The Balasaraswati/ Scripps Concert Series
- Jitendra Krishna

February 9, 2017

The Balasaraswati/ Scripps Concert Series is organized by Aniruddha Knight, grandson of Balasaraswati. The concert series will run throughout 2017 as a prelude to the birth centenary celebrations of Tanjore Balasaraswati in 2018. The Series is a fresh initiative dedicated to the unsurpassed patronage of the Scripps and the legendary dance and music artistry of Tanjore Balasaraswati. The Scripps were and are patrons of the arts, and they have supported Balasaraswati during her lifetime.

Moving away from today's norm, this festival which is held every other month, is to encourage young artistes of potential greatness. Dancers will be given the opportunity to showcase their art at a leisure pace, and given the needed logistical support to perform to their fullest capacity.

The second performance of the Balasaraswati /Scripps Concert Series was held at the Madras Music Academy mini hall on Jan 28, 2017. Each of the series showcases one dancer who presents a two hour margam. Remember the days of a full margam? From 2 hours we went to 1.5 to 1 hour and lesser. Bharatanatyam in one hour or less? Can we really do justice to the art when we compromise on every front possible? The festival aims to bring back a certain seriousness to Bharatanatyam performances, and give the artiste, the musicians, and audience the time and space to experience the Bharatanatyam margam in all its splendour.

Nrithya Pillai

Nrithya Pillai & Aniruddha Knight

The evening’s performance was by Nrithya Pillai, granddaughter of nattuvanar S.K. Rajarathnam Pillai. The dancer opened her performance with a jathiswaram of the Vazhuvoor bani, in ragam Athana and adi talam, dance composition by Vazhuvoor Ramaiah Pillai. The jathiswaram had small jathis and korvais beautifully set to dance. This was followed by the sabdam “Aadum mayildhanai” on Lord Murugan. The varnam for the evening was “Mohalahiri konden swamy” in ragam Thodi and adi talam, a composition of Sivanandam of the Thanjavur Quartet. Nrithya danced an adapted version from the original dance composition of Thanjavur K.P. Kittappa Pillai. The lyrics speak of the desire a woman has for Rajagopalaswamy - Swamy, the love that I have for you has no limits. Every nerve in my body longs to be with you! Why do you pretend to be otherwise engaged? Alas, that wretched Kamadeva has aimed his flowery arrows at me; now I am filled with desire for you! The cool evening breeze stokes a fire inside me. Here I wait for you on a bed made of fragrant flowers; I cannot bear this any longer! The varnam was at a pleasant unhurried pace with elaborations for the pallavi and anupallavi sahityam, all done with excellent detailed abhinaya by Nrithya. The varnam alone took 45 minutes, which is hardly ever possible in today’s Bharatanatyam performances.

After the varnam there was a short break for coffee and a snack in the foyer of the theater. This also gave the dancer the time to change her costume. Nrithya continued her performance with the padam “Padari varugudu” (Kambhoji, adi) by Subbarama Iyer, followed by the famous song, “Kavava” (Varali, adi) on Lord Murugan, and a thillana in Sankarabharanam of the Thanjavur Quartet.

Do audiences have the patience to watch margam in all its splendor? Will the reintroduction of a two hour margam performance work? Time will certainly tell. The turnout for this evening of dance was good and most rasikas stayed till the end of the two hour performance. The organizers could do with some more publicity to attract an even larger audience.

The Balasaraswati Scripps Concert Series is certainly a breath of fresh air, the setup of the festival is simple but professional, and puts the art and artist before anything else.

Jitendra Krishna is director of Sathir Dance Art, a production house based in Amsterdam and Chennai.