Some say “there are as many styles of bharatanatyam as there are dancers”. But for classification purposes there are only four : Tanjavoor, Pandanallur, Vazhuvoor and Kalakshetra. Whilst I cannot make out much difference between Tanjavoor and Pandanallur, I can mostly make out Vazhuvoor and can definitely make out Kalaskhetra.
No matter what the style be, the music and the kind of compositions that are used to dance are the same. Coming to talk of compositions, some are written for bharatanatyam and some are adapted. How beautiful is the adaptation is again a hugely debatable topic. There are several popular compositions that were written decades back, but still are very popular and are performed even today by dancers of all styles of bharatanatyam. Sometimes a composition is often and frequently performed by dancers of one particular style and that becomes a kind of flagship dance piece that is usually identified with that particular style of bharatanatyam.
For eg: The varnam : Manavi chekona raada, in raaga Shankarabharanam, Adi tala.
This dance piece is performed so often and frequently by the students of kalakshetra style of bharatantyam that it became a flagship dance piece of kalakshetra style and is identified with it.
Over years I have seen many dancers of all styles perform this dance piece. Much to my disappointment, not a single dancer could stir any emotion in me, let alone the bhava working its magic. I don’t want to be partial to any style here. However, completely ignoring or cutting down on the essential elements that communicate the ‘rasa’, fails to achieve the goal. Yes I agree that every performance cannot be a soul-stirring experience. Much depends on the rasika too. Even the natyashastra/abhinaya darpana say that. But atleast there should be a sincere effort to try make each performance, an experience that it is meant to deliver.
While performing to a composition, a dancer should help the composition, what it set to achieve, thereby realising her own goal of executing it. Particularly in this case, I have been a witness of mere various physical interpretations of the verse, than emotional. Let me explain. It is like how many different ‘sancharis’ one does while the line repeats. There is nothing wrong with that, but yes, there is, when its done mechanically.
I was watching a very popular dancer(not a kalakshetra style dancer) execute this dance piece on a DVD. Why did I use the word execute? Well, that’s what she did, execute and not perform. Her beauty, her perfect body, aramandi and perfect execution of foot work shadows her absolute lack of abhinaya in this varnam.This not just a case with her, but with almost all of the dancers, I saw performing this varnam. Especially in the recent times. I am as much of a traditionalist as anyone when it comes to technical perfection in terms of aramandi etc, but where is the bhava? I ask. Where is the sringara, the tease, the blushing, the absolute openness on how the felling of love is tormenting? Yes the story is told in the sancharis, but without an iota of feeling- at least that is what the rasika feels. It is as beautiful as reading out a melodious song.
Is this a case of a chewing gum that lost its flavor due to over chewing? or is it just that one style is very restrictive or is it the dancer’s incompetence? Whatever the reason, one of the most popular varnam has been mercilessly and collectively killed. I am yet to see one dancer perform this varnam that can keep me glued.
However tempted I am here to provide links and mention names, but I refrain for one reason that classical dancing is not a bread-earner in India. Yet so many people, small, young and old, religiously study it and practice it and pass it on generation to generation. They do it for the love the have for the dance, and not with an ego of being a great dancer themselves. The above was not about them, but was about those 1% of flag bearing professional talented dancers(and those that like to think and display themselves as exceptionally talented dancers) that influence these rest 99%.
Whatever it is, this is not a singular case. Another composition that came to light in similar conditions is “Bho Shambho”. One dancer I met in a dance festival recently claimed that she has choreographed it herself and went on to do the worst duplication of the most viewed video on youtube.
Does a little use of breasts, glances, lips, eyebrows, shoulders hurt so much to communicate the bhava and rasa?
Response from a dear friend and an ardent rasika : I just read the post.. its not the case just with manavi.. so many varnams have been killed.. specially mohamana and kamas which have more of explicit lyrics… Vazhuvoor le its done with more of oomph!