By Anjana Anand
Natarajan Sigamani is a senior violin accompanist for Bharatanatyam. Unassuming and quietly creative, he is driven by his passion to excel. Rich in musicality, his violin accompaniment is an asset to the dance orchestra. Bharatanatyam is indeed enriched by musicians of his calibre. This versatile violinist believes that Bharatanatyam is as much a part of his life as Carnatic music.
Did music run in your family?
My father Sangeeta Bhushanam Alandur S. Natarajan was the brother of Sangita Kalanidhi Dr. S. Ramanathan. He was a professional violinist and worked at the Music College, Chennai and at Kalakshetra. Even as a child I observed my father’s playing for Bharatanatyam programmes and was attracted to it. He was my first guru and I later learnt violin from K.T. Sivaganesh who exposed me to different fingering and bowing techniques which came in handy as an accompanist for Bharatanatayam.
Which musicians have inspired you?
M.S. Gopalakrishnan, T.N. Krishnan, Lalgudi Jayaraman, N. Rajam and Mangalampalli Balamuralikrishna.
Who were the artists you accompanied early in your career?
In 1985, I started accompanying for Prabha Nagarajan. Some of my early performances were for Udupi Lakshminarayana, S.K. Kameswaran, M. Swaminathan, K.J. Sarasa, Vyjayanthimala Bali and Uma Anand.
Seetarama Sarma introduced me to Malavika Sarukkai for whom I played the violin for 17 long years. My musical association with Priyadarsini Govind also goes back several years.
I was exposed to the beautiful music of natyacharyas like Tanjavur Kitappa Pillai, S.K. Rajaratnam Pillai and Pandanallur Subbarayya Pillai. These experiences were milestones in my musical journey.
The memorable productions you have been involved in?
In 1994, I was part of the team of Jaya Jaya Devi composed by Lalgudi G. Jayaraman and choreographed by Rhadha. More than the performance opportunity, it was a learning experience for me to work under the guidance of the maestro. Rhadha is also one of the senior artists to have encouraged me.
My interaction with musical giants in Bharatanatyam helped me to cultivate my skills. Dance also afforded freedom for my creativity. All the dancers I have worked with to date have given me this musical space to create and to enhance their performance. For example, when we worked with Malavika Sarukkai on Thimakka (based on the story of inspiring Indian environmentalist from Karnataka), I would watch her movements and improvise on the composition to bring the scene alive. For this, I used different bowing and fingering techniques for musical impact.
You are out of India almost six months of the year! Any interesting experiences during your tours?
Yes, there are many. In Baltimore, U.S.A., as a member of Malavika Sarukkai’s orchestra. I was conferred honorary citizenship by the Mayor. I have had the honour of performing for several visiting dignitaries, as in the case of Hillary Clinton when she came to Delhi. While travelling with Malavika, I learnt much from discussions with her learned mother Saroja Kamakshi.
The performance in Israel with Priyadarsini Govind was also a memorable experience. The local crowd watched in rapt attention. I played a raga prelude before she performed the Kathanakutoohalam tillana, and the audience broke out in full applause.
My concerts with Alarmel Valli were remarkable for her onstage rapport with the musicians.
Besides touring with senior dancers, I also play for many arangetrams in the U.S.A. thanks to Bharagavi Sundararajan of New Jersey.
In Europe and America, I find that sound technicians at performance venues are now used to Indian music and are sensitive to our balancing needs and acoustics.
Can you mention a creative work which you enjoyed composing music for?
Many years ago, I composed music interludes for a 15-minute dance composition in a competition. The theme was the dice game in the Mahabharata. The raga Darbari Kanada was used to represent the Pandavas and Rasikapriya for the Kauravas. We used the ragas alternately like a question and answer session. Many Bharatanatyam musicians were present at the event, and at the end of the performance, they gave us a standing ovation.
What forms of music inspire you?
I listen to all kinds of music, Carnatic, Hindustani, Western classical, jazz, film music and more. Several music lovers have introduced me to various genres of music over the years. I do not listen to music for pleasure alone. Subconsciously, I analyse the music, its orchestration and the way the artist presents it. In fact, I listen multiple times to every track. It helps me to create interesting soundscapes, especially while working with thematic pieces.
Do you enjoy being a musician for Bharatanatyam?
It has been truly enriching. I entered this field with passion for Carnatic music and Bharatanatyam. As I had exposure to Bharatanatyam from an early age, I was not caught in the dilemma of wanting to be a ‘kutcheri artist’ or settling for Bharatanatyam! Playing for dance was my first choice and I can say with confidence that it has been a most rewarding choice.
After a dance performance at the Vipanchee festival, and hearing me play the violin for the bhajan Thumak chalata Ramachandra, maestro Balamuralikrishna came up to congratulate me. I was so thrilled. The next year, he conferred on me the Nada Kala Vipanchee title, and it was a proud moment for me to receive the award from him with his blessings. All these are moments to cherish.
Every dancer I played for has given me a different insight into music. I learn something new at each performance. I have travelled across India and to several countries abroad, and met some of the most brilliant performers because of my decision to play the violin for classical dance.
I must acknowledge the role of all the dancers I have worked with, my co-artists and most important, the technicians at performance venues who have made art a complete experience for me.
[Sruti has a policy of editing out salutations like Sri, Smt, Sir, Ji, Anna, Aunty, Mama, Pandit, Ustad, Saheb and honorifics from all our articles]