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Echoes of Natyapriya
- Jyothi Raghuram

May 20, 2017

Guru Padmini Ramachandran reached her peak in the 80s and 90s, when she was the most sought-after Bharatanatyam teacher in Bengaluru. Her flamboyance, ebullience and aggressiveness - very much a part of her persona-- came together as a confluence of a bubbly, florid style. Vivacity was the distinctive element of Natyapriya, her training institute. The cream of dancers from Karnataka during that period was invariably those groomed by her; a dance program of Natyapriya was a big draw for all these reasons.

Even today one can quite easily point out a dancer as a product of Natyapriya, the dancers having remained true to the zestful style despite having branched off on their own. One among the later crop of dancers of Natyapriya who shone bright was Shilpa Nanjappa nee Uthappa, whose recital at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Bengaluru, was not only a tribute to her Guru, but was reminiscent of her style.

Yet, Shilpa was no mere clone. She proved herself to be an artiste through creating her own dance compositions that had substance to them in meaning and delineation, while literally continuing in the footsteps of her teacher by picking up some of her old, burnished pieces and presenting them in their original style and format, as in the rarely seen varnam, Velanai vara solladi modi saiyyamal (Purvikalyani raga) on Lord Muruga.

The 25-minute varnam, replete with a flurry of adavus conjoined in the korvais and ettugade swaras, including jaara and mandi adavus completed in toto, was a nostalgic trip into the beauty of every single piece in a traditional maargam, and how eminently watchable even today, if done with the conviction that it is neither boring nor shop-soiled. The earlier Amrithavarshini pushpanjali, a composition of Padmini, was, naturally, typical of Natyapriya - crisp and brisk, followed by a comparatively staid Ganesha stuthi, Mahadeva suta maham (Aarabhi).

Exclusive to the evening was a specially choreographed piece of Shilpa on Nandi, in raagamaalika, traversing through myriad emotions such as friendship, grief, empathy, devotion, maternal and filial love, each distinctive enough to carry through the story of Shiva losing Sati, and Nandi restoring Shiva to sanity through sheer love for the Lord, finally placing himself as an ever watchful friend of Shiva, from which emerges the concept of Nandi vaahana.

Shilpa's portrayal of the Sita swayamvara in the devaranama, Adigo baruthihane Sri Rama (raagamaalika), had a fresh feel to it despite the tag of being commonplace; in her hands it remained "commonplace" only at the surface level, her stately denouement making it a new experience. The Mohana Kalyani tillana, avowedly summarizing an entire margam, was nothing special. The piece on Nandi alone was adequate to project Shilpa as moving forward as an artiste, although one missed the ebullience usually associated with dancers of Natyapriya; it was so much an identifying factor of Padmini.

The tala went a trifle awry in the varnam. The elasticity of P. Rama's voice picked up in the latter half, as did Shilpa's nritta. The wooden planks of the stage of Kincha hall at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan are a bit wobbly rendering it dangerous for dancers, and precluding any robust movements. Mithun Shyam (nattuvangam), Balakrishna (mridangam) and Vivek Krishna were the accompanists. The program was part of the Horizon series of ICCR and Bhavan.

Jyothi Raghuram is a trained Bharatanatyam dancer and a journalist with 25 years' experience.