The piano, a western instrument, is considered almost inappropriate for this style of Music. Namely, it is impossible to produce the semi tonal nature of the swaras or gamakas particular to Carnatic Music.
As a former student of the Piano for ten years in my younger days, my curiosity could not be contained. I wanted to see how Anil Srinivasan, a musician from India, could capture the nuances of this particular style in the rendering of the various compositions.
So I traipsed up to the small cosy Lennox Theatre of Parramatta Riverside Theatre to watch “A Million Eyes” a collaborative work of Pianist, Anil Srinivasan, Vocalist Sikkil Gurucharan and Sydney based Bharathanatyam Dancer, Anandavalli.
Anil Srinivasan, trained in western classical piano and carnatic music, was the orator for the show. His eloquent explanations of the ancient poems and songs, some dating back to the 14th century, combined with his gentle and engaging sense of humour, were an excellent prelude to each item.
He engaged the audience with his lyrical explanations and context and enabled the audience to gain some sense of the history and story behind each poem. I was not disappointed, as his playing was rich and vibrant, and filled me to my core with the depth of the sound and notes that flowed like a river.
Gurucharan’s voice is rich and deep, and a joy to behold. His renditions of the various compositions of the Tamil Poet Bharatiyar, of ancient Kshetra Poetry and of more modern composers such as Papanasam Sivam held the audience captivated.
As a listener you could just close your eyes and let the music wash over you, and be transported to a serene and beautiful place. The combination of Gurucharan’s voice, with the fluidity of Srinivasan’s piano was absolutely blissful. I could completely understand why Anandavalli had told me, when I met her some weeks before the show, she was captivated the very first time she heard their music, and very much desired to collaborate with them using dance as the medium of expression.
However not all the songs were accompanied by dance. For the items that Anandavalli chose to represent through the art of mime, she prefaced it with an English dialogue, almost like the character speaking or asking questions – to connect the literal meaning of the poem or song to the actions. Her representation of the poems demonstrated the strength of her mime or abhinaya, as she brought the various types of “women” characters to life.
The story of the origins of a temple dancer was enchanting to watch, and the final item where she asks “Am a play thing for you to toy with” was very moving. She may have retired from the faster, more physical elements of dance, but her powerful expressions combined with her hand gestures eloquently brought the stories to life.
Expecting a full fledged programme in dance and music, I was surprised that Anandavalli only portrayed four items through dance. Again for most of the times there were moments where she remained engulfed in darkness, causing the viewer to lose their connection with her and the theme. I wonder whether it was deliberate or a technical problem.
Having said that though, it was a performance that was not overly long and definitely engaging, it was a privilege to have two musicians of Srinivasan and Gurucharan’s calibre as part of Parramasala. Like any new work, Million Eyes challenges conventional perception of both music and dance.