Puja Allepalli - dedicated, sincere and controlled
- Meenakshi Ravi
e-mail: meenakshi_ravi@yahoo.com

September 28, 2015

Neat as a pin, meticulous in her footwork and fully in control of her nritta, Puja Allepalli radiates a humility and sincerity to her art. From the first words she spoke on stage until the final mangalam, she hummed with an earnestness that endears an artiste to the audience.  Puja’s performance in London on 14th of September was at the Nehru Centre and she dedicated it to the memory of her Guru, Adyar Lakshman.

The opening piece was a Buddha kauthuvam. It was an intriguing idea - a devotee chancing upon the Buddha in meditation and glimpsing the magic of his trance. Puja started neatly, but only seemed to get into her stride after the first piece was done. The best item in the repertoire of the evening was the varnam, ‘Swaami Naan Undan Adimai’. The piece itself is a classic - both musically and choreographically - but I won’t lie, it’s become such a staple at least on London stages, that it’d be great to see either a more original take on it (and it has been done to great effect) or another varnam completely. That aside, Puja’s control and complete presence in the moment were absolutely lovely to witness. There were instances in her nritta that had amazing symmetry and showed off her beautiful araimandi. In fact, in the fourth korvai of the varnam - which was very intricate and fast-paced - Puja even showed us flashes of flamboyance and attitude. It helped to break up her otherwise seemingly detached, cool visage.

Following the varnam, Puja presented two items - ‘Tumaka Chalatha Ramachandra’ in Misra Pilu ragam and ‘Maadu Maikum Kanne’ in Senjuruti. Both were too similar in theme (mother and child) to really show off Puja’s ability or to appeal to an audience. The moods of the two pieces were undoubtedly different, but it would have been nice to see Puja in love or angry or even desperately sad. Something to shake her - and us - up. As it was, the two items were nice, but left you wanting more. Indeed, there were some moments in the abhinaya where Puja almost seemed hesitant. As she performed the playful ‘Maadu Meikum Kanne’ where Yashoda and her son Krishna go back and forth about whether or not he should go out and play, there would be one moment where Puja would be emoting with her entire body only to snap out of it and break the mood. Those moments of disconnect were probably as disconcerting to her as they were to us in the audience. (I won't be surprised if some who were in the audience that evening choose to disagree with me regarding the two padams - there were a couple of people who were very vocal, praising Puja's talent and radiance loudly as she performed.)

As a whole, the performance was pleasing, but for someone who is so clearly in love with Bharatanatyam, Puja's performance lacked soul and those glimpses of abandon that tell an audience the artiste is in the thrall of her art.

One thing that cannot go unsaid amidst all this is that she was dancing on a challenging stage here in London - the Nehru Centre dais does no favours to the artists who perform on it. The front row seats are uncomfortably close and the stage curtains neither frame the platform nor do they hide the unattractive corners. Puja's music too could have been better - each item was from a different recording, a different singer with a different sound quality. For those of who can manage it, having seamless music for a performance is a real plus.

The Nehru Centre has an eye for talent - that they chose to invite Puja Allepalli to perform says something about their awareness of the dancers out there. But they need to do a bit more to help artistes give their best. It’d be great to see Puja again - more relaxed, more uninhibited.

Meenakshi Ravi is a broadcast news journalist and Bharatanatyam teacher based in London.