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Dancers at the Natya Utsav will depict compositions of the Tanjore Quartet in their own styles.
Dancers at the Natya Utsav will depict compositions of the Tanjore Quartet in their own styles.

Paying tribute to a master

'Vintage Bharatanatyam' will be on display at the Natya Utsav 2014 starting today

“Vintage Bharatanatyam" is back in the news this week with Natya Utsav 2014 paying tribute to Pandanallur C. Subbaraya Pillai, a doyen of the Pandanallur style (bani) of dance. The festival is being organized on his birth centenary by his disciple Prema Reddy, who runs The Natyanjali Trust—an organization founded by her mother Jayalakshmi Satagopan.

“Bharatanatyam itself has changed over the last 25 years. The form that I learnt from my guru is now considered ‘vintage Bharatanatyam’. The Pandanallur style of dance is very rigid. The bhava (expression) is only suggestive and not dramatic. The footwork is very difficult and the adavus (steps that combine to form a dance sequence) are intricate," Reddy says.

This form of dance derives its name from the village of Pandanallur, near Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu. Reddy’s guru, Subbaraya Pillai, was a descendant of the Tanjore Quartet—the four brothers, Ponniah, Chinniah, Sivanandam and Vadivelu Pillai. This group, which trained under Muthuswami Dikshithar, a pillar of Carnatic music, served as nattuvanars in the courts of the Maratha king Serfoji II in the early 19th century. A nattuvanar is an expert musician who sings, plays the cymbals, conducts, and often choreographs the dance. The Tanjore Quartet was responsible for the early development of Bharatanatyam; their compositions are considered classical masterpieces today.

Reddy says the dance form has branched out since. “In today’s scenario, there is no real bani any more. The nattuvanars are all gone. It’s their disciples who have become teachers. Today’s dancers have picked up different elements from other forms and added it to make their own style. I don’t see anyone following the old Pandanallur style any more," she says.

Each of the eight dancers performing at the Natya Utsav this year will, however, pay homage to Subbaraya Pillai by depicting a composition of the Tanjore Quartet in their own style. The dancers have been hand-picked by Reddy to perform at the festival.

Subbaraya Pillai’s disciple Meenakshi Chitharanjan, a Padma Shri awardee and a famous dancer in her own right, will inaugurate the festival. She will also conduct a lecture-demonstration, along with her students, on Day 3.

“I would like people to remember my guru at this time. Through this festival, we have brought him back to life for the next two weeks," Reddy says.

Natya Utsav 2014 will be held from 7-9 November, 5pm onwards, at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 18/20/22, East Mada Street, Mylapore. The lecture-demonstration will be held at 10.30am on 9 November.

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