Isn't it wonderful? What a treat to get to see Kamala dance and perform in some ways that we would never get to see in her film dances; not only isolated movements of specific body parts but also how she performs specific common Bharatanatyam pieces such as the Alarippu without all the editing and shifting angles of film dances. Incredible!I first learned of the video while re-reading through the excellent articles about Kamala from Sruti magazine posted at Kamala's dance school website. Reading through all the detailed descriptions of Kamala's excellence in the Vazhuvoor style of Bharatanatyam made me feel sad that I would probably never get to see a video of her "pure" Bharatanatyam outside of films and check it out for myself. One of the articles discussed some factors behind the decline in Kamala's popularity and the lack of interest in documentaries about her during her later prime years and then noted:
“The Films Division of the Government of India had taken a short black and white film on Kamala’s dance, way back in the fifties. Within a duration of about 25 minutes the film covered all the items from alarippu to tillana, more as a documentary on dance and dance techniques than on the dancer. By the seventies Kamala had scaled new heights in the art and was in peak form. A film done with sensitivity to the art and the artist at that time would have been invaluable to the generations to come.”Since 2012 has been the year of dance discoveries and unearthings on this blog, I thought I'd take a stab at seeing if I could find this fifties documentary somewhere online. As I looked at the "Search Videos" section of the Indian Films Division Website and navigated to the "Indian classical series" section, I saw a listing for "Bharat Natyam." Could it be? As the video began I thought "naw.. it's in color and the release date says 1980. Bummer." AND THEN...
UNBELIEVABLE! This treasure has been languishing on the internets virtually unfindable by the lack of Kamala-related keywords! And it was certainly not filmed in 1980; I'm going to believe the British Film Institute who dates the film at 1954 which better matches the Sruti description above.
Paying close attention to how Kamala moves has been fascinating. The "bani" or style of Bharatanatyam that she trained in and became iconic of was Vazhuvoor--so named after her guru Vazhuvoor Ramaiah Pillai. The Sruti article "Flag-Carrier of the Vazhuvoor Bani" (Page 1, Page 2, Page 3, Page 4) explains the style is notable for its "fluid grace, eschewal of angularities, brisk tempo, intrinsically musical sollukattu-s [vocal rhythmic syllables]...emphasis on an extraordinary suppleness of body and limbs and for its use of sculpturesque poses."
These characteristics are evident while watching Kamala in the documentary. She differs from other Bharatanatyam performers I've seen (especially ones from the crisp Kalakshetra style) in how the movements blend into one another, the rounded grace instead of sharp and jerky postures, how far she reaches into movements, and just how light and "quick on the feet" she moves. She makes it look so effortless! And I adore her natural and inviting smile.
There are a few times in the video where she leaps and propels herself forward, a movement that I am mesmerized by. It reminds me of this arresting image and tribute to her in Sruti magazine: