Famous Bharatanatyam Dancer, Padmashri, Padma Bhushan Smt.Alarmel Valli
Alarmel Valli is a leading Bharatanatyam dancer and choreographer, acclaimed internationally for her ability to turn a traditional grammar into subtle, deeply internalized, personal dance poetry. Her dance is uncompromisingly classical, but is, at the same time, an undeniable language of self-expression. It is both a stylized idiom and an idiolect, blurring the boundaries between tradition and the individual talent, inheritance and invention. In her choreography, the Bharatanatyam idiom is not merely a received grammar, it is a reinvented one.
Amongst numerous awards received by Alarmél Valli, are two of India's highest civilian honors - the Padmasri and the Padma Bhushan, conferred by the President of India and the Chevalier of Arts and Letters award from the French Government. She has received the 'Grande Medaille de la Ville de Paris', the award of The Sangeet Natak Akademy - the apex body for Indian Music, Dance and Drama, the State award of Kalaimamani from the Tamilnadu Government, the title of Nritya Choodamani from the Krishna Gana Sabha in Madras.
DesiShades: Can you please tell us about your childhood and initial stages of your career?
Smt.Valli: I began learning dance at 6and half years. I was fortunate to learn dance with Chokkalingam Pillai. There were no artists in my family. My mother is deeply interested in dance. My cousin is a great dancer from where she paved the path for me. Those days classes were held before the school began and get up by 5.30am and the classes would start at dot 6.00am. Both father and son would come and teach us. It was a severe discipline, after the class I used to get to school and come back and practice. I am great reader. I think reading is a boon to the dancer. Music and dance inexplicably and inseparably related. It was rich rewarding childhood I had. I lived in an old house with huge space. It was a fertile growth for imagination. I was in a joint family. It was also a very motivated focused childhood. Dance was a vital part of childhood. Dance during my days was not that serious. Only in my college I could see. It was a dynamic and exciting to grow. I was fortunate that my parents gave the freedom of choice that wanted to. I got an invitation at 16 from Paris. It was really a prestigious show. That was during my final exam. I had to choose from the festival and exam. I was so frustrated. But finally I attended the festival and from there I never looked back. I came back and graduated in English. Dance has become my life.
DesiShades: What is the specialty of Pandanallur style of Bharatanatyam? How is it different from Kalakshetra style?
Smt.Valli: Pandanainallur is actually a village in the Thanjavur district that gave rise to some of the greatest masters of the Tanjore quartet, like Meenakshisundaram Pillai. This school of dance is rich in movement vocabulary; it is precise and is established on clear, pure lines. It is always lyrical and overt drama is an anathema to this style. Pandanallur style is the parent style of kalakshetra. They branched out the kalakshetra out of which pandanallur is one style. This is substance more than packaging. Pandanallur is rich in style and vocabulary and content. It is also noted for its purity of its lines. The gurus were trying to introduce fluidity into the straight line. The whole process of teaching changed a lot. This is before TV and all the technology was created. One needed to focus and reflect an interest in what we learn. With introspection we master. My master Subbaraya Pillai taught me the art of choreography. I owe my guru a great deal. They gave the freedom for me to fly. Keeping the basic connect of dance the essence wont change. I will pass on to my students the same. It's all an ongoing tradition. We are our own Choreographers.
DesiShades: How was your association with Odyssey dance?
Smt.Valli: It was during my travel to Paris I first saw the odyssey. I was so attracted to that style. I wanted to learn odyssey. KelocharanMahopatra, he came and saw my dance and accepted to teach me. They came to Madras and taught me the dance. I gave my arangatrum under Kelucharan Mahopatra. Odyssey dance is an ocean. After 10 years I stopped dancing odyssey.
DesiShades: Please tell about your family and their role in your career.
Smt.Valli: I am married very late in life. I am married to Bhaskar Gosh. I am fortunate in that. He is very creative and very encouraging. We had an unusual marriage.
DesiShades: How did you feel when you receive the prestigious awards?
Smt.Valli: I was youngest to get Padmasri, Padma Bhushan, Also from government of France Chevalier of arts and letters one of their important honors. It was prestigious award. It's a wonderful feeling of being recognized and for the work we did. For me it's the love you receive form the public. It doesn't change any way or influence your connection with the public. If you don't receive the audience approval by itself it means nothing.
DesiShades: What is your role in designing the compositions for your performances?
Smt.Valli: I always had a deep involvement with literature. I was influenced my grand father, my mother. I used to spend a lot of time with him. Listen to the puranas. I used to read a lot. Poetry is one I loved a pot. As I grew older I started collecting poems wanted to interpret for dance; poetry of poems, poetry of verse and all. Poetry and music go hand in hand. For me it's not just interpreting dance but also music. I found a wonderful poem about transition about a little girl. They were very fascinating. There were very good pieces in Sangam poetry. I am also working about prakruthi. I was reading about it for a month. For me music is integral to dance.
"I represent contemporary Bharatanatyam and my art is constantly developing. I innovate and explore but within the classical format which has tremendous scope for expansion. I'm not against fusion either. Good fusion between two different arts should be able to create a third dimension," she states emphatically. For her, dance is definitely not developing new themes in a jiffy and dishing it out at the first opportunity. "I am not against keeping with the times. It is not a new or an old theme that matters. My approach to my art is definite and different. I like to absorb the dance, internalize the movements and make it as natural as breathing. Every detail then acquires a new dimension. Dance matures like wine with age. That is why I don't understand the craze for novelty in classical dance. Each time you dance it attains a new color and a discerning audience who are willing to invest time and effort to appreciate will be able to feel the presentation."
She founded 'Dipashikha' - a Centre for Fine Arts and has choreographed works for her students that have been presented in Japan and the US. Through lecture demonstrations, master classes, workshops and seminars in India and abroad, Valli shares her thoughts on Bharatanatyam and on tradition as a dynamic process of renewal and change. A few of the forums in which she has worked, include Spic Macay in India, the Societe Italiana Del Flauto Dolce, The Philharmonic society in Rome, the International Sommertanzwochen in Vienna and Universities across the US.
A film on Alarmel Valli was made for the Omnibus series, on BBC 2, by producer Michael Macintyre. Alarmel Valli has also been featured in dance documentaries by noted Indian producers like the late G. Aravindan and Prakash Jha, by the BBC (in The Spirit of Asia Series), the Nederlands Broadcasting Company, Arte (France) and Japanese National Television. The Films Division of India commissioned a film on her for the Indian National Archives. Titled 'Pravahi', it has been directed by eminent film-maker Arun Khopkar, with cinematography by Madhu Ambat.
DesiShades thanked for the opportunity to get some time with such a maestro in Bharatanatyam.
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