A stage of changeJul 31st, 2009 | By editor | Category: City Culture, Music & Dance
Participating in a ‘Writing Dance’ workshop for young hopefuls from different parts of the south nursing aspirations in a field crying out for more evaluative depth, was inadvertently an occasion for exposure to several non-resident Indian approaches to Bharatanatyam. For Hari Krishna, Toronto-based dancer/choreographer, Bharatanatyam provides the base for his contemporary dance productions in which in a non-hierarchical spirit, the full time dancers in his company work as equals. “The Margam Bharatanatyam comes with too much layered history I am not comfortable with.”
Praising his guru Kittappa Pillai as a ‘contemporary visionary’ who thought of a new form in response to the new situation, he mentioned the guru’s advice to forget the flagrantly female perspective of Bharatanatyam of the devadasis and look at each item from a neutral stance, without any gender bias. While Hari Krishna insists that all his international dancers go through a complete Bharatanatyam movement vocabulary regimen as the common springboard from which to explore new movement possibilities, Bharatanayam for him has to be a “continuum representing the new aesthetic”.
In his work “Inverse” created in 2007, where the Bharatanatyam influence is obvious, mudras and hand movements combined with the fluid torso and leaping movements almost seem like a clash of aesthetics, paradoxically resulting in a vibrant dance language. “Recipes for Curry”, bringing out the clash of cultures, had dancers clad in minimal clothing executing the odd jati in perfect Bharatanatyam technique. After a particularly hilarious satirical production on Bollywood and its dance, an Indian in the audience had walked up to him to say “You are insulting my culture.” Even at the workshop a youngster remarked in Tamil “Kittappa Pillai would have disproved of the way Bharatanatyam has been changed.” Saying what was being shown was not Bharatanatyam but something modern influenced by Bharatanatyam did not convince him.
Vidya Subramaniam, teaching Bharatanatyam in the Bay area of the U.S., presented a delightful Dashavataram created by her late guru Rajaratnam Pillai in the ’80s, with the story of avatars narrated through the rhythmic jatis with the one line sahitya only providing a link, and said that parents of her students were absolutely clear that no sringar item would be taught to the youngsters. “No sringar varnam and no padams. Even a mild padam, ‘Apadorukulaitinai’ in Kamas about a Mugdha nayika, when rendered by a student, had the parent with raised eyebrows ask “When did she learn this?” At Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan was “Her Story”, a duet by Srinidhi Raghavan and Sahasra Sambamoorthi visualised by Usha Raghavan the artistic director. The theme looks at the woman through four redoubtable Indian heroines of myth and literature — Kaikeyi, Devaki, Andal and Kannagi. A sound tape of well rendered Carnatic music with ragas judiciously chosen for evoking requisite moods, movement skilfully divided between two dancers with contrasting dance personalities acting as a natural foil for each other, in a mini dance-drama type of interaction, and the dance/literature connection reinforced in choice of poetry, were the strong points of the presentation. The nritta passages provided links and punctuation, varnam fashion. The strong, American-accented voiceover narrating the relevant sequence, with the dancers demonstrating, perhaps useful for the non-Indian audience, became an intrusive irritant —particularly since the story was again enacted in depth to musical accompaniment.
Parts of the dance narration became convoluted and overdrawn, as in Kaikeyi’s inability to make up her mind, or Devaki being asked to give up the baby Krishna, (one never knew whether the pacing figure in the background was Kamsa or Vasudeva). The first part of Kannagi was inchoate, and Kannagi’s shock on hearing of Kovalan’s execution and the anklet throwing becoming non-events, the fire scene and the King’s anguish at miscarriage of justice coming off well. The dancers switched roles and interacted as a twosome very well. Of the two, Srinidhi was generally more expressive. The “dhi dhit tai” syllables in the nritta sequences lacked clarity in footwork.