Rooting for classicism

Ambika Shaligram
Friday, 13 April 2018

Bharatanatyam dancer Guru Lakshmi Viswanathan is going to perform in the city on Sunday. She talks about researching, exploring and experimenting in the dance form

Known for her abhinaya, Guru Lakshmi Viswanathan has also used it to describe her Bharatanatyam dance performance in Amritanjali Festival of Classical Dance and Music to be held in the city on Sunday. Explaining what ‘AbhinayManjaree’ means, Viswanathan says, “Manjaree is a Sanskrit word for ‘bouquet’. I am going to show different moods of shringar. My dance forte is abhinaya.”

Elaborating on the classical and new pieces that she is including in the performance, the Sangeet Natak Akademi award winner says, “I hope to show different moods and shades of nayika bhava — pining for her lover, talking to her lover and her anger at being spurned and the nayika’s relationship with sakhi or her confidante. I have included one ‘linga stuti’ in which the nayika addresses her questions to Shiva. There is another piece on Radha-Krishna, in which Radha wonders what Krishna might be doing, in her absence.”

She goes on to talk about compositions which forms an integral part of the classical dance. “There are some poets in South India like Jaidev,  Chaitra and Maharaja of Travancore, Swathi Thirunal Rama Varma, who have composed bhava sangeet. We are lucky to have inherited the tunes, not just the words. I have used one composition by Jaidev and another by the Maharaja,” adds Viswanathan.

The dancer, who has included pieces in Tamil, Sanskrit, Telugu, Kannada and Marathi in her programme, loves the idea of a challenge, exploring and experimenting with it. “I speak Tamil, but I can understand Telugu and Sanskrit too. I had to study Marathi, learn the songs. By nature I am a researcher and as a dancer, I am always exploring something. I like to look up new compositions and add to my repertoire. I have built a repertoire of more than 150 dances,” she points out.

The Chennai-based artist, who is now her own teacher after her guru passed away, is very encouraging of her students, who are researching on the dance form. Says she, “There are students who come to me for research because they want to know the history of dance. They want to be researchers. Many of them have studied theory and of course trained in the form, so that they can become teachers. This is great. I encourage it. When  I started, I learnt the dance. I didn’t study the theory.”

Viswanathan believes in the classicism of the dance form, but has also choreographed pieces which are more current. “Our classical dance forms are based on the Ramayana and Mahabharata, and stories of Shiva and Krishna. That is so because these stories are timeless. These stories are of human emotions like friendship, faithfulness, devotion and so on. They are such big epic texts that even if we take something from them, there is a lot left to study. For example, in the Ramayana, I did the whole navrasa only with situations of Sita — when Sita feels love, anger, disgust and rage,” she explains.

When it comes to exploring contemporary themes, Viswanathan did three such performances. “I did one piece on dance biography, the history of dance itself. I called it ‘Banyan Tree’. I went back to how dance originated, its primitive form and other forms like ‘possessed dance’ and ‘ritual dance’. Another piece was on freedom struggle, using songs of Subramanian Bharati, a freedom fighter. The themes were Swadeshi, Swamaryada, Satyagraha and Stree Shakti. I also did a performance on ‘Life of Devdasi’,” she adds. 

The dancer believes that Bharatanatyam is a versatile form rooted in classicism. “Dance is a very significant aspect of India’s cultural heritage. I am conscious of that aspect. I try to make the best of what we have received from our heritage and do what I can within that beautiful tradition,” are her concluding thoughts.

ST Reader Service
Guru Lakshmi Viswanathan will be performing on April 15, at Amritanjali Dance Festival, organised by Dr Shashikala Ravi. The performance will be held at Amritanjali Studio, Lunkad SkyMax, opposite Datta Mandir, Viman Nagar, from 5-8.30 pm 

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