Backed by a solid body of research and under the guidance of scholar Arudra, Swapna Sundari revived in the 1990s an ancient dance style of the hereditary Kalavantulu artistes of Telugu-origin, who danced in temples, royal courts and public spaces. The art form, independent of the all-male bhakti-predominant Bhagavatams such as Bhama Kalapam, was named Vilasini Natyam. Swapna Sundari found that the style followed the Natya Shastra and the more recent local text, Jayasena’s ‘Nrittaratnavali’.
The reconstructed Vilasini Natyam, with the help of former artistes such as Maddula Laxminarayana and others, uses the body differently. The arms are looser in structure while the oft used nritta hastas are Ardhachandra, Shikara, Mrigasheersha, inverted soochi among others, with the pointed toe used prominently and a U-shaped Natyarambam and a flat ardhachandra. The music is Carnatic-based.
Purvadhanashree, a senior student of Swapna Sundari, presented the Northern style of Vilasini Natyam. The Northern style is said to be softer and more rounded. The dips, the Samapada with the pointed toe, front bent-knee stance, the movement of the feet while placed flat, torso bends were visible in the opening Naandi shlokas and Vinayaka Prarthana (Mohanakalyani, Adi), the latter being an ancient piece performed by Maddula Laxminarayana and many before her in front of the dwajasthambam in the Visweshwara Agraharam, Perur.
Another temple ritual performed during the offering of naivedyam — the Bala Bhogam, is the Pallavi. Purvadhanashree presented the Shabdha Pallavi, in Manirangu, talamalika, preceeded by a shloka in ragamalika, expressing gratitude to the panchabhoothas. The nritta in nadai bheda consisted of short jathis performed back to back; the whole body is involved. Purvadhanashree’s execution was rather athletic. The flute (J.B. Sruthi Sagar) was especially striking.
The Shiva Salaam daruvu (Kashinatha Kavi), strangely named without the salaam, had a folk tune sung with a lilt. The steps reflected this light-hearted tone. A ‘nakha shikha’ toes to tresses description of Shiva was followed by a warm story of Shiva as a householder. Parvathi complains about being in the kitchen all day, so takes a day off to be bejewelled and at leisure like Lakshmi and Saraswathi. Ganesha runs out of modaks, Subramania complains about Shiva’s snakes chasing his peacock, and Shiva is not able to meditate in peace. He gets exhausted; the devotee feels sorry for him and requests him to rest. There was only one line, ‘Pranamatha pasupathi akhila patim’ in the song.
Purvadhanashree has absorbed some of guru Swapna Sundari’s easy expressions. She is a mature dancer, who is fluent in the style and its quaintness. Another expressional piece was the Pravesha daruvu of Sathyabhama in the traditional Mishra Chapu. Sathyabhama’s detailed description, her confidence melted into the shringara segment with Madana (cupid), ending a short dialogue between the heroine and her friend, who asks her to reveal her secret love interest. It was a dramatic staging, in terms of its high musicality and dance. One however missed the seated abhinaya, meyzuvani style, that Swapna Sundari specialises in.
Mumbai Shilpa’s music made a big difference to the recital. Guru Bharadwaj (mridangam) and K.P. Rakesh (nattuvangam) stayed true to the rhythm without tampering with the feel of the pieces. The team finished with a tisra nadai Adi thillana in Kapi (M.D. Ramanathan) with some nritta that is different from how it is done today.
Leave a Reply