Spontaneously modern abhinaya, Balasaraswati’s forte, is a fading artwork right this moment and one thing that’s solely superficially understood
When it involves abhinaya, one can always remember T. Balasaraswati. While it’s plain that she was a vital hyperlink to the previous by the use of her illustrious lineage, representing seven generations of hereditary performers, she additionally had the extraordinary skill to flooring audiences via her extempore abhinaya. One remembers American ethnomusicologist Robert E. Brown’s phrases, “Balasaraswati performed the same piece 15 times during a concert tour, yet rendered each version anew by deploying a wide range of references and poetic tropes in improvised sections.”
Balamma, as she was affectionately known as, emphasised improvisation in abhinaya as a result of she believed that ‘composing’ dance for narrative sections was not in vogue among the many dancers of her era. This kinds the inspiration of the Bala Bani, which is being taken ahead by Balamma’s grandson, Aniruddha Knight.
The vocalists who accompany Aniruddha sing ‘Thiruvotriyur Thyagarajan’, the Atana padam, which is a crown jewel in the Dhanammal household heirloom. There are not any rehearsals with the co-artistes in relation to these expressive items; even the kalapramanam or pace shouldn’t be mentioned beforehand. The musicians understand the tempo when Aniruddha begins singing the track and from the indicative stamping of the toes, accompanied by the clanking of the anklets. The dancer determines the pace and the general circulation of the composition via his intimate compatibility with the musicians. The musicians should not advised what number of occasions every line must be sung; Aniruddha subtly signifies, via his singing and head actions, when the orchestra might progress to the subsequent line. This makes ‘choreography’ a moot phrase in the lexicon of the Bala Bani’s abhinaya side. It additionally leaves no room for dancing to recorded music, a stay musical ensemble turning into core to this type, thus carrying out a performative impact via parity and mutual respect between dancer and musicians.
Bala’s instructing strategies
Although Balamma taught abhinaya, her college students attest that the content material of the teachings different from scholar to scholar. She would provide you with new methods to carry out a track in every session. Abhinaya was a deeply personalised presentation, and Bala believed it was an vital device to exhibit the dancer’s creativity and command. However, throughout the ages, Bharatanatyam turned more and more institutionalised, resulting in manodharma abhinaya largely turning into a fading aesthetic.
Veteran dancer-choreographer Sudharani Raghupathy recollects her lengthy affiliation with Balamma, which started in 1952. “Her manodharma in abhinaya was unequalled. Her prowess was the result of her experience and scholarship as well as mastery over the grammar of Bharatanatyam. I am intensely influenced by her approach to abhinaya. I had several discussions with Balamma on how I could tackle a particular padam or varnam.”
Aniruddha says, “Abhinaya is not something that can be entirely pre-decided or rehearsed. Since the conveying of emotions is the salient purpose of abhinaya, it definitely is not possible for me to put my emotions in a box. How my grandmother and mother [Lakshmi Knight] would perform a particular composition on a day depended on their mindset and orientation at that moment.”
True to their imaginative and prescient, even right this moment Aniruddha doesn’t carry out a specific expressive quantity the identical manner in any two concert events. Although the type is bountiful in relation to repertoire (with a wealthy provide of a whole bunch of musical treasures largely handed down era to era), manodharma abhinaya lends perpetual relevance to the Bala Bani.
Is it doable for sancharis to emerge spontaneously on stage, in sync with the music and the rhythm? The dancer makes use of a basket of acceptable expressions and gestures to convey what is important for a track. It is analogous maybe to the stringing of phrases by a poet to create a poem — the phrases are recognized already however the poem is written afresh. As Aniruddha explains, it then turns into crucial for the dancers to teach themselves not simply in the spiritual texts, but additionally to soak up and internalise the subtleties from numerous dance kinds and artistes, varied genres of music, and from portray, structure and artwork. “After all,” he says, “exposure to the world determines one’s thinking. Intelligent abhinaya is a result of the ability to perceive and reproduce — it certainly should help someone step outside their comfort zone.”
Says dancer Anita Ratnam, “I once saw Bala perform abhinaya for the first line of Papanasam Sivan’s Varali kriti, ‘Kaa Vaa Vaa’, for 40 minutes in a lecture demonstration at The Music Academy.” Balasaraswati’s type, says Anita, is a difficult one which calls for meditative give up from the dancer.
Rasikas who’ve seen Bala carry out stay usually communicate of how the music was visible and the dance aural in her performances. In this type, the dancer both sings in elements or in full when performing compositions like padams. Needless to say, singing whereas dancing is one other placing characteristic that has largely turn out to be extinct in Bharatanatyam performances. As Anita says, “Manodharma abhinaya performed by the Bala school shines because it brings out the dancer’s natural sense of musicality and rhythm. The emotion behind a piece triggers the impulse as opposed to the lyrics alone.”
Learning and executing abhinaya, says Aniruddha, is a lifelong course of and might solely come from absorption and assimilation. He learnt this from his guru and mom Lakshmi. The intent behind every nuance turns into extra pronounced as one grows as a dancer. Knight had this transformative expertise late in life — explicit expressions that got here to him as he carried out a chunk. He says he couldn’t have realised a few of these as a scholar. The artwork unfurls itself to the seeker regularly and in essentially the most uncanny methods.
Sudharani says, “Guru K.P. Kittappa Pillai would challenge me by giving me one line from a varnam on Brihadeeshwara and asking me to dance what came to my mind. Over the years, I had to read up on the Shiva Purana and several other texts to come up with refreshing interpretations.”
Every custom wants worthy torchbearers to be propelled into the longer term. A really demanding type like Balasaraswati’s requires endurance, perseverance and introspection. Aniruddha is passing on the centuries-old legacy he has inherited to the subsequent set of learners via the Balasaraswati Institute of Performing Arts, the place college students should not solely taught dance but additionally the distinctive dance music that’s intrinsic to this type.
A majority of Aniruddha’s college students are from unconventional social backgrounds with restricted entry and publicity to the classical arts, however they inherit the wealthy creative values of the Dhanammal lineage.
The author is a rasika of classical music and dance and in addition performs the veena.