Asia Society-hosted launch of his book, Balasaraswati: Her Art and Life. As I watched, I was completely astonished to discover that not only did it have an almost 3-minute video of Gauri Ammal's abhinaya (!) but also it contained two separate clips (with nearly 13-minutes of collective dance footage) of the legendary devadasi T. Balasaraswati.
Here is the stunning video with the dance segments notated below. The first two dances have no sound and Mr. Knight reads excerpts from his book in the background. (Note: The video doesn't seem to allow fast-forwarding until it has buffered/loaded; just pause it and leave it be for a while. Here's the original video if needed).
12:02-16:00 - Balasaraswathi dancing on stage
18:13-20:54 - Mylapore Gowri Ammal
22:34-34:09 - Balasaraswathi performing an alapana starting at 23:25 and then dancing to Krishna Nee Begane Baro starting at 25:17 (according to Sangeetha's blog).
What rare, full-length videos! I'm under the impression that the Gowri Ammal clip is incredibly rare and probably the only available video of her in existence. She was the noted devadasi who taught perhaps the two biggest names in the revival of Bharatanatyam, T. Balasaraswati and Rukmini Devi. I've read a lot of references to her abhinaya, and I think this clip is a great demonstration of her reputed skills. The two T. Balasaraswati clips are apparently part of the three available recordings made of her dance according to Ragothaman Yennamalli in his review of Knight's book. Ragothaman names the third recording, a recording of Bala's "Krishna Nee Begane Baro" filmed on the Mahabalipuram beach, as part of Satyajit Ray's film Bala.
But I think there might be a fourth recording. It's the one that I featured in my Devadasi-Like Dances in Classic South Indian Films post and that's viewable on YouTube in black and white and color. I think it's taken from the DVD "Balasaraswati's Krishna Ni." Balasaraswati is in a completely different costume than the other three dances which makes me think it's a different recording. It's hard to say for sure; maybe Ragothaman, who I think is the same Ragothaman that's posted a few comments on this blog recently, will weigh in. :)
Other than the incredible dance footage, I was struck by the very white, middle-aged appearance of Douglas Knight! I remember noticing the nonIndian name authoring the Balasaraswati book but didn't look into it much until now. It turns out that Knight was the late Balasaraswati's son-in-law through marriage to her only child Lakshmi. The couple had a son, Aniruddha Knight, who is still keeping up the dance tradition of his grandmother today.
Last, I see that the rare clips in the above video have been incorporated into a short documentary on T. Balasaraswati produced by her grandson Aniruddha Knight, which is interesting in its heavy emphasis on western reactions to Bala's dance. I also see two very short clips that don't appear to be clearly part of any of the above-mentioned four recordings; one is of her in a red and white colored costume and the other of her teaching her daughter Lakshmi. Here is the video:
I'm so happy that these rare dances were brought to my attention! How wonderful to be able to get some additional glimpses at what some devadasis might have danced like.