Bharatanatyam style with Alarmel Valli

Alarmel Valli2 alap over head

Alarmel Valli is an internationally acclaimed Bharatanatyam dancer and choreographer whose work reveals the infinite spaces within the traditional form.  In her choreography,  she draws on her knowledge of music and the rich vocabulary of classical Indian dance to explore the complex layers of meaning in poems and lyrics, giving them a visual and melodic dimension. She has conducted extensive research on classical Tamil anthologies of Sangam poetry, which ranks among the oldest and most sophisticated body of classical secular poetry in India.  These works in translation have relevance across cultures and centuries.

For those unfamiliar with Bharatanatyam style of dance, it is a classic dance form originating in Tamil Nadu,  one of the 28 states in India. This dance form denotes various 19th and 20th century reconstructions of Cathir, the art of temple dance. Cathir is itself derived from ancient dance forms.  Bharatanatyam is usually accompanied by the classical Tamil music. It has its inspirations from the sculptures of the ancient temple of Chidambaram. Bharatanatyam, as the name depicts is the combination of: BHA- Bhava (Expression), RA- Raga (Music) and TA- Tala (Rhythm).

On October 24th at 7:00pm at the Independence Seaport Museum,  Alarmel Valli will present a contemporary interpretation of select verses from Sangam poetry. Alarmel Valli will be accompanied by a live orchestra.  The program for the evening, The Forgotten Seed,  is an attempt to remember a dismembered harmony, a fractured unity – between the sensual and the sacred, the natural and the divine, the prosaic and the poetic. Drawing on eclectic sources and covering a gamut of poetic modes, styles and tones, the production is a celebration in movement, of the exuberant, unbroken rhythms – of nature, of dance, of life.

This program is supported in part with professional development funds from The Pew Center for Arts and Heritage through Dance Advance and has been partially funded by a generous grant from Samuel S. Fels foundation. It is being presented by SRUTI, The India Music and Dance Society, a non-profit organization based in the Philadelphia area and founded in 1986. Sruti’s principal mission is to promote and present Indian classical music and dance. In addition Sruti also seeks to educate the Philadelphia community at large about Indian arts. The immigrants from the Indian subcontinent bring with them the rich cultural heritage of one of the oldest continuous civilizations. Indian classical music and dance are among the most advanced and sophisticated art forms in the world. By presenting these arts in a professional manner, SRUTI enhances the cultural awareness of the region and enriches the multi-cultural environment.

SRUTI, The India Music and Dance Society presents
Bharatanatyam style by Alarmel Valli

October 24th at 7:00pm
Independence Seaport Museum Auditorium, Penns Landing, 211 S. Columbus Blvd, Philadelphia.
Tickets: $20, $30 and $40 online at

More on Alarmel Valli at
More on Sruti at



I. SHIVA PANCHAKSHARA STOTRA (The Hymn of the five syllables)

Music composition- Padmaja Narasimhan
In this hymn, composed a millennium ago by the great mystic, Adi Shankaracharya, five verses embody the five syllables of the sacred chant – Na-Ma-Shi-Vaa-Ya – each verse beginning with one of the syllables and containing many layers of meaning, literal and metaphysical.

Shiva is depicted in these verses – as wearing garlands of serpents, that represent nature’s mysteries and man’s coiled psychic energy. His body smeared with ashes to symbolise his rejection of the material world, he is also Lord of Time, dissolving and regenerating all creation.  He is the cosmic spirit, ever pure and eternal, clothed in the vastness of space and burning away illusion with his third eye to reveal truth. Worshipped with sandal paste and fragrant flowers, he is as the sun to the lotus-like, lovely face of his consort, Parvati.

The multi-layered aspect of these verses also finds expression in the choreography, which alternates expressive passages with complex rhythmic dance sequences that incorporate five rhythmic variations, in cycles of 5, 4, 3, 7 and 9.

II  VARNAM –Colours of the Sacred and the Sensual
Composition –Alarmél Valli and Prema Ramamoorthy

In the Varnam, a word which refers to colour, the two most important aspects of Indian classical dance – Nritta ( abstract dance) and Abhinaya (dance theatre) – are woven into a unique dance tapestry. Intricate, varied, rhythmic sequences alternate with expressive passages, interpreted by the dancer with hand gestures called ‘hastas’. Step, by step, the dancer develops, elaborates and embroiders the theme, while the music closely follows the curve and sway of movement.

Rendered as a love poem, the Varnam’s key-note of passionate yearning and adoration is interpreted on a dual plane, where the heroine of the song is both lover and devotee. The two aspects of the spiritual and the sensual are thus simultaneously explored in this multi-faceted dance, in which love and yearning become metaphors of the human spirit’s struggle and quest for liberation.



“Poems of love and War” is the title of a book of translations of Tamil poetry of the Sangam era, by one of India’s most celebrated poets – A.K.Ramanujam, who says of them:  “In their antiquity and in their contemporaneity, there is not much else in any Indian literature equal to these quiet and dramatic Tamil poems.” Sangam poetry can be divided into two complementary aesthetic categories: akam (the poetry of the inner world) and puram (the poetry of the outer world – of public events, kings, wars and heroes). The second half of the programme presents a poem from each of these genres, giving them a visual and melodic dimension, to create a fusion of the poetry of words, music and movement – in ‘Lament for a Fallen Warrior’ and ‘The Forgotten Seed’.


Music Composition – Prema Ramamoorthy
This composition, weaves together two elegies from the Sangam anthology, the Purananooru, which evoke the pathos and tragedy of the death in battle, of a youthful chieftan of a clan. Lamenting over his fallen body, a woman of the clan agonises about the fate of his adoring and proud mother when she comes to hear these terrible tidings. Addressing a jasmine creeper in full bloom, the grieving woman says,’ None will wear your fragrant blossoms, nor enjoy your beauty – for our valiant lord is dead. Why then, O jasmine, do you bloom in vain, in this bereaved domain?!”

Music Composition – Prema Ramamoorthy
Sangam poems are arresting for their profound ecological wisdom, their affirmation of the deep kinship between the natural and human worlds. This aspect, finds eloquent expression in a poem from the Nattrinai anthology – The Forgotten Seed. The lyric centres round a Laurel tree, under which a young couple are engaged in love play. Seeing them so, a friend of the girl points out with utmost subtlety, the indelicacy of their amorous dalliance, under a tree which they revere so highly and which is actually like a younger sister to them.

Music composition – S.Rajeshwari

In this composition, complex rhythmic structures incorporating cross-rhythms of 4, 3 and 5, and off-the-beat time measures, are repeated and elaborated, in intricately woven musical sequences. The dancer explores the subtle textures and nuances of the dance form, to create structures in both time and space.

Choreography – Alarmél Valli


C.K.Vasudevan –           Nattuvangam (Voice & Cymbals)
Nandini Anand   –          Vocal
Sakthivel Muruganandham – Mridangam ( Percussion)
Sigamani                       –Violin

Lighting – Murugan