Only Until the Light Fades
Only Until the Light Fades is a collaboration involving leading classical dancer Alarmel Valli and poet Arundhathi Subramaniam. Exploring love poems down the ages – from ancient Tamil to medieval Sanskrit to 19th century Telugu love lyrics – the production culminates with a rendition of ‘Vigil’, a contemporary love poem by Arundhathi, choreographed and performed by Valli.
Alarmel Valli speaks on her collaboration with Arundhathi to NDTV Hindu’s Anuradha Ananth:
Arundhathi Subramaniam speaks to NDTV Hindu’s Anuradha Ananth on her collaboration with Alarmel Valli
Reviews of Only Until the Light Fades
WARP AND WEFT by Ranjana Dave (The Hindu 29/10/2010)
On the challenges of working with English poetry [Alarmel Valli]
A journalist once asked me [Alarmel Valli] about choreographing English poetry in dance. At that time, I said it was unlikely that I would ever work on an English poem, as I did not feel it was suitable for interpretation in Bharatanatyam. Arundhathi Subramaniam is a poet I immensely admire, one with whom I share many common artistic and aesthetic ideals. The concept for ‘Only Until the Light Fades’ grew out of a discussion on love poetry between Arundhathi and me. Her English poem, “Vigil”, was written with Indian dance in mind and has a timeless quality to it that made it easier to render. Choreographing it has been deeply fulfilling, but also enormously challenging. When I work with a poem, I not only try to translate it through dance, but also weave my own dance poem around the word poem. Arundhathi’s poetry is rich in metaphor, cadenced, with arresting tonal shifts. The challenge was to interpret its complexities and many layers while capturing its gentle irony and its contemplative, yet sensual tone, and evoking the richness of its metaphors. . . . My choice of “Vigil” for interpretation in Bharatanatyam was not dictated by any desire to present something novel or ‘fashionably correct’. It was a poem that struck a chord deep within me, to which I wanted to give a visual and melodic dimension, just as I would to a Sangam poem that moved me.
‘Visual Poetry’ (The Hindu 21/10/2010)
Arundhati Subhramaniam ‘s work ‘Vigil’ combined well with Valli’s intriguing interpretation.
All grace and pep, her entry into the performing space was like a cascading waterfall that leaps with joy. “Only Until The Light fades” unfolded as an event that blended poetry and dance as one and where Alarmel Valli’s lustrous dancing charmed rasikas with her multidimensional insights into abhinaya. As one who enjoys the dizzy heights of fame with her adherence to classicism and dedication in Bharatanatyam, Valli ‘s special thematic programme had raised a lot expectation.
Noted poet Arundhati Subhramaniam ‘s work ‘Vigil’ combined well with Valli’s intriguing interpretation of its nuances. “Love then and now” conceptualised in collaboration with Arundhati Subhramaniam unfolded as a show where talk, dance and pulsating verse had been tuned and performed. Tamil Sangam poetry, a Telugu javali, Kalidasa and Bhoja’s Sanskrit slokas offered a panoramic view of not just different periods of literature but underlined the timelessness of the emotional frame of the nayikas – women in love.
Before introducing the title piece “Only until the light fades” that was an extract from a poem (‘Vigil’) by Arundhathi, AV [Alarmel Valli] gave an elaborate explanation as to how she hit upon the idea of dancing to English poetry after extensive discussions with the poet. In an authentic article on the Pandanallur bani, AV had recalled how her mentor Subbaraya Pillai always emphasized that music needed to be internalized before it could flow as a movement and he would sternly warn her against pre-composing adavu structures and grafting them on to the song (Shanmukha, Oct-Dec 2010, Special Issue on ‘Banis of Bharatanatyam and Recent Trends’). Abhinaya was a challenge. She said that a song provided only the framework or outline for dancing; the dancer had to fill it in with her own imagery. It was true of the English poem also. When she works with poetry, she not only tries to translate it through dance, but also weave her own dance poem around the word poem. I feel that if this is the approach in choreography then the language of the song is immaterial.
One verse of ‘Vigil’ was translated into and sung in Tamil to highlight the unique, eternal and yet contemporary, timeless and topical quality of love. The poem was about the heroine waiting for the lover to turn up only until the light fades. Presenting irony was a problem that AV tried to solve successfully. A novelty was the use of sanchari bhavas to depict the twilight scene that was convincing. Sanchari bhavas are generally used either for story telling or for emotional expression. AV provided a third dimension by using them to depict nature’s varied hues, the rain drops, the closing of the lotus flower, etc., all of which provided the ambience to appreciate the movements. Thanks to Rajkumar Bharathi, the composer, the innovation was successful with imaginative music. AV danced as Arundhathi read her poem followed by swaras and a Tamil translation of one of the verses by Prasanna Ramaswamy presenting an ironic portrait of the nayikas of the past. The shifting of the raga from Kambhoji to Hamsanandi signaled the transformation of the day into twilight.