Indian classical dance. Kuchipudi style.

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Bharatanatyam Style

Bharata Natyam is a subtle and complex form of dance art from state Tamilnad. This is a dynamic, earthly and very clear dance style. Its distinctive features are variety of motions with emphasis on foot stamping, jumps and turns. The main figures are balanced poses with stretched hands and legs that add certain linearity to the dance. Beauty and power, slow-downs and speed-ups, pure dance and pantomime are equally felt in this dance. This style is equally good both for solo and group performance.

Professional dancers deeply understand the ideological and philosophical content of Indian myths and Bharatanatyam Stylelegends, and besides they possess a perfect command of the technique. The ability to transfer various forms of a poetical text is a real test for a dancer's mastery. She/he plays the role of the main heroine of the play and portrays her various states. A dancer must be a really creative and inspired person to be able to express the finest nuances of feelings. A dancer's mastery in rendering the dance contents on different semantic levels attracts the audience attention. In a solo performance the individuality of interpretation depends on a dancer's age, training level, artistic taste, experience, knowledge and talent.

There is a widely spread opinion that the name Bharata Natyam means "Indian dance". This misunderstanding originates in how this style from state Tamilnad is generally accepted in both India and abroad. However, the devoted admirers of this style notice that the name appeared not longer than fifty years ago. Earlier it was first known as sadir kacheri (sadir stands for a dancer, kacheri stands for spectators), then as chinnamela (a small audience in contrast to periyamela - a large audience), and then as dasiatta that derived from devadasis (female dancers) who performed the dance. The more probable version says that Bharata consists of the first syllables of the following words: bhava (feeling), raga (melody) and tala (rhythm) and quasi unites the three pillars on which the style is based. There is another version according to which Bharata Natyam that firmly sticks to the behests of Natya Shastra got its name after sage Bharata the author of this ancient book.

Bharata Natyam traces its roots back to Hinduism and more specifically to Hindu myths and rituals. This especially manifests itself in the texts chosen for performance, in sculptural portrayals of dancers inBharatanatyam Style ancient Hindu temples and in the very philosophy of this dance style. The sculptures in the south Indian temples tell us that both music and dance were given to people by Gods and Goddesses.

That's why it is quite obvious that the spiritual meaning of Bharata Natyam can not be ignored. Hinduism is called "a live religion". In every myth there is a moral that simply teaches the ethics of everyday life and its connection with the transcendental. Events develop on a very simple human level that has led to a certain simplification in dance performance. Under such interpretation the sublime may seem quite materially-minded.

Up to the beginning of the XX century the dance had been the integral part of a temple ceremony. According to a tradition a local ruler or highest officials patronized the temple. A dancer, her guru and their musicians were highly respected and supported by the temple. During religious processions a dancer walked in front of a horse-drawn vehicle with the idol of a deity. She was perfectly acquainted with the temple ritual, the rules of offerings and prayers and played a significant role of tributes carrier to the image of a deity.

A female dancer was revered as the god's wife and her most important duty was the participation in ceremonies connected with his cult. That reminded the status of high priestesses in temples of Ancient Greece. She was called a devadasi, a maidservant. The dance itself besides complex ritual ceremonies used to be also performed on other occasions in the right time under favorable circumstances for instance on occasion of a festival, the crowning and marriage ceremonies, birth of a son or entering a new town or a house. Territories around temples were considered the only comfortable place where people could gather to see the dance. A dancer herself was a rich and respected person.

During the British reign the dance starts to lose its ritual purpose. Devadasis started to dance at princes' courts and in the houses of rich landlords. Poets in their flowery style glorified the greatness of their patrons and dancers danced to the lyrics. A temple dancer turned into a court dancer and often used to have a bad reputation. The complicated political situation in the country and the new understanding of social and cultural values presented by educated and prosperous Indians adversely affected their attitude to the art of dance. The social status of a dancer declined, the shadow was cast upon the very art and for many years the public was deprived of the pleasure to enjoy Bharata Natyam.

Perhaps it the threat of Bharata Natyam's complete disappearance that caused the scope of the Bharatanatyam Stylemovement for the revival of the dance and the returning of its one-time glory. Balasarasvati and Rajalakshmi's initiative was taken up by Rukmini Devi and I. Krishna. The music academy in Madras made the major contribution to the cause of the dance revival and put the area for public performances at Balasarasvati' disposal. The excessive erotic bias was soon equalized, good taste and aesthetic delicacy returned to Bharata Natyam performance. The first public Rukmini Devi's performance in 1935 marked the irreversibility of return to the past.

Bharata Natyam is a many-facet kind of art. It includes music, poetry, the art of drama and pantomime. While considering the most important aspect of dance, nritta (pure dance), first and foremost the body and hands positions and a dancer's movements in combination with the musical context must be taken into account. Rhythm, the main constituent part of the dance, interweaves with melody, that's why it is important to know what music and what rhythms accompany nritta. Nritta is the heart of the dance style while nritya is its soul. Melody, rhythm and lyrics are its constant accompaniment and the source of inspiration.

According to "Abhinaya Darpana" which Bharata Natyam's followers still firmly stick to, there are ten basic body positions. However, nattuvanaras (dance teachers) do not often use Sanskrit terms and prefer to use simpler Tamil terminology in class. That's why instead of ayata they use araimandi that simply means "semi-sitting" in Tamil language. Just the same muramandi means "fully sitting"; this is the squatting position when a dancer sits on tiptoes with her knees moved apart. Out of this position a dancer moves into motita when knees touch the floor in turns or into parshvasuchi when one knee rests against the floor, or into samasuchi when both knees rest against the floor. Guru and dancers can interpret and execute these positions in different ways. However, merely visual perception of the basic positions gives a clear idea of the stylistic limits of this dance. This is the main structure within which a dancer works.

The system of arranging adavas, a row of static poses connected with each other in a certain way toBharatanatyam Style create a motion, was for the first time legibly formulated about forty years ago. Teaching them was casual, the things still remaining as they are in some schools. Dancers often studied the subject as a whole considering each motion separately only when they came across in choreography. The absence of well written manuals and teachers' excessive haste to finish the course now leads to the situation when students master the ABC of the style insufficiently. As a result dancers often have a rather vague idea of the structure of the dance style. Fortunately, nowadays gurus have started to systematize their syllabuses thus allowing the students of various schools using them.

Rukmini Devi was the first classifier in Bharata Natyam training. She worked out her own system of "developing adavu" so that a student was able to move from simple movements to more complex ones gradually: from static figures to the ones performed in motion; from the motions performed in araimandi to the motions in more complex positions, then move to turns and jumps and finally to the figures with a very complex combination of hands' and legs' positions. Her contribution to Bharata Natyam training is immeasurably great; the variety of motions and figures in this dance style owes a lot to her talent and creative genius.

During the process of study it is very important to stick to the system when a student masters every motion by going through three speeds in its performance. It gives her the feeling of balance and allows mastering the basic rhythm on the initial phase of study.

The combination of figures in dance allows quick changing of the direction in body motion. Some figures seem dynamic, the others seem soft; some figures are performed on-site in the rhythm of dance, the others fall out of it; some positions provide more freedom to move asides, the others are performed with a certain purpose of moving into the front from the back of the stage. Jumps and turns allow carrying out the motions on the floor and the whole stage space. All this gives choreographer rich opportunities for arranging various compositions. A good dancer is able to effectively dance even a short nritta combination. A performance of longer combinations does not prove a dancer's mastery but rather is the evidence of her stamina and self-control.

Bharata Natyam is based on the karnatak musical system and its rhythmic cycles or talas. Musical Bharatanatyam Styleaccompaniment must contain rhythmic potential for the pure dance and the corresponding literary content for the plot dance. Mridangam, the main percussion instrument in south India has one body unlike the northern tabla that consists of two separate parts, with lower and higher registers; each one is played on with one hand. Syllables or rhythmic sounds of mridangam are distinctive characteristics of Bharata Natyam; they are pronounced or sung as an accompaniment to dance parts - nritta.

Like the notes in music have their names "sa-ri-ga-ma-pa-dha-ni", so the dance has its drumming syllables: tat-dhita, taka-dhimi, naka-djham, tadhin-djina etc. Various combinations of these phrases during their sounding add savour and expressiveness to the fragments of pure dance, nritta. Combinations of these phrases are called jatis. In every dance performance the virtuosity and mastery of nattuvanar are estimated by the correct arrangement of jatis into complex rhythmic figures in a certain timing loop.

The word tala derives from the word denoting "palm surface" by which the rhythm is beaten. There is a version about the word tala according to which it consists of the first syllables of two words: tandava and lasya that romantically means the junction of male and female principles or rhythm forms. There are seven talas. Each can use any of the five variants of jati that gives the total of 35 various talas.

In the past a dancer was accompanied by an orchestra placed behind her on stage. It consisted of one or two nattuvanars who played cymbals and sang songs, a boy whose only task was keeping up the monotonous sound or shruti (tone pitch) with the help of a small box, and a clarinetist. Clarinet once being rather popular was later replaced by flute. This was demanded by "Abhinaya Darpana" and this situation had preserved up to the 1920s when stage conditionality changed. In today's concerts musicians sit to the dancer's right closer to the front edge of the stage. The orchestra consists of a nattuvanar, a female singer, a tanpur player that replaced the primitive box shruti, a flutist, a violinist and a vina player.

Performers of Indian classic dances are very effective in their outward appearance. A Bharata Natyam dancer is not exclusion. She wears a bright costume and so many jewels that you hardly understand how she simply moves let alone dancing enthusiastically.

A dancer's hair is plaited with entwined flowers and ornaments. The traditional headdress consists of a long and flat hoop that envelopes the head and edges the face and two big hairpins on top of the headBharatanatyam Style on both sides of the middle hair parting that symbolize the sun and the moon. These red and golden decorations look extremely advantageous against black hair. A dancer also puts on golden bracelets, small chains on hands, a necklace with a big pendant in the middle, a belt, foot bracelets and small bells. Similar decorations can be found with performers of other Indian classic dance forms. The metal used for decorations may vary depending on the dance style as well as the tracery and the stones used. In Bharata Natyam they use red, white and green gemstones framed in gold or gilded silver.

A dancer's costume is a rich sari from Kanchipuram. Kanchipuram is the town famous for its wonderful silk saris with a traditional ornamentation embroidered with golden thread along the edges. For stage performances contrasting colours are preferable so that the colour of the ornamentation could stand out against the background of a sari. Mustard-yellow, green and red colours are usually associated with Bharata Natyam dance.

A sari is worn in different ways; its length is as a rule a little below calves. Costumes imitating sari are in fashion now. Thanks to the costume a dancer looks neat and gets rid of the necessity to wind six yards of thick material around her.


Based on the book "Rhythm In Joy" by Leela Samson

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