Spontaneously revolutionary abhinaya, Balasaraswati’s forte, is a fading artwork as we speak and one thing that’s solely superficially understood
In terms of abhinaya, one can always remember T. Balasaraswati. Whereas it’s plain that she was a vital hyperlink to the previous by means of her illustrious lineage, representing seven generations of hereditary performers, she additionally had the extraordinary skill to flooring audiences via her extempore abhinaya. One recollects American ethnomusicologist Robert E. Brown’s phrases, “Balasaraswati carried out the identical piece 15 occasions throughout a live performance tour, but rendered every model anew by deploying a variety 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 types the muse 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 within the Dhanammal household heirloom. There are not any rehearsals with the co-artistes with regards to these expressive items; even the kalapramanam or velocity shouldn’t be mentioned beforehand. The musicians understand the tempo when Aniruddha begins singing the track and from the indicative stamping of the ft, accompanied by the clanking of the anklets. The dancer determines the velocity and the general circulate of the composition via his intimate compatibility with the musicians. The musicians will not be informed 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 following line. This makes ‘choreography’ a moot phrase within the lexicon of the Bala Bani’s abhinaya facet. It additionally leaves no room for dancing to recorded music, a stay musical ensemble turning into core to this model, thus carrying out a performative impact via parity and mutual respect between dancer and musicians.
Bala’s educating strategies
Though Balamma taught abhinaya, her college students attest that the content material of the teachings various from pupil to pupil. She would give you new methods to carry out a track in every session. Abhinaya was a deeply personalised presentation, and Bala believed it was an necessary software to exhibit the dancer’s creativity and command. Nonetheless, 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 results of her expertise and scholarship in addition to mastery over the grammar of Bharatanatyam. I’m intensely influenced by her method to abhinaya. I had a number of discussions with Balamma on how I might deal with a selected padam or varnam.”
Aniruddha says, “Abhinaya shouldn’t be one thing that may be fully pre-decided or rehearsed. For the reason that conveying of feelings is the salient function of abhinaya, it undoubtedly shouldn’t be potential for me to place my feelings in a field. How my grandmother and mom [Lakshmi Knight] would carry out a selected composition on a day trusted their mindset and orientation at that second.”
True to their imaginative and prescient, even as we speak Aniruddha doesn’t carry out a selected expressive quantity the identical method in any two live shows. Though the model is bountiful with regards to repertoire (with a wealthy provide of a whole bunch of musical treasures principally handed down era to era), manodharma abhinaya lends perpetual relevance to the Bala Bani.
Is it potential for sancharis to emerge spontaneously on stage, in sync with the music and the rhythm? The dancer makes use of a basket of applicable expressions and gestures to convey what is critical for a track. It’s related 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 essential for the dancers to coach themselves not simply within the non secular texts, but in addition to soak up and internalise the subtleties from various dance kinds and artistes, numerous genres of music, and from portray, structure and artwork. “In any case,” he says, “publicity to the world determines one’s considering. Clever abhinaya is a results of the power to understand and reproduce — it actually ought to assist somebody step outdoors their consolation zone.”
Says dancer Anita Ratnam, “I as soon as noticed Bala carry out abhinaya for the primary line of Papanasam Sivan’s Varali kriti, ‘Kaa Vaa Vaa’, for 40 minutes in a lecture demonstration at The Music Academy.” Balasaraswati’s model, says Anita, is a difficult one which calls for meditative give up from the dancer.
Rasikas who’ve seen Bala carry out stay usually converse of how the music was visible and the dance aural in her performances. On this model, the dancer both sings in elements or in full when performing compositions like padams. For sure, singing whereas dancing is one other hanging function that has largely turn into extinct in Bharatanatyam performances. As Anita says, “Manodharma abhinaya carried out by the Bala faculty shines as a result of it brings out the dancer’s pure sense of musicality and rhythm. The emotion behind a chunk triggers the impulse versus the lyrics alone.”
Studying and executing abhinaya, says Aniruddha, is a lifelong course of and may 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 pupil. The artwork unfurls itself to the seeker step by step and in essentially the most uncanny methods.
Sudharani says, “Guru Ok.P. Kittappa Pillai would problem me by giving me one line from a varnam on Brihadeeshwara and asking me to bop what got here to my thoughts. Over time, I needed to learn up on the Shiva Purana and a number of other different texts to give you refreshing interpretations.”
Each custom wants worthy torchbearers to be propelled into the long run. A really demanding model like Balasaraswati’s requires persistence, perseverance and introspection. Aniruddha is passing on the centuries-old legacy he has inherited to the following set of learners via the Balasaraswati Institute of Performing Arts, the place college students will not be solely taught dance but in addition the distinctive dance music that’s intrinsic to this model.
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 inventive values of the Dhanammal lineage.
The author is a rasika of classical music and dance and likewise performs the veena.