesthetic then the same without movement? Most probably, specifically in the context the author is explaining. But, again the demand and introduction of flexions must be strictly within the framework of the mood portrayed.
What about a subtle attami in a movement? Can we call that as an embellishment? While discussing this article with my friend Raj, he opined that
the many layers of abhinaya in a sanchari; nritta with expression can also be equivalent to gamakas.
Of course, not just flexion but there are so many other things that I think all can be considered as visual embellishments in dance. In fact, the tholthali or the shoulder-blade-jerk that is getting disappeared thesedays is an equivalent of gamaka in dance.
My good friend and (ballet and modern) dancer Lisa Thurell, says
musicality, individual interpretation, “line” and ‘form” phrasing and interesting creation of choreography
are probably the embellishments in ballet and modern dance. While first two are broad terms, the interesting creation of choreography is definitely one could say an embellishment. Something that comes to my mind, after reading interesting creation of choreography is ‘Lamentation’ by Martha Graham. Look at this video where she explains the choice of the costume and some background for the choreography. What I want you to look at is timestamp 3:06, the lifting of the right leg. In my opinion, that single movement just enhanced the message and was very effective.
In the article, K. V. Ramachandran has has a couple of photographs of a BN dancer called “Syamala Mahadevan of Shamnagar”. The article mentions her as the grand-disciple of Vidvan Chinnayya Pillai of Tanjore. Meaning that Syamala Mahadevan’s guru’s guru was Vidvan Chinnayya Pillai. Unfortunately, there is no mention of her guru in the article.
A little background about Chinnayya pillai might be needed here for some of us. He was the second son of Thanjavur Kuppuswamy Nattuvanaar, and was born in 1876. No, don’t confuse this Chinnayya pillai with the Chinnayya of the Tanjore Quartet. At this point, I need to point out that his father, Thanavur Kuppuswamy Nattuvanaar and his eldest son Vadivelu, were part of the dowry troupe of the Baroda palace. If you remember the earlier post on Devadasi video and audio, Baroda Gauri was part of the dowry troupe that accompanied Princess Chimna Bai of Thanjavur. Vidvan Chinnayya Pillai of Tanjore passed away in 1956.
Back to Chinnayya pillai of Tanjore, he accompanied dancers for their performances as a percussionist (mridangam). At the insistence of Vazhuvoor Manickam Pillai (the same from whom Vazhuvoor Ramaiah Pillai learnt nattuvangam) and others he learnt the nuances of BN and started teaching dance. He had many disciples, one of them must be Syamala Mahadevan’s guru.
Without further ado, here are the photographs of the dancer Syamala Mahadevan. In the article, the legend for these photographs are not numbered and connecting the dots is a tad difficult. I have tried my level best to match the photograph with the supposed legend. Correct me if I have missed something. Click on the images for a bigger sized image.
Thayyamthatha Adavu Variation 1
Thayyamthatha Adavu Variation 2
Thayyamthatha Adavu Variation 3
It is interesting to note that a single photo is described as Thillana.
Dhit dhit tai Adavu
Dhit dhit tai Adavu
This movement is mentioned in the article as a calssical Angahara reconstructed from the Natya shastra, to emphasize the point that “traditional dance permits new creations”.
Ta Tai Tam adavu – a new version
This the “sword” adavu for being razor sharp hand movement. Some variations the author suggests are to have the adavu preceed by a side or front jump.
The hidden gem in the article is the following sentence (emphasis added)
Whether in music or dance the standard is the Vilamba-kala, slow tempo…What an unpardonable offence then is the modern (in 1954!) craze for speed? Not only speed has driven out all aesthetic qualities, but it has reduced all systems-even the genuine ones-to a dead level. Lack of knowledge, of course, is at the bottom of this state of affairs.
In fact, the very next paragraph talks about how some dancers are ignorant of how to portray Nataraja accurately. He goes to say in an effort to depict Nataraja a “travesty” is done in translation of the sculpture to dance, and it ends being a “clumsy and inelegant”
Wonder what his views would be with the changes that have happened in BN since 1954.
- “Grace Notes of Dance” – The Journal of the Music Academy 1954, pp. 93-100