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Precocious talent
-Jyothi Raghuram
Photos: Jayasimha Reddy

April 8, 2018

Sprightly, bright-faced, enthusiastic and spontaneous, with a yen for creativity are the descriptions that come to mind when one watches USA-based Bharatanatyam dancer Apoorva Malladi on stage. At her recital for the International Music & Arts Society at the National Gallery of Modern Art recently, Apoorva exuded a self confidence born out of a belief that the idiom of Bharatanatyam is well under her grasp, the reason for this conclusion being that the dance compositions were all  hers.

One has held that Bharatanatyam has an inbuilt choreography, yet there can be creative forays within that format including for standard margam items. Swagatam Suswagatam Shree Jagadeeshwari, a composition of Lalgudi G. Jayaraman in Ahirbhairavi, was the inaugural piece of the petite dancer, its descriptive nature helping her to strike attractive poses. Vanajaksha Ninne Nambi, the Behag varnam which followed, was more the nayika addressing her nayaka in her various moods. Bereft of episodic sancharis, the dramatic element went missing in the varnam, robbing it of its stature as a central piece; it consequently dwarfed the window of assessment of the dancer herself. Nritta, central to the varnam, was at a discount, the korvais neither elaborate nor taxing. Although well executed, they thus could not stand up to scrutiny. But listening to the rigorous sollukattus, courtesy DV Prasanna Kumar was an aural treat, complemented by Praveen Vidhu (vocal), Lingaraju (mridangam) and Vivek Krishna (flute). 

Apoorva’s uninhibited abhinaya was her trump card; for once, sringara remained just that, without being even covertly bhakti oriented. With the ashtapadi (Kaapi), expectedly nayika oriented, coming next, a distinct monotony crept in, the ashtapadi appearing as a continuum of the varnam. A bhajan, Radha Manamohana, saw the reversal of roles—that of the nayaka addressing his nayika--where Krishna pacifies Radha. A tillana in Mohana Kalyani, rounded off a show which revealed a precocious talent that yet needs to be honed; this is where the need for an acharya was direly felt. 

Unnecessary expressions in nritta and certain stage mannerisms need to be done away with. Depth and balance could have been hers with a better choice of items, dancerly content and thrust. Further grooming would certainly help her realize her full potential.

Jyothi Raghuram is a freelance journalist, dance critic and project writer for UNESCO. A senior journalist with an experience of three decades, she has worked with BBC, PTI, The Hindu and Indian Express.