Margam on a roll!
- A Seshan, Mumbai
Photos: Sachin (Archives of Shanmukhananda)

November 19, 2010

Sri Shanmukhananda Fine Arts & Sangeetha Sabha, Mumbai, presented a unique programme of Bharatanatyam (BN) on skates by S Kasirajan, a 13-year-old teenager from Puducherry, on October 11, 2010. This writer had seen him at a dance competition organised by the Kanaka Sabha Centre for the Performing Arts in Chembur, Mumbai, three years back in celebration of the International Dance Day. He earned a Consolation Prize in the Junior category in the regular contest at that time. Besides, he also gave a demonstration of BN on skates on that occasion by dancing to “Adikkondaranda vedikkai kanakkan aayiram vendamo,” a composition of Muthu Thandavar in Mayamalavagaulai. It means: “Does it not require 1000 eyes to see the fun of the dance of Nataraja?” It was really fun (vedikkai), but a serious one, both for the children and the adults in the auditorium. This reviewer was impressed by his prowess in dancing on a new medium. (See Since then, he has not looked back. What is exceptional that makes him stand apart from other artistes is that he is not only a good roller-skater and BN dancer individually but also possesses the rare capability to fuse and do them together. So far he has presented 75 performances in all major cities of the country. Sometime ago, the NRIs of Reunion Islands in the middle of the Indian Ocean, invited him for a performance. But he could not go there due to the difficulty in obtaining the visa. 

He has secured a number of awards and prizes like the  International Nritya Shree Award at the International Dance Festival in Cuttack, Yuva Kala Bharati from Bharathi Yuva Kendra Trust, Madurai, etc. He has so far earned 3 gold, 1 silver and 1 bronze medals in the National Roller Skating Championship. He has done well in distance education. At the age of 10, he was the youngest person to acquire a diploma in a Certificate Programme in Dance, a two-year course of Annamalai University, Chidambaram, Tamil Nadu. He has been selected for the specialised training in the field of BN under the Cultural Talent Search Scholarship Scheme 2008 by the Centre for Cultural Resource and Training of the Government of India. The latest news is that he was selected for the National Child Award for Puducherry and invited to New Delhi to receive a silver medal from the President of India. It is indeed remarkable that he has made so much progress in his field standing on his own skates (oops, on his own feet!) without any big influence to back him up.  He has been a source of inspiration not only to other youngsters but also to his father Saravanan Ramalingam, who came forward to learn roller skating at the age of 35 years and won 1 silver and 3 bronze medals at the State-level meet in Puducherry for candidates of his age.  They have entered the Limca Book of Records 2010 as the “first father-son roller skating duo.” 

This writer looked eagerly to see the programme. Apart from the fact that it was a full-fledged BN performance, it was based on the Margam format in the revival of which he is very much interested.  Right from Pushpanjali when he rolled on to the stage to the thunderous applause of an appreciative audience that remained in the auditorium till the end, there was no faltering or slackness or tentativeness in the artiste. The perfect soushtava sthanaka of araimandi was impressive from the very first item. The charis and the eye movements were precursors to what one was to see later in heavier items. Then came the following songs: Swagatam Krishna – Mohanam, Ananda Tandavam – Shanmukhapriya, Mate Malayadhwaja Pandya Samjhate – Daru Varnam – Khamas, Parukkulle Nalla Nadu – Hamsanandi. 

The hasta mudras and body lines were clear and correct. Thus “Ananda Tandavam” began with an archetypal sivalinga hasta. The skates did not seem to make much difference as he could effortlessly do anchita padam or kunchita padam and other movements without slipping. In between, he could give a glimpse of a couple of brahmaris and utplavanas to a limited extent.  One novelty was that, even as the song was sung, there was a simultaneous rendering of jatis making the item interesting. A few complex and difficult karanas like Lalatatilaka were also executed competently receiving the approbation of the rasikas. The Nataraja poses were well done both in this and the subsequent song. 

Kasi took about 20 minutes to do the complex daru varnam in Khamas of Harikesanallur Muthiah Bhagavatar on Madurai Meenakshi. Adavus like murukku adavu displayed angasuddha. Both the nritta and nritya were done in a professional manner. A few weeks earlier during the planning of the programme this writer had suggested to Kasi that he should do one item on bare feet without skates to show his mettle as a regular BN artiste. He planned to do a varnam accordingly. However, as the father explained on the stage, the artiste preferred to do the varnam also on skates as he did not have the time to practise to do barefoot dancing. In a way, it was good to see the varnam done on skates, it being the most challenging item for a BN artiste, especially in the case of the Khamas composition.  Except for the limitation on azhuttam attributable to skates, the whole item was danced in a manner that established his competence. Apart from telling the story of Meenakshi and her conquests, Kasi showed his abhinaya skills in displaying myriad emotions on his face in sancharis. He made full use of the spacious stage. 

Due to lack of time, the artiste finished the programme with Bharati’s song “Parukkulle Nalla Nadu” in Hamsanandi although he would have liked to do a Tillana.  Appropriately, he planted the national flag on the stage and gave expression to the poet’s description of the motherland. There was a dramatic finale when he took the audience by surprise by executing a jaru sliding stylishly with the legs fully stretched   on either side and  his hips on the floor displaying  anjali by way of a salutation. The one-hour programme was seen keenly by the audience which, however, looked small on the ground floor of a large auditorium with a capacity to seat 2800 persons. There was the unseasonal rain that might have prevented many more to come and see Kasi. But those who came to see remained to appreciate. 

The recorded orchestral accompaniment was good. Aharya was appropriate for the young and handsome boy wearing a red pyjama and orange sash with a white belt-like band. He changed the costume to a green-white-maroon ensemble for the varnam. The boy’s mother Leena should be congratulated for the make-up and costume selection. Of course, credit goes to the guru Jayashree Narayanan, an alumnus of  Kalakshetra, in helping the boy to marry BN to skates in an aesthetic manner without violating the injunctions of the sastras. Equally credit goes to Pavankumar who is an international referee and National Coach for Roller Skating under whom Kasi is learning skating, 

There may be purists or fundamentalists who may raise their eyebrows in disapproval and object to such innovative medium as skates in BN and call them gimmicks. But the world, in general, and more so the arts do not stand still and move on. As Kabir said: “Bahata nir saaf hota hai.” Flowing water remains pure, not the stagnant pool. I imagined that when Rukmini Devi introduced kalaripayattu (a martial dance of Kerala) in the battle scene of her dance drama in Meenakshi Kalyanam, she also might have been criticised for taking to ‘gimmickry.’ But today, martial art is part of many dance dramas accepted widely by artistes and the audience alike. If Bharata did not refer to dancing on skates in Natya Sastra, it is simply because the medium did not exist during his time! Birju Maharaj is reported to have choreographed a beautiful kabaddi (‘sadugudu’ in Tamil) game in Kathak! At a time when one sees fusion and dancing BN to exotic music like Tchaikovsky or Gregorian Chants or Vivaldi, criticising the performing of a classical dance on skates within the parameters of the sastras is small change! But the child prodigy needs to be encouraged for doing what many would think impossible. Kasi has a bright future before him.  Institutions devoted to BN not only in India but also abroad should make a note of  him in a unique field and give him opportunities to reach greater heights. Sri Shanmukhananda Sabha has always been in the forefront in encouraging young artistes under several schemes. It should be congratulated for boldly putting up an unknown style of programme of a relatively lesser known artiste in Mumbai in the main auditorium. The new backdrop on the stage was very artistic and colourful. 

Readers may be interested in knowing about the skates used by Kasi in his performances. The cost of a pair for regular skating ranges from Rs. 35,000 to Rs.1,50,000. Besides, there are other special skates for BN or any other type of artistic activity. Skates are to be chosen according to the usage, viz., Speed Skating, Artistic Free Style Skating, Artistic Figure Skating, Artistic Solo Dancing, Roller Hockey. The frame of the skates will be designed with certain alignment of balancing according to the use to which it  will be put. 

In the past, Kasi had used skates with lower costs provided by his teacher, the wheels of which were imported from Italy. As he graduates to higher levels of artistry, he needs to provide for special accoutrements and attachments that would be costly to ensure that his performances do not suffer due to any limitation of the equipment. It will, of course, be one of trial and error. The student, guru and the skate master need to collaborate in this matter successfully.

Despite his fascination with skates and BN, Kasi wishes to become an IAS officer. It is a good sign that he is going to pursue his studies seriously. It should not be difficult for him to have parallel careers like sportspersons in government service. To give a couple of examples, we have leading  artistes combining public health with BN and a senior Railway Officer presenting programmes all over the world.

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