For the fifteenth year in succession, Natyarangam – the dance wing of the Narada Gana Sabha – offered an opportunity to dancers and young dance teachers of Bharatanatyam to update their knowledge and skills at a three-day residential dance workshop called Natya Sangraham organised at Thennangur, 110 kilometres from Chennai.
Besides the convenor Prof. C.V. Chandrasekhar, the faculty this year included, well known art administrator and dancer Leela Samson, violin vidwans Lalgudi G.J.R. Krishnan and his sister Lalgudi Vijayalakshmi, Dr. Sudha Seshayyan for poetry appreciation, and mridangam maestro Prof. Trichy Sankaran from Canada. Bharatanatyam dancer and yoga teacher Jyotsna Narayanan gave insights into yoga for dancers in the early morning yoga sessions. Vani Ganapathy from Bangalore gave the students many practical tips about costumes and make-up, including a practical session on aharya. It was a congregation of senior artists who generously shared their experience with the participants who had enrolled from different parts of the globe. The number of applications this year was very high indicating the popularity of this unique exercise conducted away from the din and bustle of the city – in a more congenial atmosphere at the little temple hamlet of Thennangur, best suited for serious discussions, deliberations and demonstrations.
In the sessions on abhinaya, C.V. Chandrasekhar dwelt on its subtle and satvika aspects and the musicality of expression which should take off from the meaning embedded in the sahitya. He demonstrated the difference between sheer miming and emoting after understanding the song – very essential for a dancer.
Music plays an important role as it inspires the performer to improvise every time it is presented. Lalgudi Krishnan and Vijayalakshmi made a brilliant analysis of their father-guru Lalgudi Jayaraman’s compositions, and explained how every little nuance was composed with a purpose. They played various ragas and compositions and analysed the emotions created by them, the inherent scope for improvisation, the need to observe and assimilate life’s experiences which can embellish the music. They demonstrated how different moods can be brought out through appropriate sangatis. A session was also devoted to understanding kanakku.
Leela Samson said it was very important for dancers to think and constantly work on improving their dance. “Do you dance the same way you danced some years ago? As you mature in your thoughts and ideas it should be reflected in your performance,” was her advice. In the warming up session, Leela demonstrated exercises that help to energise the movements in dance. “Proportion is important and excess of anything is not to the taste. Connect with your musician before preparing the programme,” she advised the participants.
In his session on aspects of layam, Prof. Trichy Sankaran said that laya is the bedrock of the concept of time. Over the years percussionists have contributed to layam. He dwelt on the pause and interval between beats, gradations of speed, the variety of talas and ‘Brahma Layam’ exclusive to Bharatanatyam. He elaborated on the aspects of mohra, korvai, teermanam and arudi. He pointed out that rhythm should be musical, though many people forget the melodic side of rhythm.
Talking about poetry appreciation, Dr. Sudha Seshayyan said when you read or listen to a poem, you must search for the kernel of the poetic sense within. You must not only appreciate the words, but the emotion embedded in the words. “Ingest, digest, assimilate and then make your presentation. Find the space, experience it and dance for it,” she said.
The temple rituals in the evenings gave the dancers an opportunity to experience dance as an offering and not as a show of virtuosity. At the dolotsavam they danced impromptu before the deity with gay abandon as the Lalgudi siblings (violin) and Trichy Sankaran (mridangam) offered a feast of music. For the first time, the swarna rathotsavam was held at Thennangur as the temple has acquired a golden chariot. The procession with special nagaswaram and tavil drew a sizeable crowd from the surrounding villages who witnessed the fireworks and the dancers perform near the four gopurams inside the temple complex. It was heartwarming to see the local children dancing hand in hand with the participants. It was a unique experience to watch the special band of ritual and folk instrumentalists playing segments before the nagaswaram-tavil ensemble, and the amazing skill of the kolattam group comprising energetic young men from rural areas.
As the concluding day of the camp coincided with the Republic Day, the flag hoisting ceremony reflected the patriotic fervour with speeches and music.
That the camp served as a refreshing training ground was echoed in the valedictory session wherein the faculty and the participants were unanimous in stating that they had benefited a great deal from the unique experience.