The Dancing Flame

A compromise had to be struck between the number of people in the audience and the delay of the concert. There were two kinds of people in the SJA (Silver Jubilee Auditorium) at NITK, Surathkal that evening. You could find people with a musical background as well as the novices in the audience. Nevertheless all of them had the potential to appreciate and enjoy any art form provided the performers were brilliant. It was the first Bharatanatyam experience as far as I was concerned. The supporting artists were seated to the left of the audience.

Mrs. Gayathri Balagurunathan entered from the right side of the stage. She first stunned us with her beauty and then with her voice. She began by introducing herself and her team. She has the wonderful ability to explain the content of her rendition without intriguing the audience with technical stuff, yet not losing the essence of the performance. Mrs. Gayathri Balagurunathan is the daughter of famed Bharatanatyam dancer Krishnaveni Lakshmanan and the wife of V.Balagurunathan (who is also a well known Bharatanatyam artist). She has been trained by her mother from the tender age of five. She has completed her training in Bharatanatyam and Veena from the Kalakshetra (started by the legendary Rukmini Devi Arundale) with distinction. She has performed in India and abroad.

The danseuse has also received the prestigious Sangeet Natak Academy award;in recognition of her achievements in Bharatanatyam. She has taught Bharatanatyam in India and New Zealand. Critiques believe that shades of the late Krishnaveni Lakshmanan are more than evident in daughter Gayathri Balagurunathan’s Bharatanatyam performances.

Bharatanatyam is considered to be a ‘fire dance’ — the mystic manifestation of the metaphysical element of fire in the human body. The movements of an authentic Bharatanatyam dancer resemble the movements;of dancing;flame. Bharatanatyam is one of the classical arts where an extraordinary co-ordination among a group of artists is very important. The dancer; has to perform in sync with the;vocalist. The dramatic aspect essential for narrating the storyline (Abhinaya), and the rhythmic dance movements (Nritta), are to be fused into interpretive dance, using facial expressions, hand gestures, and body movements to portray emotions and express themes (Nritya), in a Bharatanatyam repertoire. Such complex interconnectedness when perfected offers a glimpse of the zenith of human creativity to an attentive eye. That is exactly what spectators were offered on that eventful evening.

The first performance of a Bharatanatyam concert is often a crisp Nritta item i.e., Abstract dance movements with rhythm, but without expression of a theme or emotion. A Stuti (prayer) praising lord Ganesh was sung in the beginning. The second piece was in appreciation of the various extraordinary deeds done by lord Krishna to bring down evil in the universe.  The depictions of Vamanavatara, Kurmavatara were elegant and convincing.

The next performance was the Varnam or the main piece of the concert. It was a storyline wherein a devotee prays for the blessings and mercy of Lord Shiva. The second part of the Varnam involved a story where Lord Shiva dances with his right leg on the floor upon the request of a King at the great temple of Tanjore. Swift changes from the masculine and feminine characters of the storyline were made effortlessly by the artist. The subsequent piece was the audience’s favourite one. The song was “Tumak Chalat Ram Chandra” a bhajan composed by Tulsidas. It was a lullaby sung to Lord Shriram by his mother Kausalya. The imagination of Tulsidas’ poetic mind was well matched by the passionate involvement of Ms.Gayathri during the performance. The exquisite feminine expressions struck a chord with all individuals in the audience.

Many of us were forced to imagine that an Infant Lord Ram was walking around the stage during the performance. The final offering or the Tillana was again a piece on Lord Shiva. The Tandava or the cosmic dance of Shiva was well depicted. The energetic steps coupled with fantastic Netrabhinaya (exquisite eye movements representing emotions) enthused the audience. This was followed by an interaction with the audience. We came to know about her knowledge about the Natyashastra as well as storylines from scriptures. That had enabled her to innovate and improvise over the traditional conventions. The artist and her team were felicitated by the convenor of SPICMACAY Mangalore chapter Mr. Manikandan S G. The program ended with a group photo of the troupe with SPICMACAY volunteers.

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