of Samson's style
- A. Seshan,
Samson, Director of Kalakshetra and Chairperson of Sangeet Natak Akademi,
the apex body for music, dance and theatre, gave a memorable Bharatanatyam
(BN) performance at the Experimental Theatre of the National Centre for
the Performing Arts in Mumbai on August 27, 2010. She has been in the dance
circuit for more than three decades and is acknowledged as a leading practitioner
of the Kalakshetra bani of BN. I saw her programme for the first time around
1970 when she resided in the then Bombay city with her father Rear Admiral
Samson of Western Naval Command. If I remember well, it was her arangetram.
Subsequently, I attended her lecture demonstration on group choreography
with her team called Spanda at the 21st Natya Kala Conference of Sri Krishna
Gana Sabha in Chennai in December 2001. I eagerly looked forward to seeing
a solo programme of the artiste again after a long interval.
started with a prayer to Lord Ganapati in the form of a Dikshitar kriti
("Maha Ganapatim" in Nattai and Chatusra Eka) sung by Hari Prasad without
the dance. He established the professional ambience with a fine exposition
of the raga alapana ably supported by the flautist Shashidhar. Then came
the dancer with the Ardhanareeswara Stuti, a sloka in Ragamalikai consisting
of Kharaharapriya, Kalyani, Kambhoji and Todi, followed by Dikshitar's
kriti "Ardhanareeswaram" in Kumudakriya and Adi. It was a refreshing experience
for me as the song is rarely sung nowadays in the Carnatic music concerts.
I heard it many years ago when Semmangudi sang it on Akashvani. As in the
rest of the programme, she explained the meaning of the song that helped
in understanding her movements. The choice of the kriti was appropriate
as it provided plenty of scope for mudras and nritta for portraying the
androgynous Shiva as the duality of Brahman and how the latter is beyond
gender. The contrasting aspects of Shiva and Ishwari, one being static
and the other dynamic, and so on, were delineated well. There has
been a controversy on the appropriateness of the use of the kritis of the
Carnatic music trinity and other vaggeyakaras in dances on the ground that
they were not designed by them for that purpose. In her introduction to
the classic entitled Mahabharata Chudamani brought out by the Mahamahopadhyaya
Dr. U V Swaminatha Iyer Nool Nilayam, Chennai, Rukmini Devi says, while
recommending it for reading by all students of music and dance: "Music
is Dance and Dance is Music." In his Sriranjani kriti "Sogasuga" in Rupakam,
Tyagaraja speaks, inter alia, of navarasas among the ingredients
of a standard kriti. So where there are music and rasa, there is dance.
The only issue is whether a kriti provides scope for the employment of
hastamudras of various types. So, not all the kritis may be suitable for
dancing. One nattuvanar once told me that Syama Sastri's Swarajatis are
not popular among BN artistes because of the limited scope for mudras.
in Hamsanandi and Adi of Swati Tirunal with a Mohanam prelude in a sloka
was the next item presented. The nritta with built-in jatis in the
matu of the sahitya was fascinating with a good support from the mridangam.
Sancharis at "Bhasma trinetra" recalled many episodes associated with Shiva.
One could see the Samharamurti in the fierce looks of Leela. There
were flashes of suddha nritta to the accompaniment of mridangam played
a popular padam of Moovalur Sabhapati Ayyar, in Sankarabharanam and Misra
Chapu, was taken up next. It portrayed the mood of a Mugdha Nayika - a
heroine at the threshold of youth and love. The tremulous state of the
young girl awaiting her lover was portrayed realistically. Then came a
javali ("Mayaladi" in Todi and Adi) attributed to Pattabhiramayya by some.
It is about a Khandita Nayika, an angry young woman who knows that
her lover is flirting with another one and is jealous. The angikabhinaya
was suggestive despite the sensuous nature of the song. Todi is a
hard taskmaster but the contours and the contents of the raga were beautifully
captured by the flautist Shashidhar in his alapana. The song has
a tricky eduppu (start) before the sahitya, which the dancer tackled tactfully.
The nattuvangam embellished the item.
of Lalgudi Jayaraman in Revati and Adi has a complex rhythmic structure
in Misra Chapu (seven beats), as explained by the artiste. As a pure nritta
item, the dance had all the standard elements in terms of the movements
of the head, the eyes, etc. The concert came to a close with Mangalam
As Leela said,
the whole programme was enhanced by the excellent support on the side wings
with Hari Prasad (vocal), Rajesh (nattuvangam), Karthik (mridangam), Shashidhar
(flute) and Ananthanarayanan (veenai). Lighting was professionally done
by the NCPA staff. Leela's aharya was simple but elegant in what looked
under the lights like a combination of maroon and white silks.
strength as a BN artiste lies in her adherence to the uncompromising classicism
of the Kalakshetra School following the tenets of the sastras, as interpreted
and expounded by her guru Rukmini Devi, be it in maintaining anga suddha
in adavus or in the establishment of stayibhava with quicksilver changes
in mukhajabhinaya. Some of the adavus were straight from the textbook constituting
good lessons for the students and junior dancers in the audience. The subdued
and tasteful portrayal of the nayika in the javali, typical of Kalakshetra
School, was appreciated by the discerning audience. In an answer to my
question in the interactive session after the programme, she said that
Kalakshetra was not against javalis as such but was not in favour of only
certain types that could not be taught to children without the maturity
to understand them. She also made a significant remark that the Kalakshetra
approach to BN had undergone changes over the years. I found the overriding
influence of the Pandanallur bani in such aspects as the tempo of movements,
deep-seated positions, the predominance of padartha abhinaya, etc., and
she confirmed that Kalakshetra is indeed Pandanallur. The term "Kalakshetra
bani" has come into use because of certain controversies of the past in
relation to the approach of its founder. I would say that it is a sanitized
version of Pandanallur shorn of its sensuous movements of the torso and
talukkus and kulukkus resorted to evoke the rati sringara rasa. Of course,
Rukmini Devi's contribution in such areas as group choreography, dance
drama, the designing of the costume with a fan-shaped front, the seating
of the orchestra on the side wing, etc., are well recognized. One reputed
BN artiste has made the comment that Kalakshetra artistes develop knee
problems because of their habit to strike hard on the floor. I found Leela's
stamping soft. In an otherwise complete coverage of all aspects of nritta,
utplavana was conspicuous by its absence.
of, and confidence in, rhythm was evident from the choice of the songs.
Instead of taking the easy route of the even-paced Adi tala throughout
the recital as many artistes do, she performed to Misra Chapu twice to
demonstrate her mastery of the medium. In one case, the eduppu (in "Dari
juchu") was not normal and in another case (tillana) there were fractions
in the rhythm cycle. Her kalapramanam was impeccable.
was in the format of a modified Margam, a few standard items only being
left out due to the limited time available - around 90 minutes for dance
and another 30 minutes for an interactive discussion. The enthusiastic
response of the full-house audience in the Experimental Theatre, with tickets
of Rs 300 and Rs 200 sold out, once again disproved the assumption of many
BN artistes that the rasikas have no patience to sit through Margam. Perhaps
it has something to do with their patience and stamina! (See "Vadivelu
and Vazhuvurar Centenaries"- http://www.narthaki.com/info/articles/art267.html)
Obviously in a country with a large number of rasikas there is a market
for every style and type of dance.
an Economic Consultant in Mumbai, is a music and dance buff.