Memorable masterpieces  
- V V Ramani, Chennai 
Photos: Lalitha Venkat  

January 11, 2005

 Two dance performances – one by a male, the other by a female - elevated the viewers to such great heights, wherein the persona of the artiste disappeared and only the art remained; like the union of the jeevatma and paramatma, the end result was sheer bliss! The veterans who gave us this delight were Prof. C V Chandrasekhar and Swapnasundari.  

C V Chandrasekhar’s performance at Narada Gana Sabha was an unforgettable experience.  After the shloka, he took up the evergreen varnam “Swami naan undhan adimai…” - a Papanasam Sivan composition. Chandrasekhar’s majestic movements and evocative bhava were so mesmerizing that, had the composer been alive, he would have been moved to tears. To the lines ‘natanam aadum’ the sancharis were so full of anguish of a devotee that the rasika sat up gasping and thirsting for the darshan of Lord Shiva. The theermanams for the jathis were executed with precision and speed and each movement was sculpturesque. His araimandi at 70 plus would put many a 30 plus dancer to shame. This varnam was like a pilgrimage trip to the abode of Lord Shiva - indeed, a memorable experience.  

The heightened mood continued in the Surdas bhajan, a lullaby. In this bhajan, the dancer disappeared totally and only Yashoda and Krishna were on stage. The vatsalya bhava of the mother and the emotions of pride, love and anger were brought out beautifully. Young female dancers could learn a lot about moods and mannerisms of a woman from this veteran artiste – a man.  
The fact that not only was he a brilliant dancer but also a choreographer of great merit was evident in his production Kreeda. The childhood games of yester years played by children were woven into song and dance. The choreographic sequence of a game of chess was a masterstroke of movement in rhythm. The audience, mesmerized by the artiste’s performance, did not move from their seats till the end.  

Swapnasundari’s recital at Bharataiya Vidya Bhavan for Kartik Fine arts was an equally enriching experience to cherish. This youngest Kuchipudi dancer to get a Padma Bhushan award, gave us a glimpse of Vilasini Natyam, a dance form of the Andhra devadasis. She began the program with a prayer ‘Vigna vinashakara Vinayaka.’ Besides the elephant headed Lord, the dancer also paid homage to each of the accompanying instruments. This was followed by a Pallavi in raga Arabhi. The varnam, which followed was on Lord Koppeswara – Lord Shiva of the matted locks. This varnam belongs to an oral tradition of the devadasis’ kutcheri atta, danced to please the patrons. The elaborate varnam was done with exquisite abhinaya and the jathis were added on only to add momentum to the long piece. In the abhinaya sequence, for just one word ‘saami’ – the Lord – the dancer showed nearly 25 variations of expressions – when crossing even 5 sancharis is a marathon effort for most dancers. This variety of expression that she is able to bring to each line in the varnam is like an encyclopedia for young dancers to refer to. It is a pity that in a city full of dancers, only a handful were there to attend this program.  

In the abhinaya piece  ‘Evvadey..,’ the musician and the nattuvanar, sat behind the musician in the traditional style of the devadasis. The singing prowess of the dancer came to the fore in this number. The dancer merged with the mood of the song to such an extent that she was oblivious to everything - including the black backdrop of the previous performance gingerly being dropped down, raising a cloud of dust behind her, choking the orchestra…But she sat there, tears streaming down her cheeks, moved by the bhakti of the composition, bringing nostalgic memories of M S Subbulakshmi.  

The local orchestra provided excellent support, but was obviously not in tune with her extempore improvisations. The ankle bells coming loose frequently were minor irritants but the aesthetic joy of sublime art overshadowed the faults. 

V V Ramani is an acknowledged visual artist, set, costume and textile designer, writer, singer….