BOOK RELEASE - Balasaraswati – Her Art And Life. By Douglas Knight
Former West Bengal Governor Gopalakrishna Gandhi released Douglas Knight’s biography of Balasaraswati at the TAG Centre, Alwarpet, in Chennai. He waxed eloquent about Bala – about his first experience of Bala’s mastery of abhinaya as he looked down at the stage from the balcony of the Music Academy many winters ago. Gandhi spoke also about the great musicians of a bygone era, like MSS, DKP and MLV, while drawing parallels between two great exponents of Bharatanatyam of the same era – Bala and Rukmini Devi. MS ruled the skies, DKP had her feet planted firmly on earth, while MLV bridged the two extremes, Gandhi said. Rukmini Devi and Bala had their differences that were legendary; Rukmini Devi was akin to MS in reaching for the stars, while Bala, like DKP, stood on the ground, unmindful of what anyone would think or say.
In a brief but lively audience interaction, Douglas Knight emphasised the unique contribution made by Bala and and her family to the propagation of Bharatanatyam and Carnatic music in the West since the early 1960s.
Leela Samson, Director of Kalakshetra and Chairperson, SNA, who received the first copy of the book said that notwithstanding the differences that existed between Rukmini Devi and Bala, she a Kalakshetra student, sneaked out to watch some of Bala’s performances in Madras.
The event commenced with the screening of a documentary on Bala produced by Wesleyan University, Connecticut. Only two documentaries were made on Bala – during Bala’s debut trip to the US in 1962 at Wesleyan, and the other by Satyajit Ray in 1977. It was a treat to hear Bala sing an alapana with such command and clarity as a prelude to Krishna ne begane baro, followed by her performing to the song. Bala’s expressions were awesome. In reply to a query on how the Western audience looked at Bala, Knight said “In awe”.
The book is lucidly written, seamlessly flowing through. Douglas Knight has obviously made this his life’s mission. The biography does full justice to Bala.
Knight has tried to look at Bala and her extended family from various angles – as an outsider, as related through marriage, and as a student and layman who learnt to accompany her. His inputs are based on first-hand information through his wife Lakshmi, who was Bala’s daughter, trusted confidante and aide.
The book is a must-read for the connoisseur and aficionados of music and dance. It will always occupy pride of place in my library.
Gopalakrishna Bharati’s NANDANAR CHARITHRAM. Bharatanatyam by Bala Devi Chandrashekar. One DVD and two audio CDs for dance (with English and Tamil narration). [Swathi’s Sanskriti Series. Rs. 750.]
The devotional impact of the poetry of Gopalakrishna Bharati has found an inspiring enactment in the dance narrative presented by Baladevi Chandrasekhar, a senior disciple of Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam. Baladevi has meticulously chosen 27 compositions – gems from the well-known opera Nandanar Charitram. She has followed the story-line in an unbroken chain of narration, enriching it with her skilful and devoted approach.
Excellent music provided by the orchestra comprising Padma Sankar and Kuldeep Pai (vocal), veteran Karaikudi Krishnamurti (mridanga), Karaikudi Sivakumar (nattuvangam), S. Revati (veena) and E. Devaraj (flute). adds a rich dimension to this production.
Baladevi, a skilful student of Bharatanrityam has proved her years of experience and control over the intricate nuances of her chosen tradition. She emulates her respected teacher in the essence of every movement that she performs. The ease with which she is able to enact the varied stances, the chari-s, the gatis, and the grace with which she arrives at every point of execution deserve praise. Her performance is coated with a refreshing touch, exhibiting beauty in execution and poise in its presentation.
Sivaloka nathanai, Aadiya paadattai, Yarukku ponnambalam, and Varugalaamo are soulful renderings that find wholesome treatment in the narrative technique of Baladevi. Through this production, Baladevi gives a lively glimpse into the journey of the ardent devotee Nandan towards divine bliss. A sincere, fruitful effort.