Sivapriya - an experiment 
- Hema Iyer, Chennai

December 25, 2004


It is that time of the year when musicians and dancers strive to innovate, explore and expand their art forms, and attempt new ideas and ventures. One such program was the coming together of the mridangam maestro Umayalapuram Sivaraman and Bharata Natyam dancer Priyadarshini Govind in a program called "Sivapriya" at the Music Academy recently. The program started with the mridangam maestro occupying centre stage - literally! When it involves two personalities, it is important that both artistes get equal prominence on the stage. But what struck me as most unnatural throughout the program was the manner in which aesthetics and decorum were flouted. The platform was placed right in the center of the stage in a vertical manner, wherein the audience could only see only Sivaraman. The irony was Priyadarshini was reduced to the role of a second fiddle. 

The whole program had its basis on a kutcheri format and in the Indian music / dance scenario, the percussion instrument is always an accompanying one, though very vital. The vocalist and nattuvanar were relegated to playing secondary roles. The program began with a varnam, which was a musician’s varnam – I say musician’s because in a varnam for a dance recital, the varnam is the pinnacle of the recital, wherein the dancer gets complete scope to delineate her nritta and abhinaya. The navaragamalika varnam performed by Priyadarshini was just like a warm-up exercise. "Vatapiganapathi" and “Ananda Nadanam Aduvar Thillai" where the extensive possibilities for a dancer to dominate, also proved lukewarm. The ragam, neraval, krithi also followed the same pattern. The thaniavartharam segment did not bring fireworks from the dancer or the mridangam maestro. 

For those who came expecting the genius of Sivaraman, which he is well known for, the magic was not there. Similarly, Priyadarshini’s abhinaya, which is her forte, proved ineffective for lack of scope. Music and dance failed to establish their identities for there was no common ground on which they seemed to have met. The experiment worked to a certain extent in bringing to people as a novelty, but to sustain this concept, more work has to be put in on both sides. But as is true in any experiment, one is never convinced unless one is courageous enough to risk an adventure. We all know the League of Nations failed, but we would never have known that it failed if the founding fathers of the League had not been courageous enough to try. In Priyadarshini, it is evident beyond any doubt that this experiment failed but we would have been none the wiser for it, if it had not been tried!!

Stage aesthetics need to be given attention too. The banner hanging on a piece of wood, the faded carpet on the platform not draped well, the sound system not attended to before hand…does not speak of good presentation. 

Hema was involved in theater at the inter-collegiate level. She has done a course in cartooning, taught political science at Mt. Carmel (Bangalore), is interested in poetry, and now helps her husband V V Ramani in designing sets and costumes.