Leela Samson drew upon her vast nritta experience to throw new light on this segment of Bharatanatyam
For a beginner, adavus are the most boring part of Bharatanatyam. The drudgery of repetition can have a robotic effect. Leela Samson’s ‘Aesthetics in the Adavu’ for the Indian Performing Arts Convention Australia 2021, earlier known as Dance India Asia Pacific, broke these stereotypes to throw new light on the humble adavu.
IPAC 21, a digital version of the 10th annual festival, was curated by Aravinth Kumarasamy, artistic director, Apsaras Arts, Singapore, in collaboration with Monash University and Academy of Indian Music, Australia, along with creative collaborator, Aalaap.
Leela may reflect her alma mater, Kalakshetra, in the precision of her nritta, but her session drew on her experience in engaging with adavus, making it a practical, learning session. Besides, she is the creator of Spanda Dance Company, whose calling card is perfect nritta.
Leela’s primary concern is posture. Referring to the importance of mandalas (standing postures), Leela demonstrated the aayata (aramandi) and a perfect natyarambe (natyarambam), the defining postures in Bharatanatyam. Of course, good posture is not enough. Flawless execution requires ‘deconstruction’ of adavus step by step, where you study each component and analyse how it can be refined. There can be no shortcuts as individual abilities differ.
“No adavu comes on its own,” said Leela. “And no step in a korvai can be ignored.” We may not finish a step because of the speed of the korvai or because of the demands of the next step. Breaking it up bit by bit will help understand how best a step can be executed within the constraints, perhaps choosing to bend deeper instead of turning too much to the back, as in the theermana adavu, ‘Kitathaka tharikitathom’.
Leela and Bhavajan Kumar demonstrated a few adavus, with real-time analysis of the body position, torso, arm and head positions through each movement. You need a mirror or a volunteer to record your jathis. It is not easy and requires patience. “You need to work on that line again and again until you come to an optimal position. Like a wave repeatedly crashing on the beach,” said Leela.
Erudite Leela Samson.
They took up a Nattadavu, a ‘Thaa thai thai tha’ adavu, a brahmari, pirouette, a ‘Tha thai tham’ adavu, and the theermana adavus. Little details such as keeping the stretched leg closer to the body for a neater Ekapada brahmari, and the old-world charm of the Swastika mandala in ‘tha thai tham’ were discussed. “Bani is of no consequence, there is beauty everywhere,” said Leela. The involvement of the torso and the regulation of breath are additional criteria for good nritta. It calls for a strong core, as you need to use the trunk to move the arms. Practising adavus without the arm movement to isolate the trunk was a good suggestion. Though all suggestions sounded like common sense, how common is it? For example, did you realise that the practice of moving in front during a jathi was to finish it more effectively?
The little things
Leela went beyond her brief to speak on aesthetics in performance. Quoting from Abhinaya Darpana, Leela spoke of stage cleanliness, stage arrangements, and curtains, factors that dancers may or may not be able to control. Then the choice of repertoire, which should be varied in music, laya and mood. She decried the practice of using bad quality pre-recorded music from the Internet, urging dancers to at least use simple home recordings.
The dancer suggested giving thought to an appropriate colour palette and costume design for a good stage presence, something mentioned also in the Natya Shastra. “The body is the brush you paint with,” she said, asking dance students to look after their body and emotions. The concept of aesthetics changes when it is a digital space. Make-up does not have to be heavy nor expressions overdone. Worthy suggestions all, which dancers would do well to implement at least some.
The Chennai-based writer focuses on classical dance.