Rasanubhava: Musical Expressions of Swathi Thirunal and Balamuralikrishna
In an evening of Indian Carnatic music, the intimate relationship between dance and music is highlighted. The compositions are fairly contemporary works – from the 19th century to the present. The dances are similarly composed for today’s audience. Mostly keeping to prescribed classical structures, the pieces flow from welcoming to hard-hitting to story-telling to celebratory. The audience is transported along through these effective emotional arcs.
For an untrained ear like mine, the precision of the dancers’ rhythmic connection with the music helps emphasise its structure. Carnatic music, with its strong compositional slant, seems particularly suited for fixing choreographic patterns. The dancers accomplish the patterns with particular finesse, weaving in and out of each others’ spaces deftly. They reveal complex spatial connections while emphasising the strength of their rhythm and earth-bound bodies. The amount of performing space is limited. This seems to help bring the audience closer to each dancer. While paying attention to how the group moves and fits together, I enjoy individual expressions and interpretations. Likewise in the musical structure, there is an extended piece where each musician performs a solo, to the audience’s great delight.
The six female dancers are wonderful. Performing in various combinations of duets, trios, and more, they maintain a sanguine quality throughout. Even when exhibiting disgust and other rasas, the underlying sentiment remains joyful, perhaps in devotion. This ability to be in contrasting states at the same time is also exhibited in Bharathanatyam’s heavy, sometimes frantically-rapid, stamping, and lighthearted upper bodies.
In the javali, a piece that focuses on facial expressions, two dancers show different faces of the same story. The exact moments are lost on me, but I understand an emotional game being played between the sensual female and an external force. In observing the javali sequences I am often also in a conflicted state of mind. On the one hand, the woman’s graceful sensuality is beautiful, the performers’ skill admirable. On the other hand, I struggle internally against these representations of the female, even when taken in historical context. But the performance’s profoundly cheerful nature, the patently visible strength of the dancers, add yet another layer of complexity to the work.
The show celebrates and exhibits the brilliance and aesthetics of two composers through interpreting their music with dance. What results is not only an uplifting experience but one which embraces and reveals multiple contradictions in the human experience.