Music and dance: The relationship

‘Old habits die hard’ I said to myself as I read Anita Ratnam’s comments on Saayujya, a collaboration between musician and dancer, the dancer being Priyadharshini Govind. Anita’s detailed account of Priya akka’s aharya fiasco brought back old memories as a teenager when the seniors and juniors at Abhinayasudha, my alma mater, used to perform on the then not-so crowded dance seasons in Madras. There was always something falling off Priya akka!

Anita is unconvinced by Saayujya. She struggles to see the uniqueness in the collaboration. Perhaps that was not the point. As Anita says, neither is it novel that the two are separate dimensions, nor is the fact that they are intertwined. So what sparks off our interest in this dance-music juxtaposition? How did the Aadhi natya purusha think to join forces with music? Ever wondered about that?

The very strike of the dancer’s feet creates sound, cannot this sound be tapped to make music? Can not the innate symmetry of the dancer be the music, the rhythm to which the body is enslaved? Why the external expression of it in such overt terms?  Is there a purpose to the music? ‘cos why else would we otherwise endure pesky musicians diligently noting down the number of repetitions and then glued to it on stage, expertly rendering a high pitch while with the head stubbornly bent down 🙂 Is the purpose of music to put ideas into our heads and hearts? The rendition of the song brings with it a conceptualisation of the external, something that the body doesn’t experience, except vicariously. Does music prompt dance to evolve into higher complexities?   Is there a purpose in this juxtaposition, a function? Is music an agent of change?

For one who has performed more to recorded music, I feel music is dissected and shredded till it’s broken into its constituent parts by the precision-seeking dancer. There is a certain brutality in the dancer using music. Having split and sliced the music in our heads based on the adavus we have choreographed, we are always that bit ahead of the audience on the music, so as to allow us to perform flawlessly on the layam. The constant tussle in trying to keep the bells in sound, but yet not be overwhelmed by it so as to lose the music, is but a losing battle. It is perhaps only at those junctures when the bells rule the soundscape that we let go off the music and hear its echoes and thus be with the music, though not really hearing it.

My sister did something earlier this year at the Nehru Centre in London. She called it, rather academically, Samkshepa – an exposition. She sang. She danced. The image of the dancer-singer seated there on stage alongside the mridangist, compelled my imagination to fictitiously explore the subtler possibilities of this combo.

It is her first foray into the combo. It will be some day when the smooth, controlled dancer can sing and dance, as smoothly as if the two were disconnected at source. That will be the day when we teach students a third element in their Thattu-adavu, the music! I won’t just be saying to my students, as I do now, to detach the movement of the leg below the knee from the rest of the body, I will be telling them to detach the voice from all activity below! Ah.. but I indulge in idle sci-fi…  

When Samkshepa finished, and the audience rose, one person turned to me, with tears in his eyes. He was overwhelmed by the effect of the musician-dancer!

Observing the dancer-musician is a peaceful exercise. Kalanidhi mami, our guru, is one such dancer-musician par excellence. I have never seen her do nrittha, abhinaya is her forte, and she is always a dancer-musician, as an abhinaya artist. Her inspiration and teaching led us to focus on music and abhinaya as one of the key aspects of abhinaya in our recently produced DVD on basic tenets of the Kalanidhi bhani of abhinaya. To her, abhinaya is instrumental, it points to possibilities. Possibilities in reaching out to something divine. And music plays a role in this quest. Music is emotion vocalised.  Music leads, emotion follows. Rasa is made. Hmmmm… yatho manaha thatho baavou…..Funny how music doesn’t feature in the yatho hasta shlokha, maybe it should.



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