Professionalism to the fore 
- A Seshan, Mumbai 
Photos: Avinash Pasricha 

September 17, 2008 
Rasikas of Indian classical dances were treated to an enjoyable evening of Bharatanatyam by Pallavi Saran Mathur, one of the leading young artistes in the field from Delhi, at the Little Theatre at the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Mumbai  on September 11, 2008. She had her training under Sonal Mansingh. The format of the programme could be described as mini-margam. It had to be so due to the short time (90 minutes) allotted for the performance after a vocal concert in Hindustani music. Still she was able to make the most out of the limited time with a Ganesh Vandana, Shabdam, Varnam, Padam and Keertanam.  

Ganesh Vandana in Hamsadhwani was a good and brisk start. It was followed by a Shabdam in Ragamalikai (Kambodhi, Dhanyasi, Kalyani and Madhyamavati) in Misra Chapu, composed by Swati Tirunal.  It recalled four episodes relating to Lord Krishna like his stealing the clothes of gopis when they bathed in the river. It showcased Pallavi's abhinaya skills, which were to be seen even more in the following Varnam. Araimandi and muzhumandi stances were well done. Her sarukkal (jaru or skalitam) was effortless and stylistic. Then came the Varnam, the piece de resistance of the programme.  The song was Sami Nee Rammanave of the Tanjore Quartet in Khamas and Adi. She danced for about 25 minutes trying to do full justice to all the aspects of the Varnam, which really is a challenge, testing the mettle of any dancer. The song is about the longing of the nayika for union with Lord Shiva and is addressed to a sakhi requesting her to bring Him to her. Pallavi portrayed the roles of the lovelorn maiden, sakhi and the Lord in the ekaharya (solo) mode. The viraha (pangs of separation) of the nayika was communicated well through her facial expressions, which she could change in a quicksilver fashion - now despondent, now infatuated, now happy and so on. She is endowed with large and expressive eyes, which she put to good use to convey the emotions of the longing maiden.  In this and other items her neck and head movements (addami) were artistic. Sanchari bhavas were presented in capsules, given the constraint of time. Particularly breathtaking was a couple of karanas, which she executed quickly. The utplavanas were, however, restrained. In general, adavus adhered to angashuddha. There was not a dull moment. What more can one expect from a dancer? While the Varnam certainly reflected the virtuosity of the dancer this writer felt that a slowing down of the tempo would have contributed more to its enjoyment. Varnam and padam are designed to be savoured at a leisurely pace.   

The padam (Indendu Vachchitivira) of Kasturi Ranga in Surati and Misra Chapu (originally Triputa) reflected the anger of a khandita nayika. The nayika waits for Lord Vishnu in the night. She is drowsy and about to fall into a deep sleep. Then there is a knock at the door, thoughtfully indicated by the percussionist tapping a couple of times on the mridangam. She rushes to the door immensely happy but is immediately disappointed to see Him dishevelled and looking sheepish with tell-tale signs of where he had been to earlier. It is the same old story of the nayika being taken for a ride by the wily and unfaithful nayaka! She gives him a thorough tongue-lashing saying that the other woman's house was not on the same street.  Has he failed to see that he was knocking at the wrong door despite the bright moonlight? The padam was full of sarcasm reflecting the foul and no-nonsense mood of the nayika, enacted convincingly by the dancer.   

The last item was a Purandaradasa keertana ("Adinato Ranga") in Arabhi and Adi. It related the story of Kaliyamartanam. It ended with a statue-like sthanaka marking the close of what was truly a remarkable performance. 

An analysis of the successful ingredients of the concert points to the contributory factors.  Of course, the main element was the thorough professionalism and competence of the dancer. Equally important were the compering done by the artiste herself and the supporting orchestra. Most of the artistes who introduce the items to be danced generally give a brief outline of the theme or the story to be enacted. But additionally Pallavi did a demonstration of the hastamudras also for each item giving a preview of what she would be doing subsequently. This helped the lay rasikas to interpret the mudras when they saw them in the dance. Even at the outset she had promised that she would try to demystify the art form of Bharatanatyam. It is to her credit that she kept her promise.  

The success of the programme was sustained by the excellent support from the accompanying artistes. It demonstrated how a live orchestra can enhance the quality of a dance performance and the aesthetic enjoyment of the audience. R Keshavan (Nattuvangam), K Venkateshwaran (Vocal), V S K Annadurai (Violin) and Lalgudi Ganesh (Mridangam) are all veterans in their respective fields with long experiences in accompanying eminent dancers on the stage. Particularly impressive was the vibrant recital of jatis by Keshavan. Pallaviís professionalism, seriousness and sincerity in accepting the engagement were evident from her bringing the members of her team all the way from Delhi to Mumbai although the programme was for 90 minutes only. 

The author, an Economic Consultant in Mumbai, is a music and dance buff.