The vocabulary of traditional Indian dance has been steadily expanding with the inclusion of fusion elements, going by recent performances in the city.
Bharatanatyam exponent Urmila Sathyanarayanan, however, has been keenly working on a performance that goes against the tide. “I want to highlight the beauty in the traditional repertoire of dance,” says the 46-year old dancer, who has been performing since the age of 10.
Bharatanatyam dancer Urmila Sathyanarayanan
The result is Myriad Hues of The Margam, which translates to the different colours or dimensions of the path of dance. Sathyanarayanan has experimented a little with fusion in the past, but finds herself drawn to more traditional forms of expression. “There is so much in the traditional repertoire that I did not find the need to move away from it,” she explains.
The 105-minute performance starts with a Suryanjali, an offering to the sun god. “The offering ushers in a new day, as the sun comes riding on seven horses,” says Sathyanarayanan.
In the performance, she will present traditional items, like the Varnam and Padam, while telling stories of the gods and bhakti (a form of devotion). “There is a story of an adolescent girl. When Krishna makes advances towards her, she feels shy and sends him away. But she also feels that she loves Krishna’s company and wants to be around him all the time. This paradox is brought forth in the story,” she explains.
Sathyanarayanan will also present a Tulsidas bhajan and a Tillana, a piece in praise of music. “In this, different notes have been compared to different animals.” While the performance hinges on tradition, the dancer has experimented within the confines of the genre. “In Bharatanayam, the Shringara rasa (element of beauty or attraction) is predominant, but in this performance the predominant bhava (flavour) is that of bhakti,” she says.
Commenting on the changes over the years, she says, “Earlier, there were gharanas, so a lot depended on where the dancers had been trained — like the Kalakshetra or Pandanallur styles. That has completely disappeared now.
Secondly, there is a lot of fusion that is happening these days — the combining of Kathak with Bharatanatyam or other western forms.”
Despite this, Sathya-narayanan believes that the beauty of the traditional repertoire will remain. Myriad Hues of the Margam is an attempt to highlight the beauty of the form.