Urmila brings alive the Andal imagery

Urmila Sathyanarayanan’s ‘Godha’ stood out more for its visual appeal

Margazhi, the month of a cultural and religious flowering, is also when saint-poet Andal is celebrated.

Urmila Sathyanarayanan performing at Bharathiya Vidya Bhavan’s Natya Utsav 2021. | Photo Credit: Photo: Ragu R./The Hindu Archives

Her image is so deeply entrenched in the repertoires of classical dancers that they keep returning to the Thiruppavai verses to choreograph solo or group productions.

Urmila Sathyanarayanan’s recent presentation ‘Godha’, staged as part of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan’s Natya Utsavam, combined verses from Thiruppavai and Nachiyar Thirumozhi.

It is always a challenge for the dancer to interpret these familiar works in her own distinct way. Urmila’s choreography fell back on interesting group formations and tableaux, which are popular with audiences.

‘Soodi kodutha sudarkodiye’, the opening lines to which a group of young girls danced in joyous abandon, introduced us to Andal’s birth and her early years, and was a segment marked by graceful movements. Three dancers depicted Andal at different ages, which made for dramatic viewing.

The transition from child to young girl to a mature woman (portrayed by Urmila) came through seamlessly in the movements and narrative. As the older Andal, Urmila impeccably conveyed the emotions of love laced with bhakti.

Familiar sequences such as the young girls playing, going down to the river for Margazhi Neeradal, Andal stringing garlands for Krishna and then wearing it herself were all there. The incorporation of popular songs like ‘Oruthi maganai pirandhu’, ‘ Karpuram narumo’, and ‘Vaaranam aayiram’ into the narrative kept the momentum alive.

A strong musical team for themes such as this inspires the dancers and the emotions are transmitted to the audience as well. Venugopal’s melodious and expressive voice breathed life into the verses. Sai Kripa Prasanna’s jathis were powerful and restrained, in tune with the requirements of the sequence. Guru Bharadwaj on the mridangam, Kalaiarasan on the violin, and Sruthisagar on the flute lent sheen.

Urmila Sathyanarayanan’s students performing ‘Godha’ at Bharathiya Vidya Bhavan. | Photo Credit: Photo: Ragu R./The Hindu Archives

The success of a production depends on other factors as well, such as music, lighting, costume, and choreography. The lighting design by Murugan used a play of strong light and shade as well as an appropriate colour palette, which enhanced the visual impact of the production. A simple colour scheme of red and green for the costumes was both traditional and aesthetic.

A little more intense abhinaya in the sequences that highlighted Andal’s emotions would have helped the production move beyond the realm of visual appeal and leave a lasting impact.

The Chennai-based reviewer writes on classical dance.

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