Sunday, 30 April 2017

Dance Symposium on ‘The Art of Composing Dances’ 2003

Dance Symposium on ‘The Art of Composing Dances’
November 8, 9, 2003-A Report by Indu Raman

The Valedictory Address presented by me is followed by a report of the lecture Demonstrations by the participants.

To commemmeorate the Centenary of Rukmini Devi Arundale, who established Kalakshetra in 1936, I presented a portrait for the Gallery of Greats of the Shanmukhananda Sabha.

Symposium on Dance held by Shanmukhananda Sabha in 2003

Valedictory Address by Indu Raman

It is with utmost humility that I stand before this august audience of illustrious personalities from the field of Classical dance. It is an honour to stand here facing you all in this magnificient auditorium to participate in the prestigious Natya Kala Vidwat Sadas organized by this venerable organization Sri Shanmukhananda Sabha. I thank Sri. S. Seshadri and his committee for giving me the honour of being present on the same hallowed ground as the great masters we have seen yesterday and today, to present the Valedictory Address to conclude this event. I believe the valedictory speech should be not only a comment on the discussions, but also bring present a learned viewpoint on the theme of the symposium.

Sri Subbudu in his keynote address has addressed all the woes that plague dance –Bharata Natyam in particular- today. With an economy of words that carry the thrust of authority and experience, he has pointed out the flaws that a dancer composer should look out for.

The classical dance form demands rigid conformity to tradition. A visionary and highly evolved artist can transcend the tried and tested form to create anew. Again, just dedication, or hard work cannot lead one to this stage. It needs a deeper understanding, of the self and the art.  The dancer’s training leads her down the well-trodden path, the known and established. The dancer’s exploration should open the inner eye to newer vistas and open wider horizons. The technique of dance gives way to new interpretations. Grammar transforms into poetry. It is easy to conform. It needs courage to change and then stand by your convictions facing the criticism.
In the paper presented by Smt. Kalanidhi, she has brought out many a point very valid for the practice of Abhinaya in Bharata Natyam. Among them is one which I would like to reiterate for today’s generation. Over dramatisation, Smt. Kalanidhi states, i.e. ‘constant switching of personalities is not necessary … the characters should be portrayed as a fluid transition from the main character and back and not like a mono actor establishing different characters in different places.’ I would support this opinion wholeheartedly. Bharata Natyam is a narrative art. It has now become a practice for dancers to enact dramatic scenes even in a varnam or padam. The art of narrating a story requires subtlety and skill and the dance composition must project this skill. At this point I would like to say that aesthetics are important and even if elements  of lokadharmi is included, one must be careful about not allowing ‘virasam’. One example that comes to mind--I have seen very young girls, and adolescents perform the Draupadi Vastra haranam in such great detail with violence and vicious relish that it is alarming and disturbing.  As a woman, as a sensitive artist, I personally would prefer portrayal of the consequences of the action, the distress of Draupadi and her despair and shame rather than show Dushassana disrobe her. How different is it from the mandatory rape scene in a film? It creates virasam and probably makes some in the audience into vicarious voyeurs. It is a point for debate.

Shri Sachin Shankar has made the powerful statement that ‘a choreographer is a powerful person.’ he can contribute to society. He also says that Choreography has no limit. A worthy scion of the famous Shankar family, he describes the Uday Shankar method (of dance) a new, delightful, magnetic form of a dance style which opened up a new direction. He spoke with great conviction of how he can compose dance on any subject, to tell the story of today –where classical dance has its limitations.
We recollect the words of Sri Aurobindo: (he says)

“Between them, music, art and poetry are a perfect education for the soul; they make and keep its (the soul’s) movements purified, self-controlled, deep and harmonious.  These, therefore, are agents which cannot profitably be neglected by humanity on its onward march or degraded to the mere satisfaction of sensuous pleasure which will disintegrate rather than build the character.  They are, when properly used, great, educating, edifying and civilising forces."                                                                   

At this moment let us pause and silently bow our heads to the unknown composer of the dedicatory item called Alarippu. What a fine work of art! Here is an item which lasts for three minutes, but adapts itself to be performed in any of the five jaathis. It is popularly described as the flowering of the body, beginning with the delicate movements of the eyes, the neck, shoulders, arms, and wrists. With what ingenuity, the composer has included the three mandalas denoting the three worlds. Geometrical precision and symmetry includes magical floor patterns in various directions. The choreography incorporates the slow, medium and fast speeds. It is a brilliant and dynamic capsule presentation of the most important facets of Bharata Natyam.  And it has withstood, for three centuries or more, its original core, incorruptible, against the innumerable variations that dancers have tried to experiment. That is the test of an ideal dance composition.

A dance composition does not happen overnight or just on the spur of a moment. Or sometimes one feels it happens when it is least expected. It is often the result of a long subconscious process. The quest begins with sights and sounds of life’s experiences, the artistic environment, and the excellence of training and internalization of the guru’s words, is assimilated by the mind. One meditates constantly on the subject; there is frantic positioning and re-positioning. A spiritual current then galvanizes the mind and body and truth flashes before you.

Thomas Jefferson once said, ‘In matters of style, swim with the current, in matters of principle, stand like a rock.’ If we follow this mantra, then choreography will not miss the mark.  If a dancer stands like a rock by her tradition, and then swims with contemporaneous thought, she should be on the right track.

Both Smt. Jhelum Paranjpe and Ms. Anita Ratnam have proved this premise right with their cerebral approach to their work. The kind of introspection and thought process that goes into works like Leelavati, Narmada or Nachiyar, one can see that tradition serves the challenges of modern thought.

Kalidasa, in Malavika Agnimitram, supports this contention saying,


All that is old is not necessarily the best


Neither is new literature without merit

Dance, and specially Bharata Natyam is like water, adapts itself to its carrier. It does not matter whether there is classical Carnatic music, north Indian music, music without rhythm like raga or shlokas, music without words like thanam, words without music like poetry recitation, rhythms with no music like shuddha nrttam, or just silence- a dancer will still dance.

This year, dancers and cultural organizations around the world celebrate the birth Centenary of the pioneer of Dance in our country, Rukmini Devi Arundale. Rukmini Devi and Dr. Arundale believed that their ‘work in art would advance the emancipation of our nation. It could be used as a channel for the spiritual power of Nataraja. So people working in this Kalakshetra should dedicate themselves to the highest ideals for which it was established.’

One of my gurus, Smt. S. Sarada (Peria Sarada) in her book ‘Rukmini Devi-Kalakshetra’ highlights the nitty gritty of dance composition during the first few dance dramas. These little anecdotes are extremely important and significant. Remember, Rukmini Devi was facing a blank canvas. The idea of creating a new composition was not exactly in practice, as only traditional dance items were being performed by traditional dancers and gurus. In a path-breaking exercise, Rukmini Devi composed dance for Kritis that were till then only heard in a music concert. To create a new composition, one had to start by selecting songs. To select songs one had to really go back to unearth those suitable for exposition.  Dance itself was newly liberated. The joy and excitement must have been electric. A short excerpt from the book describing the making of the famous Kumara Sambhavam gives an insight about Rukmini Devi’s approach to the art of composing dance.

Tiger Varadachariar, the first Principal of Kalakshetra, was asked to compose music for this ballet. Rukmini Devi gave a general guideline about what she needed for the stage presentation of the story as well about the music. The opening scene was to be the invocation to the Himalayas, the abode of Siva and Parvati. Rukmini Devi desired that ten verses of description should be set to music which should be grand to suit the majesty of the great mountains. This music should resemble thanam without tala, and only have a general rhythm. It should not like any set type of music. Rukmini Devi had wished that the poetry which described the birth of Parvathi should be like a padam. She particularly wanted that the central piece of music of the dance drama should proclaim the greatness of Lord Siva, in the slow tempo. Tiger said he would compose two verses each in the five Ghana ragas. Without any hesitation, he began singing the first verse in Natai. We were wonderstruck and just about managed to write it down. (remember, there was no recording machine those days and music had to be written down in full notation. (‘We’ here denotes Smt. Sarada and Kamala Rani, who was the chief vocalist and nattuvannar right from the beginning.)
Music just flowed from him in all its glory. Tiger’s musical composition blended with the meaning of the poetry to enhance its beauty. “(* S.Sarada,’ Kalakshetra, Rukmini Devi’)

I chose to narrate this anecdote to bring out the importance of poetry and music in composing dance, a subject unfortunately not touched during this conference. I have personally felt this deeply when I studied the kritis of the saint poet for the making of “Sumati Tyagaraja”. ‘Evening after evening we sit and listen to our artistes rendering kritis of Tyagaraja. We seem enchanted by the melodies and repetition does not sour our ears. But let us turn our ears to the lyrics and let our thoughts dwell on his verses, contemplate on his poetic fancies, moral precepts, moods of anguish and joy, feelings of endearment and gratitude. All these make his songs come alive when presented in visual expression. ** (Indu Raman-‘Sumathi Tyagaraja)

Similarly, music changes according to the language of a composition. The stronger languages like Sanskrit or Tamil demands a handling different from a lyrical Telegu composition. The dance composition also changes accordingly. This was brought home to me recently when I faced the challenging task of producing a traditional bhagavata mela natakam in Thanjavur Marathi. Some compositions would just not set in very traditional Ghana ragas, but came out beautifully in ragas popularly used in Marathi Natya Sangeet.  The practical problem was the splitting of the words and syllables and the pronounciation. The dance style also simultaneously had to be adapted to the music. 
We saw this aspect demonstrated by Dr. Padma when the dance movement adapts itself to the rhythm and music of non-Indian music. One cannot rigidly juxtapose traditional dance on such music, but one has to respond to the implicit rhythm in that music. This is in fact, the beauty of the Bharata nrityam style which incorporates the lyrical swings and circumbulatory movements of dance. Music cannot limit dance and when talent like Dr. Padma’s which gushes forth like the Niagara, nothing and no one can inhibit or limit its application.
I have always emphatically and proudly declared that it is the dancer who does a music composition and its composer real justice. Whereas the singer is occupied in learning the raga, the pallavi, anupallavi, and memorising the number of sangatis, the dancer begins at the beginning---- the composer himself. When you study Tyagaraja or Subramania Bharati one has to attempt to study his philosophy, the events that moulded his thought, and experiences which inspired his compositions. Similarly, I discovered that in Maharaja Swati Tirunal’s brief and youthful life, he was torn between royal duty, love for music and dance, and responsibility towards the progress of his kingdom. Then one understands why he suffered, and died so tragically in his youth. This gives a new insight into interpreting his padams and varnams.  The dancer must satisfy herself as to the context of the song and its suitability to an exposition.  The dancer decides the tempo based on its mood, and whether it requires additional raga prelude, or an appendix of swaras. She dissects the lyrics, studies it word by word, explores the various shades of meaning, the possibilities of extending its reach and relating to allegories and only then makes a visual presentation to bring out its essence and correct representation. If only music students are taught the meaning and the context of the kriti they learn, I think it will make a huge difference to their presentation. They should similarly be taught the correct enunciation, and the appropriate kaala pramanam of the song. It is disappointing that many singers on the concert circuit refuse to sing for dancers. As my guru Adyar Shri Lakshmanan points out, a singer for dance acquires the quality of emotional depth. The dancer is visually representing the meaning of the words. This is an important aspect for all singers, but sadly neglected as they prefer to project technical mastery over rhythm and vocal pyrotechnics. Shri Lakshmanan also throws light on the importance of accompaniment on the mridangam, the correct use of the thalam or cymbals. Smt. Nalini Raghu took this a little further to demonstrate the actual use of intricate rhythmic patterns in Bharata Natyam.  I still remember that even Sangeetha Kalanidhi Umayalapuram Sri. Sivaraman has himself worked with Shri. Lakshmanan, to study the art of accompanying dance.

The predominant Rasa when viewing the Manipuri and kathak dance demonstration is adbhuta or astonishment. The sheer physicality and intricacy of its rhythmic infrastructure reveals the mastery of body, mind and rhythm. The grace and fluidity of these styles are a visual delight. I must congratulate Smt. Asha Joglekar and Smt. Darshana Jhaveri for their excellent presentation.
 Smt. Sobha Naidu beautifully explained the use of sanchari and elaboration of the padams. Deeply rooted in classicism and faithfully anchored to tradition, she demonstrated to us that our classical literature and its interpretation in dance today have only touched the tip of the iceberg. There is this fathomless ocean before us which will yield an infinite number of priceless gems. 

Describing the art of netra abhinaya and the various techniques practiced in Kerala, Smt. Kanak Rele gives us an introduction to the highly-evolved techniques used by the Chakyars in Kutiyattam and Nangiar Koothu. It is in this style that eyes are used to its maximum possible potential to express an object, a mood, an animal or a story. There are innumerable legends surrounding the power of abhinaya of the Chakyars. One of them, my favourite, is that as soon as a child is born, the father takes a red hibiscus flower and begins to train the baby to move his eyes.

It is a paradox. Scientific progress in this civilized world and global awareness of matters relating to health, care and nutrition has not stemmed the prolification of disabilitiy.  We see children with various degrees of disability and to discover that our ancient dance and theatre forms could be used as therapy is wonderful and Smt. Ambika Kameshwar deserves appreciation for her outstanding work in this field.

Once, I was addressing a group discussion of about fifty dance students, when one of them asked, “How do I know what is right and what is wrong when I choreograph something?”  I was initially stumped for an answer. When you speak to students, one has to carefully weigh every word one utters. Finally, my reply was, “It is not something I or even your own teacher can tell you. If you are a highly-evolved artiste, well versed in the philosophy, theory and practice of dance, then you will find the answer within you. You will know.  Hopefully, so will the audience.”

Like the churning of the milk ocean which brought to the surface both poison and the nectar of immortality, symposia like this one, churns up many ideas and brings to light many achievements. Some become immortal and others sink to the bottom of the ocean. Some form strong bridges which link artists around the length and breadth of India, some form a sethu bandhana with neighbouring countries and hopefully there will be no disputed lines of control like the Wagah border.


Indu Raman
Smt. Indu Raman trained under the guidance of Rukmini Devi Arundale and other eminent gurus at Kalakshetra, Chennai.
 “Sumati Tyagaraja,”, “Jaya Padmanabha”, and “Yamini”, are some of her thematic productions which received acclaim.

Awarded the Shringar-Mani by Sur-Singar Samsad (1976), Indu Raman is a writer on dance, music and theatre and has published features in leading art journals, newspapers.
As Chairman and Patron of Melattur Bhagavata Mela Natya Vidya Sangam of Tanjore from 1993-2002, Indu Raman dedicated herself to the revival, promotion and presentation of this dying tradition of Bhagavata Mela Natakams. Indu is the Producer/ Designer/ Director of a Marathi Bhagavata Mela Natakam ‘Sakuntala’ was successfully staged in a four-day festival in Mumbai in 2002.

Indu has been teaching dance since 1977.

Dance Symposium on ‘The Art of Composing Dances’
November 8, 9, 2003-A Report by Indu Raman

Dr.Smt. Kanak Rele.
Dr. Smt. Kanak Rele is a distinguished scholar-educator and an exponent of Kathakali and Mohini Attam. As Director, Nalanda Dance Research Institute, Rele initiated research in dance and allied subjects and is the Founder Principal of the Nalanda Nritya Kala Mahavidyalaya. Her extensive work with the scholarly poet Kavalam Narayana Panikker rejuvenated the repertoire of Mohini Attam  and restored the Sopanam tradition of music .

In the paper submitted for the symposium, titled ‘Theatrical Nuances In Kerala Performing Arts’ Smt. Rele outlines  the  concepts such as rasa, Natya Dharmi/lokdharmi, Dhvani and touryatrika as given in Natya Sastra. She further describes theatrical nuances of  Kuttiyattam and Kathakali , where artistic devices of stylisation like manodharma, pakarnattam, make-up and the specialized technique of netra abhinya .
In her demonstration, Smt.Kanak Rele was accompanied by vocalist Gireesan, Kathakali artist C.Gopalakrishnan on the Nattuvangam, Sri. Nambisan played the Edakka and  maddalam, while B. Anathanarayan gave the melodic touch for Mohini Attam items on the violin.
Kanak Rele first performed Nakaratundi Lalita in Kathakali as taught to her by her Guru Karunakara Panikker, who was renowned for his interpretation of ‘Panchali’. There is no such fury as a woman scorned goes a famous quote. Feelings of desire , anger and hurt flits across the mind of the woman who was spurned by her lover. The face is a mirror of artistry and Kanak Rele ‘s expressive face registered every fleeting nuance of these emotions.
The oft-performed episode of Puthana Moksham was repeated on this occasion too, but Kanak Rele selected an imaginative scene where the gopis are churning butter. The churning session becomes a gossip session and then, more interestingly, an ideal time to fix up a rendezvous with the lover. It was a treat to watch this veteran with her mobile face and large expressive eyes depict these situations with saucy humour. Smt. Rele paid a tribute to her mentor Prof. K. Srinivasan who gave her these ideas.
In Mohini Attam, Smt.Rele was on more familiar ground and excelled in ‘A Mother’s Lament’ where she portrayed her anguish at her daughter’s eloping. In ‘Gandhari’, Kanak Rele depicted the queen whose self-imposed blindness is interpreted not as just a blindfold but as shutting her eyes to evil. After the war, she goes to the battleground where all the evil souls lay dead. She could now open her blindfold and look at the bodies of her dead sons whose poisonous blood had stopped flowing for ever. The queen leads her blind husband away from the battlefield to the forests where they can spend the rest of their lives in repentance.

Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam

Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam ‘s lecture demonstration was disappointing for the young students in the audience. There had been no paper submission, and the lecture was a walk down an autobiographical memory lane where the main characters were family. ‘Jatayu Moksha’, her composition to Tchaikovsky’s Overture in ‘Romeo and Juliet, was screened. A student was asked to demonstrate three of the karanas used in the composition. Dr. Padma sang Chinese, Azerbaijani and Russian songs beautifully and recounted the occasions where she had sung them. This was of course an unexpected bonus. The heavy expectancy and excitement before her appearance was palpable in the auditorium. The large number of students and art lovers present had awaited Dr.Padma ‘s appearance with bated breath. Here is one artiste whose tremendous contributions to choreography are milestones in our dance history. The highly receptive audience would have benefited immensely to hear Dr.Padma speak about her work and her approach to creativity. This would have raised the symposium to meaningful heights.

Adyar Sri Lakshmanan

Adyar Shri Lakshmanan is the disciple of Rukmini Devi Arundale . He was one of the senior most students and trained in music, mridangam, and dance. He was honoured by the President with a Padma Shri in 1991. His institution Bharata Choodamani in Chennai has produced several dancers of high caliber.

 His paper on the subject ‘Nattuvangam And Dance Music’emphasises the important role played by the Nattuvangam artist in a dance performance. The Peria Melam is the Nadaswaram ensemble where the cymbals are played in a fixed rhythm (sarva laghu) even while the raga is being played. Chinna Melam is the dance ensemble where the cymbals are played by the conductor (Nattuvannar) who is the main leader of the party.

The Nattuvannar must be well-versed in vocal, mridangam, languages, the sastras, and dance. The nattuvannar plays a three-fold job of singing, recitation of the thirmanams, and wielding the cymbals. There are not many artistes today who are versatile enough to do all three.

In his demonstration, the veteran dancer/singer/Nattuvannar/mridangist/Guru  explained how to practice the recitation of syllables. Giving an example of the third speed in Alarippu, he explained that the silent akshara is filled in with an extra suitable akshara when reciting the second and third kalam.. Sometimes, silent aksharas in a Thirmanam  enhance the recitation. He demonstrated a composition of his on which used TOM as the main syllable.  Nandi Chol, another famous and favourite composition of his, incorporated the word NANDI. This was created as a tribute to the great Nandi, the bull who not only carried Siva on his back but also accompanied Him on the drum when He danced. Among his many innovations in dance, he cited the example of Vasanta Jatiswaram which was done in two speeds (kala). As a teacher, he had experimented in teaching students who could not sing to recite the swaras. This would give them a grip on laya and tala of the item they were learning. Any lapse in this area would be the teacher’s fault, he pointed out.
A sense of proportion is required when one composes thirmanams for varnams. The present trend of lengthy thirmanams during a varnam distracts the flow of the lyrics and should be avoided, he said.
Regarding music, Sri. Lakshman pleads for more experience and expertise in singers who sing for dance. He reminisced about the experience of a Balasaraswati performance where Tanjavur Gnanasundaram sang and Bala was inspired by him to improvise on his music.  The musician needs his freedom to improvise and the dancer should respond with suitable movement or gestures.
Sri Lakshman demonstrated two important contributions he has made to the art of  nattuvangam. One is the double beat used when there are two simultaneous steps. The nattuvangam follows the footsteps of the dancer, and when these double-steps are performed the nattuvannar used to play only one beat. The double stroke of the cymbal correctly reflects the sounds of the feet.
Another valuable idea was the invention of a special cymbal (thalam) which eliminates the mishap of the cymbal beating a silent stroke because it hits the thread which juts out of its face. He has invented a flat faced thalam which can be screwed on to the stem. The end of the thread handle is hidden inside the stem.
The lecture ended with his composition Sri. Parthasarathy (Madhyamavati) performed by his disciple Anita Ratnam.

Smt. Nalini Raghu

Nalini Raghu, who underwent Gurukula training in Bharata Natyam under Smt. B.Lakshmikantam of Sri Pichaiya Pillai School in Thanjavur presented a well-thought out lecture and demonstration. Sri Pichaiyah was the son-in-law of the legendary Guru Meenakshisundaram Pillai. Smt. Raghu is associated with the Anushakti Lalit Kala Sanstha in Mumbai for over 25 years. Her students from this school demonstrated the items. She was accompanied by Smt. Saraswathi Subramaniam (vocal), Sankaranaraynan (mridangam), and B. Anantharaman(violin).

In her paper ‘Cross Rhythmic Adavu Choreography’ Smt. Raghu explains the use of a device which may be incorporated into dance composition to enhance the beauty of the nrrta sequences. ‘When the rhythm of the footwork (adavu ) takes a different pattern from the rhythm of the swara pattern of a jatiswaram or of the rhythmic syllables of Jati, cross rhythms come into the picture.’ This is best demonstrated in the Tisra Alarippu where the ‘tat tai ta ha’ in the third speed is performed in chatusram. In the Jatiswaram (Kirvani) the thirmanam was depicted in three ways. First the adavus followed the jati . Then the adavus went from 1,2,3, when the jati was 3,2,1 and vice versa. This kind of composition gives an interesting dimension to the nrtta composition. Another possibility is the adavus being set in the offbeat- (Usi) when the recitation is on the first beat (samam). 
The students of Lalit Kala Sanstha who demonstrated were impressive. They revealed clean and correct bodyline, angashudha, and dedication to the art and the guru. The final Thillana composed by Nalini Raghu was an ode to atomic energy as Shakti.

What is the difference between a thirmanam and makuta jati? Answering this question from the audience, Smt. Raghu explained that our arts had an oral tradition, and there would be differences in the nomenclature of many terms. Both thirmanam and makuta adavu mean the same, i.e. the final ‘kita thaka dhari kita tom’ adavu used to end a sequence. Thirmanam is also a word used to denote the recitation syllables of a sequence like the Trikala thirmanam in a varnam or the shorter one in a jatiswaram, she explained.
In Tamil the word thirmanam means conclusion or determination. In dance the concluding sequence is repeated thrice .

Jhelum Paranjape

Jhelum Paranjape , disciple of Shri Kelucharan Mahapatra , the maestro of the Odissi style, has been steadfastly been presenting a number of productions on contemporary topics. A performer with a busy schedule and a competent and dedicated teacher, Jhelum runs Smitalay, a dance institute named after a dear friend, actress Smita Patil. She has participated in theatre performances and directed dance sequences in TV serials and films.
Choreography for groups using the Odissi technique is a special passion for Jhelum, who won appreciation for ballets like Maya Darpan, Leelavati, and Narmada.
In the paper submitted by Jhelum Paranjape, she has traced the history of Odissi, a style which won acceptance as a classical style after efforts by her Guru, Kelu Babu, Guru Mayadhar Raut, and D.N.Patnaik, a dance scholar. It was dancers like Priyambada Mohanty and Sonal Mansingh who popularized the art with their performances. The devadasis (Maharis) originally danced only in the temples. Their abhinaya was simple and did not use much footwork. This tradition was passed on to young boy dancers called gotipuas who dressed as women and introduced jumps, acrobatic movements and jerky movements. Jhelum’s students demonstrated these steps which included a full backward bend. Kelucharan Mahapatra was himself a gotipua in his childhood. His wife came from a Mahari tradition. He felt the need to enhance the style without distorting its body kinetics. Jhelum demonstrated the original style and then the aesthetically  refined style.
Another major change was in the language. Many regional language compositions were added to the repertoire which till then had used only Odiya and Sanskrit. This he felt was one way of introducing the style in the interiors of the country.

‘One should be careful about innovation,’ says Jhelum, ‘as there lies a thin line between exploration and exploitation.’ In an attempt to depict mathematical problems by using “Leelavati” a treatise by 12th century mathematician Bhaskaracharya, Jhelum and her students depicted one problem about a snake and a peacock. Strictly adhering to the Odissi technique, but innovating in costume and music (Vivaldi’s Four Season’s), the production was an impressive milestone.
Sometimes the theme compels one to create new mudras, charis and sthanakas or use them in variance with tradition.
Jhelum Paranjape’s lecture covered the theme of the symposium with relevance. It revealed the doubts and obstacles that arise during dance composition at every stage—concept, music, language, movement and the degree of innovation that will be accepted.

Guru T.K. Kalyanasundaram

The Sri Rajarajeswari Bharata Natya Kala Mandir was represented by Guru T.K. Kalyanasundaram . Several noted students and members of his own family performed excellently as dancers and as accompanists. Gurus Shri.Vasant and Shri Vishwanath were ably supported by the young vocalist Vidya Balasubramanian. Shri Hari Krishna did a double act as mridangist and dancer. The following time-honoured items from the vintage repertoire were presented:
  1. Paalum Thulithenum –Ganapati invocation
  2. Kauvutvams- Ganapati, Kartikeya, Nataraja, and Rajarajeswari
  3. Radha Krishna Leela
  4. Andal Dream sequence
  5. Pandu Adithal- Vasantavalli
  6. Solla Vandaye
  7. Thillana
Guru Kalyanasundaram’s son Hari Krishna danced a nrtta sequence to his father’s recitation of n intricate thirmanam.  The performance concluded with a detailed history of the historic Tiruvidaimarudur family and a display of the portraits of their ancestors. This session was performance oriented and though it spoke volumes about the eternal beauty of traditional compositions, could have been supported with an informative lecture. This symposium would have been the ideal platform to effectively project the value system embedded in our traditional approach to classical dance.

Smt. Kalanidhi Narayanan

Smt. Kalanidhi Narayan gave a brief display of Ashta rasa as found in some popular padams. She performed relevant portions of the following compositions. Her accompanists were Deepu.K.Nair (vocal), Srisukhi (Nattuvangam), T.Viswanathan (mridangam), and Vinod Kumar (violin).
  1. Mooshika Vahana
  2. Sive sringara –Ashtarasa slokam by Adi Shankaracharya
  3. Krishna nee- Vatsalya
  4. Chaliye kunjananme-Rati
  5. Jagado Dharano- Bhakti
  6. Edai kandu- Bhibhatsa
  7. Etta irundu Pesu- Roudra
  8. Vadiga Gopala- Bhaya
  9. Yaar endru- Veera
  10. Payyada – Karuna

Smt. Kalanidhi had submitted an excerpt from her book ‘Aspects of Abhinaya’ for publication. Her demonstration followed an identical pattern. Many would not have agreed to her statement that Nrrtta sequences introduced in an abhinaya piece distracts from the sthayi bhava. An example given by Smt. Narayanan was that Bhakti in Natanam Adinar cannot become evident if nrtta dominated the kriti. It is possible surely, in the opinion of this writer, that nrtta in capable hands could aid depiction and enhancing of moods. In the specific example, the grandeur of Nataraja’s tandava is shown by suitable adavus incorporating the various poses of Siva. This in turn should evoke bhakti rasa.

In ‘Krishna Nee’, Vatsalya rasa was chosen as an option to shringara. The nayika portrayed in the padam Vadiga gopalu experiences mixed feelings of shyness and fear of a bride entering the nuptial chamber. She explained that criticism against enacting some padams as unwarranted. The dancer is merely depicting a character portrayed in the song. Viewers must not confuse the dancer with the character, she pointed out.

Smt. Kalanidhi’s excelled as usual in the concluding padam, Payyada Paimeedi
The demonstration projected the immense possibilities of depicting the innumerable shades and hues of Mood (Bhava) and Sentiment (Rasa) by a dancer. There is nothing wrong or correct, only suitable and unsuitable. The connotation associated with Rasas like Roudra and Bhayanaka is usually dark and negative. Violence is subtly implied. A nayika’s Roudra is unlikely to be so intense but only a milder form of tentative anger. The science of dance offers these myriad variations to the dancer to fully exploit the art of dance composition.

Smt. Asha Joglekar

Smt. Asha Joglekar, a respected Kathak guru based in Mumbai, presented a well thought out paper on the use of Chakkars and Bhramaris in Choreography.

Her students demonstrated with grace, competence and diligence. Smt. Joglekar spoke in her mother-tongue Marathi and won the hearts of the proactive audience which appreciated her sentiments. She hoped that the dance demonstration would speak more effectively of her work than mere words. Teaching for over forty years as Director of Archana Nrityalaya after training under Pt.Gopi Krishna and Smt. Rohini Bhate, Smt. Joglekar is the mother of Archana Joglekar, the popular actress and dancer.

Pirouettes (Chakkars ) and turns (bhramari) are as important a part of  choreography in Kathak as the planets in space which revolve and rotate constantly. It is probably from Mother Nature that we have adapted this movement. Other important aspects of Kathak are, foot movements (Tatkar) in various degrees of complicated rhythms and Paltas. Paltas are used to show change in expression and location. If depicting a Radha and Krishna story , the dancer does a palta turn when she changes character. Usually the hastas used during executing a chakkar is pataka or tripataka.
The dancers demonstrated two from a variety of chakkars -Utpluta or jumps, and Garuda. The astounding sense of poise and balance displayed by the dancers executing the 11 –turn chakkar was astounding. The next was Ashta Disha  Chakkar Toda where at each turn the dancer’s faced one of the eight directions. From this writer’s experience, this is technically difficult and requires greater control. The fixed focal point of the eye aids balance, and when this keeps shifting, the dancer has to depend on her mental equilibrium to maintain her bodily balance. In fact fluidity of movement and grace were the hallmarks of this style.

Kathak is not only all nrtta, explained Smt. Joglekar, and went to bhava –oriented items. Selecting a 15- matra tala cycle called Gajachampa (4-4-3-4), the students demonstrate a lighthearted Hori as the concluding item. The veteran singer, Sri. Sharad Jambhekar assisted in the demonstration with his mellifluous voice.

Smt. Darshana Jhaveri

‘Rhythm Patterns in Manipuri Dance (Rasleela & Sankirtan)’ was the title of the paper submitted by Darshana Jhaveri, the youngest of the four Jhaveri Sisters.  Actively associated with Manipuri Nartanalaya at Mumbai, Kolkata and Manipur, Darshana spoke about the innovations and contributions of her teacher, Guru Bipin Singh.
A young dancer Ms.Surbala assisted Smt. Darshana in the demonstration.Vocal support was given by A. Chatterjee and Latasana Devi. On the mridang were artistes from Manipur, Sushanta Das and Projen Singh.

The performance of Raas and Sankirtan are the highest form of expression of Vaishnavism in Manipur, where it is a living tradition even today. It is considered a sacrificial act equivalent to a Mahayagya. Gaudiya Vaishnavism, the devotional cult of Hinduism advocated by Chaitanya Prabhu pervades the way of life in Manipur. Kartal Cholom is dance with large cymbals. Pung Cholom is dance with drums. These two highly developed dance forms are said to be conceived by Chaitanya Prabhu. Every gesture is significant as it conveys symbolism and mysticism associated with the spiritual practice. The mrdanga (Pung) is revered as an embodiment of Krishna. During Ras Leela, the player is seated but he  dances during sankirtan and rituals.

The syllables of mrdang raga representing the making and consecration of the image are played at the beginning of Sankirtan. The pilgrimage to Navadwip and Vrindavan  is composed in Raj Mel Tala . Beginning with a slow tempo it increases speed to indicate the three stages of union (sambhog) . This is followed by Tal Tanchep and Tal Menkup which denote the ultimate union.

Smt. Darshana and Ms. Surbala demonstrated the Tal Raj Me which has 7 beats with variations e.g. 4+3, 5+2, Triput Savari 11/2 + 11/2 + 4 which is used in Kaliya Daman, Yatra Rupak – 2+5 or 4+10 for the playing with a ball.

An interesting piece of information was the description of Yati in Manipuri Tala System.
The Yatis in Carnatic music denote the possible formations of a jathi syllables or thirmanam. Gopuchcha Yati, (4-3-2-1) for instance, is when the pattern is in descending order, resembling a cow’s tail. Srotovakam (1-2-3-4) is when the pattern is in ascending order, compared to the origin of a river which begins as a trickle and increases to a wide stream . Smt. Darshana described the yatis as a combination of speeds, meaning gopuccha yati the syllables begin in a fast speed and decreases to a slow tempo.

In a detailed and educative lecture, on the aural content of Manipuri style , Smt. Darshana  described music as being divided into two- Anibaddha and Nibaddha, In the first music does not have a definite metric arrangement, similar to alaap. There is an underlying rhythm (chanda) which creates a serene and meditative atmosphere.  Mrdanga raga mentioned earlier, belongs to this group. Nibadha has a fixed time measure and usually follows the anibadha music.

When two or more compositions of tala are grouped together it is called tala Prabandha. There are different talas for tandava and lasya.

Smt. Darshana performed  Prabandhas ‘Radhe Govinda’ and one on Krishna.
 A swara prabhandha and Tanom ( tarana) in Tal RajMel by Surbala were well received by the enthusiastic audience. Krishna as an acrobat and the killing of Bakasura used appropriate movements. The session ended with a demonstration on the Pung in Tal Daskosh of 7 beats by both Guru and the student.

Dr. Sobha Naidu

Dr. Sobha Naidu‘s performance of various compositions of the Kuchipudi repertoire was supported by an orchestra from her own institute, Hyderabad Kuchipudi Art Academy. A disciple of  Guru Vempati Chinna Satyam, Sobha Naidu has carved a niche of her own with her excellent portrayal of mythological heroines and successful choreographic productions.
The demonstration brought to the Mumbai audience the pristine purity of the art of Kuchipudi with all its feminine graces and lyrical beauty.

The performance began with Satyabhama Pravesam from Bhama Kalapam which in its full Natya Natakam form would need three days of five hours duration each day to complete. Her guru had edited it to a two hour performance without losing its characteristic essence. The symbolic ‘Jada’ (plaited hair) is hung over the screen (tiraseela) held by two dancers. Satyabhama executes six varieties of footwork and 41 hand gestures standing behind the curtain. This was followed by the conversation with her confidante Madhavi where she describes her beloved Krishna in myriad ways. Sobha excelled in portraying the shringara rasa laced with sweet shyness in ‘Siggayanamma’. An excerpt from the Ramayana ballet ‘Jagadananda karaka’ followed where Smt. Sobha Naidu, assisted by her students performed to Tyagaraja’s composition ‘Samaja Vara Gamana’. The protection of Viswamitra’s yagna in the forest by the young Rama and Lakshmana, Ahalya Shapa Moksham, Sita Apaharanam and Jatayu moksham were some of the episodes covered in this item. One is not sure whether the item was edited to suit the time frame but the rather skeletal choreography of each episode was not completely satisfying to the rasikas.
Padmavathi Pravesam from the natakam ‘Kalyana Srinivasam’, and a Tarangam ‘Nanda Nandanam ‘ were adequate to demonstrate the stylization in Kuchipudi .This was followed by a spirited version of the Javali ‘Vani Pondu’ in which a heroine (nayika) ‘shows her anger, indifference  and hatred towards him in various ways.’ Ignored by her lover for many days, the nayika is enraged to find him stealthily creep into the house early one morning. She calls her maid and asks her to tell him,’ I have had enough of his company. Ask him to go out.’ Sobha’s uninhibited abhinaya for this piece brought back many fond memories for many in the audience of earlier performances when Sobha‘s technical brilliance and expert abhinaya had earned her the reputation as one of the topmost artistes of Kuchipudi. It is to the credit of the organizing committee of the Shanmukhananda Sabha who remembered to honour this exponent by inviting her to participate in this symposium.

Ms.Anita Ratnam

‘Floating Across Borders’ Traditional motifs in group choreography’ was the title of Ms. Anita Ratnam’s paper submitted for the symposium. Using the free flying kite s a metaphor, Ratnam claims that she wanted to be like it,’ with no boundaries, no borders, no religion, no nationality.’ She ‘has repeatedly returned to the ‘aksaya patra’ of tradition which has never been empty of ideas or inspiration ‘for her work. She was assisted by Revathi Shankar, the popular singer/actress who has captured everybody’s hearts with her ‘Nara’ Katha Kalakshepams.

In the demonstration she chose to discuss the choreographic ideas explored in the production ‘Nachiyar’ which was to be staged the next day. “A piece of unstitched cloth , the genius of Indian artistry,”  was used as a stage- screen (tiraseela), a canopy,  to denote a sanctum sanctorum,  mirror, water, garland, a garbha graham, a drape and even a flute.

A composition of Revathi Shankaran ‘Penne penne’ was a strong statement on the position of women in society. They seemed to be caught in a figure of eight (8) where they are in constant motion in a journey of selfless service that leads nowhere.

Describing today’s dance scenario Ms. Ratnam stated that earlier dancers danced in close proximity to the audience, in temples or small enclosures. Today the auditoria are huge, distancing the dancer from the audience.  So when the performance space has changed, the dance too has to adapt itself. Groups are more entertaining than a solo, and anyway there are not many opportunities for solo performances.  Group dances also meant a different kind of training where the understanding of space in relation to others plays an important part. The group formations on the stage freed the dancer from ‘the tyranny of the centre’, she said. The entire space opens up to you and there are no restrictions on space.
Choreography for a piece on ‘Nightmare’ was accompanied on an unconventional soundscape of instruments like clappers, wind-pipe, cluster rattles and wooden castanets. In the central idea of this piece, the protagonist dreams of falling off a cliff. The movements reflected the fear and chaotic thought process that underlies the action. The classical vocabulary can thus be used to great effect to portray contemporary subjects.

Anita Ratnam is an enchanting blend of the modern and traditional. Blessed with a charming personality, she is a statuesque beauty who projects herself with supreme authority and confidence. Her total involvement, professionalism and dedication to her career are impressive. She imparts a sense of beauty and aesthetics to her art, surely a stamp of Kalakshetra training.

Nachiyar by Anita Ratnam

One watched ‘Nachiyar’ with mixed feelings. The effect was illusory. Andal the devotee never surfaced. The familiar story line, the images of the early morning rituals, a selection of the time-honoured lyrics- it was all there. Inspired by the story of Andal, the heroine was “recast as a radical woman, whose passion, stubbornness and poesy made her the earliest voice of feminism.” Yet one missed here the powerful image of the father figure which offset the endearing essence of Andal’s youthful innocence. One wonders in what context Andal may be termed a feminist. She was steeped in tradition, a staunch devotee and a spiritual poet, the qualities which set her apart from similar Kuravanji heroines. Anita elaborated on the famous line ‘Karpooram Naarumo’ as the main body of the production.

Revathi Shankar as the foster mother, Anita Ratnam as Nachiyar dominated the cast which included four girls and two male dancers. The dancers were competent but they wore not even minimal makeup. Their blue/pink costume blended with the dark blue backdrop and dulled any visual effect that was planned. The procession of the idol and the concluding Thillana were cleverly choreographed. The music was of a high standard with Jyotishmati (Vocal), Jagadeesh (mridangam) carrying the show on their able shoulders. A temple sevakan with a large colourful ‘namam’ played the conch with tremendous lung power and made a dramatic addition to the cast.

Dr. Ambika Kameshwar

Dr. Ambika Kameshwar is the founder –director of RASA (Ramana Sanritya Alaya), which is dedicated to the rehabilitation of children with physical and mental retardation. Music, dance, drama and crafts are used as developmental tools.
As dancer, choreographer, teacher and musician, Dr. Ambika has been reaching out  to children with her arts. Her doctorate was based on her research towards the system of movement application as therapy. She has also trained in Bharata Natyam, Kuchipudi and creative dance.
The paper entitled ‘the Use of Natya as a Holistic Development Tool’, Dr. Ambika quotes the Natya Sastra extensively to describe Natya. ‘Natya’, she states, ‘gives courage, energy, intellectual development, relief from sorrow, fame and general good. In fact Natya and its performance is an education in itself.

Development is a continuous process of qualitative change in a person which occurs from the cradle to the grave. Smt. Ambika ‘s contention is , and rightly so, that Natya is an enjoyable non-threatening medium to experience life’s lessons. Children in need of special care also need help to function in areas of everyday activities where interaction with society is expected. A developmental programme is therefore designed to include training in mobility, language and communication skills, and even self –expression.
Giving an example of exactly how this is put into action, Dr. Ambika explains that normal movement like walking, jumping, turning or skipping is incorporated into a dance to assist in gross motor development. Training is given in hasta mudras, painting and making costumes for fine motor development. Above all, it is a fun experience, the best way to develop without constraints of rigid expectations of a fixed standard performance.

Dr. Ambika has an effervescent personality. Bubbly, enthusiastic and bright, her rapport with the audience was instant. She called upon the audience to come and participate in her experiments in creating tableaus, and improvise on word suggestions prepared by her. In spite of the time constraints, she could put across the ideas of her programme effectively.

Sachin Shankar
Sachin Shankar and his wife Smt. Kumudini are beloved figures on the art scene in Mumbai who seem to have an endless fund of energy and enthusiasm.  His lecture and the demonstration by his students was an entertaining and enjoyable session. Born in 1924 in Varanasi, Shankar is cousin of the famous Uday Shankar and Ravi Shankar.He trained under great gurus and was deeply influenced by the Uday Shankar dance style. His productions like Train, Cricket and the latest Gandhi received wide appreciation. 
In his paper ‘Dance in Symphony’ Shankar states that it is moment of deep gratification when one completes composing of a production.  He claims to have first used the word ballet in 1953 to name his productions. The everlasting beauty of Indian classical dance will ever remain the sole inspiration for creative dancers, he said.
Creative dance is the medium to tell the story of today. Here classical dance has its limitations. Why have we lost the sense of appreciating Mother Nature’ beauty, the full moon, flowers or the ocean? This is one of the first lessons that a dancer has to learn. To appreciate one’s surroundings, and an awareness of the environment leads to creativity. One must be able to tell a story about any object, animate or inanimate.
Sudha Shibe, the dance teacher of the group, and other dancers demonstrated the art of responding to beauty by holding a branch of a tree and dancing with it. Sachinda, as he is affectionately called, demonstrated many classroom techniques like variations in walking, group and solo tableaus showing joy, sorrow etc. Such exercises expand the mental horizon and helps in honing imaginative skills in choreography.

The use of props, like strands of ropes, creates visual beauty and open up creative possibilities. The same rope could be a barrier, partitions, or transform into water when shaken. Lyrics and song are not important, Sachinda said, and we do not have to interpret it word by word. The essence and spirit of the song is important. Concentration and meditation exercises are as important as mental images must be formed in the mind’s eye for visual expression.

Every part of the body, the hip, wrist shoulder and neck should move with discipline and must be used for maximium effect. This was the Uday Shankar magic mantra which created the snake-like movements of the undulating arms.

Although the Shankar style has a very strong foundation, and audiences are open to contemporary productions, there seems to be no direction for artists in this category. Sachin Shankar bemoaned the fact that sponsors are hard to find and  “we are dancers, composers, financiers, and the sufferer when we want to stage any production.”

Priya Darshani Govind- Bharata Natyam Performance

Priyadarshini Govind, an artiste who is receiving extraordinary appreciation for her performances, performed in Mumbai after a long time. A dusky beauty with luminous eyes, she was a surprise packet for many connoisseurs in the distinguished and discerning audience that evening.

Presenting a refreshingly traditional style replete with a strong adherence to correct bodyline, Priya began the recital with Pushpanjali (Aarabhi). The music was of a high standard, featuring young vocalist Deepu.K.Nair, M.S. Sukhi (nattuvangam), Vinod Kumar (violin) and T.Viswanathan (mridangam). The musicians were controlled, evocative and added an unhurried strength and repose to the performance.

‘Nityakalyani’ the popular Ragamalika kriti (Rupakam) told the story of Madurai Meenakshi from her birth to her marriage to Siva. Priya depicted the episodes in an imaginative manner. The four thirmanams were unobstrusively introduced without breaking the flow of the 40-minute item.

A student of Kalanidhi Narayanan for abhinaya, Priya displayed a myriad emotions fleeting across her face. However she maintained a strict formality in her hand movements and refrained from depicting any coquettish mannerisms. In the ashta rasa slokam Sive Sringara , Priya depicted each rasa very briefly before going to the padam ‘Siva Diksha Parulunnara’. The heroine here has taken a monastic vow and was a devotee of Siva. Her lover accosts her where she is engaged in rituals. She tells him to go away, and not disturb her vows. But while her lips speaks thus, her heart speaks another language. Priya’s depiction of this dilemma was indeed enjoyable.

The javali ‘Samayamithe ra ra’ was a contrasting situation where the lover hesitates at her threshold, while she encourages him to come right in. This is the ideal time for you to come and spend time with me, she says, my husband is away and my father-in-law is safely asleep.

The Krishnakarnamritam slokam describes the scene when Krishna and Balarama enter Kamsa’s court. Each person reacts to them according to their relation to the two young boys, while Kamsa sees them as Yama, the women see them as innocent youth. The gopis fall in love with them and the gopas regard the as a friend. Priya excelled in showing the varying reactions of the crowd in quick succession.
A kavadi chindu by Oothukadu (Mayil Ondru) took the performance to a medium paced conclusion to be followed by a Thillana (Kadanakuthuhalam by Dr. Balamurali Krishna)

Vande Mataram brought the recital to a meditative end. Priya ably compered the show herself with an earnestness and humility rarely seen in today’s dancers.

What happens when a group of achievers in a chosen field come together and give an exposition of their accomplishments? What is the aim of such an exercise? As observer and participant one has attended various such gatherings in the dance and music arena. The observation has been the same. The theme of the symposium is largely ignored by the participants. No issues are addressed. No valid or tangible conclusion is arrived at. The combined forces of artistic minds and creative personalities can create magic. Each such gathering should offer a tangible effect to unify our arts and spread awareness. The many problems that beset the arts must be solved. The doubts of younger artists must be clarified. New path-breaking efforts must be projected. The organizers are faced with the challenge of dealing with a temperamental bunch of artists with varying requirements. The logistics of herding them together from different parts of the country itself is an onerous task.  And when one knows that such a magnificent job has been executed by volunteers for the sheer joy and love of arts, it deserves a round of applause for the people behind the curtain.

The symposium began with an unusual invocation to Sri.Ganapati through dance. President V.Shankar stated that the Sabha is continuing its journey of fifty years with renewed energy. He took justifiable pride in the fact that the Sabha had completed a hat-trick by holding three symposia for three consecutive years. He pointed out that our classical dance has an ancient history, but carries with it marginal changes in the passage of Time .  It would be appropriate therefore to pause and examine the traditional and the transformation at this moment.

The erudite speech of Shri L.M. Singhvi of the Indira Gandhi National Institute of Arts delved deep into the subject of Choreography. He paid homage to the founding father’s of SSFAS, Prof. T.V.Ramanujam , R.S.Mani, and Dr.V.subramanian who had passed away recently. He plid glowing tribute to the spirit of the Sabha which rose phoenix –like from the ashes after the mishap. The story of the Sabha , he proclaimed, is a singularly important epic in the history of arts in our country.

The Art of Composing Dance- a Symposium held on November 8, 9, 2003

What is a symposium? It is a meeting of professionals for discussions on a  particular theme of their specialty. What happens when a group of achievers in a chosen field come together and give an exposition of their accomplishments? What is the aim of such an exercise? As observer and participant one has attended various such gatherings in the dance and music arena. There is a concerted attempt to address the theme of the symposium. Allied issues are raised and sometimes valid or tangible conclusions are arrived at. The combined forces of artistic minds and creative personalities can offer guidelines and make a meaningful contribution of an academic nature. To ensure that this happens, the organizers should draw up a strict format to be followed by the artistes.  Each such gathering should offer a tangible effect to unify our arts and spread awareness. The many problems that beset the arts must be solved. The doubts of younger artists must be clarified. New path-breaking efforts must be projected. The organizers are faced with the challenge of dealing with a temperamental bunch of artists with varying requirements. The logistics of herding them together from different parts of the country itself is an onerous task.  And when one knows that such a magnificent job has been executed by volunteers for the sheer joy and love of arts, it deserves a round of applause for the people behind the curtain.

In the Dance symposium under review, the artistes were requested to speak and demonstrate on the art of composing dances –choreography. The top-ranking veterans like Dr. Padma Subrahmanyan, Smt. Kalanidhi Narayan, Dr. Smt. Kanak Rele, Shri.Sachin Shankar, Guru Adyar Lakshman, Guru T.K.Kalyanasundaram, Smt. Darshana Jhaveri and Dr.Sobha Naidu did not address the theme directly. Their exposition was a   presentation of their work in the field and not entirely relevant to the symposium.
It was difficult to pin them down and ask questions. The large student audience participated with great enthusiasm and when their questions were asked, the concerned artistes were not present.

The younger artistes like Anita Ratnam, Jhelum Paranjape, and Ambika Kameswaran addressed the choreographic theme, spoke of their ideas and how they used them in their work. Smt. Nalini Raghu and Smt.Asha Joglekar gave academically focused lectures and used their students to effectively demonstrate their ideas.

One of course wished that one entire slot could have been reserved for discussion when all the participants are present. Time is the essence and when one artiste does not respect the time warning and eats into another’s participant’s time the organizers are hard put to even out the situation. The organizers of this dance symposium achieved this to a great extent and one must express our appreciation for the excellent teamwork and efficiency with which the event was conducted.

The symposium began with an unusual invocation to Sri. Ganapati through dance. President V.Shankar stated that the Sabha is continuing its journey of fifty years with renewed energy. He took justifiable pride in the fact that the Sabha had completed a hat-trick by holding three symposia for three consecutive years. He pointed out that our classical dance has an ancient history, but carries with it marginal changes in the passage of Time.  It would be appropriate therefore to pause and examine the traditional and the transformation at this moment.

The erudite speech of Shri L.M. Singhvi of the Indira Gandhi National Institute of Arts delved deep into the subject of Choreography. He paid homage to the founding father’s of SSFAS, Prof. T.V.Ramanujam , R.S.Mani, and Dr.V.Subramanian who had passed away recently. He paid glowing tribute to the spirit of the Sabha which rose phoenix –like from the ashes after the fire mishap. The story of the Sabha, he proclaimed, is a singularly important epic in the history of arts in our country.

Sri Subbudu, the eminent critic, could not be present due to ill –health. His Keynote Address was read out by Dr. P.N.Krishanmoorthy, Principal of the Sabha’s music school.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

A decade ago, no one had heard of Nangiar Koothu. Kuttiyattam, the male counterpart of this temple theatre tradition, has only recently become a must-see-must-be seen-at event in the big metros. Even then, few had heard of or seen a solo Nangiar Koothu performance. Not surprising, considering that there is only one Nangiar, P.K. Usha qualified to perform the entire repertoire of 217 slokas of the text ‘Sri Krishna Charitam’ after training for over 20 years. It tells the story of King Ugrasena, the romance of Subhadra and Arjuna, and the kidnapping of Subhadra. Usha performed at Mumbai’s National Centre for Performing Arts and captivated the connoisseurs with her exposition of the intricately choreographed extract, ‘Kamsa Vadham.’

It is important to understand the background of this little known art --- one more precious gem from the seemingly bottomless ocean of Kerala’s traditional and folk arts. According to some historians, Nangiar Koothu had its origins in the ninth century when it was promoted by King Kulasekhara Varman. Kuttiyatam, the theatre tradition had already been developed into a sophisticated art. It had been honed to such intellectual and esoteric heights, that it required a learned audience which knows its mythology, appreciates the nuances of Sanskrit and is conversant with the eloquent language of the eyes and hand gestures (mudras) used by the Chakyars. One story has it that that King Kulasekhara was in love with a dancer called Nangi. He created a performing space for her on the Kuttiyattam stage, proclaiming that her descendants were to be known as Nangiars. The Nangiar women marry Nambiars who are traditionally skilled in playing the drums, supervising rituals of make-up and stage management.

Ritualistic art traditions connected with the temple follow their own mode of purity and notions of pollution and taboos, one reason why a strict hierarchical system is followed in Kerala where one may perform only those duties permitted in one’s clan. Therefore Chakyars, Nambiars and Nangiars are those communities whose religious duties include theatrical performances in the temple’s specific area called the Koothumbalam. The Nangiar’s duty was to perform solo dances, take on female roles in Kuttiyattam and to accompany the Kuttiyattam performers by chanting the verses.

The tradition of Nangiar Koothu is even today a regular practice in the Vadakkunathan temple of Thrissoor and in others like Ambalapuzha, Irinjalakuda, Thiruppunithura and Kottayam. Nangiars were dismissed as frippery and relegated to a decorative role. The revival of Nangiar Koothu began at the Ammanur Chachu Chakyar Smaraka Gurukulam in Irinjalakuda in 1984 under the guidance Ammanur Madhava Chakyar.

Daughter of the mizhavu player C.K. Krishnan Nambiar, Usha began her training at the age of six. The Guru painstakingly researched the text and chose 217 slokas from the available manuscripts. These were then choreographed and taught to a handful of select Nangiars. The intensive training consists of learning the basic body exercises, the mudras, talas and the eye expression (netra-abhinaya).

In her performance, Usha chose an excerpt from Kulasekhara’s ‘Subhadra Dhananjayam’. Kalpalatika a sakhi of Subhadra tells the story of Krishna in the form of a Nirvahana, a recapitulation of events leading to the present context. Krishna and Balarama enter Kamsa’s court after breaking the bow in the sacrifice (Dhanuryagya) and vanquishing the elephant sent to kill them. Usha described the sentiments expressed by the various persons present. Each person reacts according to his relation with the young princess thus giving rise to the nine sentiments (navarasas) which are delineated in detail.

The stage was set with the Spartan simplicity that marks most Kerala arts. The forestage was dominated by a large lamp. The centre upstage was two upturned stools which held large drums called mizhavu. A small square of white cloth was laid out with care, on the left of the recitalist. Another stool stood next to the lamp. The performance began with the brief mizhavu playing which set the mood for the evening. After a brief invocation behind a screen (Thiraiseela), the Nangiar made an impressive appearance in a white and gold sari. A bright red velvet crown and typical ornaments completed the costume. The lamp lit with three wicks should have ideally provided the only lighting for greater effect, but the theatre lights illuminated more space than necessary. The Nangiar sat on the stool to enact the story, ingeniously using this simple prop to denote a throne by standing on it. The mudras were similar to those used in Kathakali.

Kuttiyattam and Nangiar Koothu are examples of the dramatic axiom that one does not mix mime and verbal music. The rich tonal variations of the mizhavu and the edakka combines to create not just music, but were instrumental in arousing an emotive response. The Nangiar’s achievement was to get the rhythmic accents on the feet; carefully negotiate fine reflections of the wrist and fingers; control the throbbing of facial muscles and eyelids; and maintain fluidity of the elaborate sweeps of the arms. All the while, she also told a story full of moods and settlements without the crutch of verbal expressions.

It is the intensity of the dancer’s physicality and total concentration that gives this art power and energy. This branch of Indian mimodrama prides itself on the mastery over the eye muscles to express emotion or tell a story. There is not much movement of the feet or torso. Only towards the end when scenes of fights are enacted is there some animation in the performance.
The duration of 90 minutes seems short to the spectator but is apparently grueling to the artiste. It can be likened to an intensive meditation session where the Nangiar withdraws her own persona and enters the mind of the characters she portrays.

A word about the mizhavu and its role in this particular style will not be out of place here. The mizhavu is an egg-shaped copper drum with a small circular opening at the top. A small area of stretched calf skin provides the only playing space. The main player uses every part of his hand and wrists to create a startling variety of sounds. He follows the dancer’s movements closely and skillfully reproduces a soft shower of raindrops, flowing tears, the screeches of a dying Kamsa, or the roar of a lion with equal ease. The main player P.P. Rajiv received hearty appreciation from the audience. V.K. Hariharan played the support mizhavu. Kalanilayam Unnikrishnan (edakka) and Kalamandalam Sindhu (recitation and Thalam) accompanied the recital.
Usha peaked to considerable heights when she transformed herself into the sorrowful parent of Krishna. She seemed momentarily overwhelmed by (karunarasa) the emotional upheaval of their plight. Usha was also charming as the coy gopika who becomes enamoured (Sringararasa) by the beauty of Krishna. Every rasa was faithfully rendered.
It is to the credit of this young science graduate that she has embarked on this historically significant career.

(Published on May 24, 1996, in the ‘Friday Review’ of ‘The Hindu’.)

Author’s Note:

In December 2000, I was invited by G. Venu of Natana Kairali to attend a workshop on Netra-Abhinaya at Natana Kairali, Ammanur Chachu Chakyar Smaraka Gurukulam at Irinjalakuda for two months. I had a wonderful opportunity to interact with Ammanur Madhava Chakyar and other revered Gurus. My fascination for Kuttiyattam and Nangiar Koothu increased manifold after seeing it at close quarters. Every year in the first fortnight of the New Year, Natana Kairali conducts a Kutiyattam Festival where one can witness the best artistes of this ancient art.