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Nandini Ramani
11 July, 2012

Interview – Nandini Ramani

Bharathanatyam exponent, Nandini Ramani says, “In the present dance scene, a lot of enthusiasm and energy to absorb good things, open mindedness and enterprising talent can be seen….”

Nandini Ramani, Bharathanatyam exponent and a multi faceted personality, is well known for her committed work of carrying on the legacies of two great stalwarts of our times, at Dr V Raghavan Centre for Performing Arts, Chennai.
As daughter of the illustrious Sanskrit scholar, Dr V Raghavan, and a prime disciple of the Bharathanatyam legend, T Balasaraswati, Nandini nurtures and propagates the Bharathanatyam tradition of her Guru and the Sanskritic heritage of her father, Dr V Raghavan.

The well known art critic, Nandini speaks to on certain matters of dance in the following interview.

What are the significant features of T Balasaraswati’s tradition?

Balasaraswati’s style is well known for its firm technical choreography and subtlety in interpretative aspects, elevating the dance performance towards higher goals. Bala carried her Guru Sri Kandappa Pillai’s Sampradaya till her last by adhering to the Margam (traditional format) codified by the Thanjavur Quartet, the ancestors of Kandappa. Nritta aspect in this school is equally exquisite as much as abhinaya is being talked about in Bala’s style. It was a rigorous tradition with the fine blending of these two aspects, enriching each other mutually. The technical choreography is known for its crisp, intricate and challenging nature.

The knowledge of Sanskrit inherited from your father Dr Raghavan – How does it enrich your dance?

Knowledge in Sanskrit is very advantageous. Firstly, Sanskrit is the base language for other South Indian languages like Telugu and Malayalam. And any art literature emerges from the Sanskritic base. Hence it is very essential for every dancer to have some knowledge of Sanskrit or Hindi, because the script is almost the same. A deeper knowledge of Sanskrit definitely helps in understanding the lyrical structure of the basic concepts of Bharathanatyam, Nayaka-Nayikaa descriptions, the sentiments and such other technical details directly related to the actual performance part of the dance are well understood with such a background.

Also, the crucial elements like the note of propriety, a clear thought process, improvising such of these elements can also be dealt with a stronger Sanskritic background.

What do you think of the current trend of dancers switching styles?

According to traditional methodology, in any dance form the body gets tuned to one kind of physical training. The physique and its orientation gets shaped on that basis right from the early training period. Learning with different teachers will only create a diversion in focus, and will result in total loss of the individual identity of a particular style. For Bharathanatyam, training in a single Sampradaya is crucial for attaining perfection, and clarity in performance.

This concept hardly exists in the present day practice, as there is an approach adopted by most dancers to observe and incorporate different aspects from different dancers and styles, and eventually evolve an amalgamated style.

In Bala’s school, there seem to be very few performers?

Yes. In Bala’s school, quality matters than quantity. Because of the rigorous discipline and adherence to the old performing pattern of the Margam alone, instead of changing with times adding new innovations, are probably the difficult areas which limit the spreading of the style to larger number of dancers. Those of the dancers, in this tradition, both the direct disciples and their students, in India and abroad, though may be few, are surviving well to be the fittest to represent this unique tradition in its best.

What are the changes that have occured in the scene of Bharathanatyam, particularly in its twin aspects of Nritta and Abhinaya?

Among the twin aspects of Bharathanatyam – Nritta and Abhinaya, Abhinaya has gone through a sea of change in the last three decades. Subtlety in depicting the sentiment of love and portraying deep nuances of Shringara, have been totally disfigured. Abhinaya has become body centric and erotic. The dancer has compromised the firm values in Abhinaya delineation for the sake of mass appeal and to add a certain light touch.

Instead of the inner communication of the dancer with the enlightened public, the focus is now based on an explicit, cheap and very ordinary approach to create a certain pseudo momentum, which seems to be the order of the day.

What are the other changing trends that you have noticed in Bharathanatyam in the current scene?

In the present dance scene, a lot of enthusiasm and energy to absorb good things, open mindedness and enterprising talent can be seen. These are welcome changes.

On the other hand, the whole basic focus of the Bharathanatyam structure as a performing art has completely changed, concept wise – traditional format of performance has been side lined, new concepts and themes are being innovated and implemented to suit the changing tastes and still it is addressed as ‘Bharathanatyam’; context wise – on one side the focus is on more of values of entertainment, and on the other, there is tremendous urge, as though, to revive the spiritual focus of the art, dance festivals are on the increase in the temple precincts, as in the past. However, the good thing about these festivals at temples is that, it has resulted in a positive way by creating larger awareness of the different dance forms of our country, reaching out to the lay and learned alike, especially in interior South.

The alarming trend is of course, the dilution of quality training and the discipline in the technique of performance. Also, mingling of several styles, and the student constantly shifting from style to style – have had their own impact in their overall standard of the performances. As a result there is no identity of a particular Bani or style, or a particular Sampradaya as could be deciphered from a particular performance. True, that art cannot be stagnant; but, changes for the worse will not help to maintain the true face of a pristine, divine, dance like Bharathanatyam; this applies to all other dance forms of India that are also facing the same issue.

Tell us about your career as a reviewer and dancer.

Dance writing came accidentally during early 90s, when I was still a vigorous performer, both in India and abroad. As a resident correspondent for a leading newspaper, I created my own work ethics to refrain from performing in the regular circuit as before; since I was commenting on performances of other dancers, I chose to observe this work discipline. During my dance writing days, though I had been performing here and there in between, I did more of lec dems, which I do even now, so that I was not questioned about my authority to comment on others while I myself was a regular performer of the same art. In that way my performance career took a second seat; at the same time, my indepth knowledge of the different dance forms helped me in pursuing the career of an art critic with constructive and positive outlook. I have treaded the path very carefully like walking on a sword. In that process I had earned more good will of dancers and good friends in the dance community and outside.

Being a dancer myself, I had been very careful when it came to analyzing a dance performance; I had been very cautious and wrote, ‘with care and concern for veteran artistes, attention and affection for senior dancers, and love and responsibility for the young and upcoming dancers’.


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