A lawyer in the Madras High Court and Mohiniattam performer, Ambili Menon, performed a dance recital in Chennai recently under the auspices of Kalapradarshini.
The dancer’s performance at Bhartiya Vidya Bhawan was marked with slow movements in sync with the rhythm while maintaining the Lasya and Bhava, the quintessence of this dance form. The recital began with an invocation to Lord Ganesha in raga Nata Kurinji and was followed by Sri Pareepaalayama, a three-piece item in raga Reethigowla set to Roopaka taalam.
“I come from Kerala where Mohiniattam is a way of life. Abhinaya comes easily when you understand the literature. Since I know Malayalam better than other South-Indian languages, I relate to the lyrics better,” says Menon.
She began Bharatanatyam and Mohiniattam training at the age of five. Explaining that unlike Bharatanatyam, the abhinaya has to be predominant over footwork and mudras in Mohiniattam form. “In the first piece on Bhaktha Prahalada, I act with humility to show devotion, arrogance, and fury in the ultimate destruction of Hiranyakashipu by Lord Vishnu as Narasimha. This was followed by the story of the abduction of Bhoomadevi by Hiranyakashipu and rescue by Lord Vishnu in the Koorma Avatharam.”
She ended her second part by falling gracefully into the shesha shayana pose, and concluded the three-piece item with Ksheerasagara, where the devas appeal to Lord Vishnu to retrieve the nectar from the asuras. Lord Vishnu, in the form of Mohini the enchantress, lures the nectar away from the asuras. The 42-year-old learnt Kuchipudi under the tutelage of R L Venugopal and enhanced her expertise in Mohiniattam from 1990 till 1997.
Talking about the next part of the three-piece item, the Krishna Ashtapadi Saveerahe in raga Darbari kanada set to Adi taalam, she says, “It is an evocative dance piece where a sakhi pleads with Lord Krishna as he stands on the banks of Yamuna to visit Radha. The yearning and grief were adequately expressed with consummate artistry.”
The concluding item of the recital was the popular Tillana composed by Swathi Thirunaal in raga Dhanasri and set to adi taalam. Menon’s footwork in chollu dhee-tha tu-ni-ku-thaka fell perfectly into the framework of the tillana beat.
Menon’s dance recital was accompanied by Girish Menon on vocals, Shiva Prasad on mridangam, Sujit on flute, Suresh on idakka and her mentor Gopika Varma on nattuvangam.
“I learnt from so many masters. I learnt from Kuttiamma, who is considered the Mother of Mohiniattam, but it was only from Gopika Varma in 2006—whose name is synonymous with Mohiniattam—that I really learnt about presenting myself on stage,” says Menon, who won the Best Performer of the Year Award for Mohiniattam at the Parthasarthy Sabha in 2016.