Tradition and talent showcased
Mekala... pleasure to watch.
A COOL breeze wafted across the devout gathering at the Varasiddhi Vinayakar temple, Besant Nagar. The temple bells clanged with fervour and the scent of incense and camphor lingered much after the prayers were done. People had not come just to pray. They were also part of a group of artistes who have literally crossed the seas and touched base with their roots through the arts. In this case Bharatanatyam, and providing this forum to show the results of nurturing was Bharata Kalanjali, institution run by the Dhananjayans.
An artiste being presented at this place is nothing new. But what gave this two-day occasion a sense of celebration is the fact that for the four artistes who were featured, it was an ode to their commitment to dance and tradition.
Deepthi Vishnubhaarati who was presented on the first day is a product of Bhaaskara, the new art integrated education centre started by the Dhananjayans at Payyanur, Kerala. A student of Seetha Sasidharan who has trained her at Payyanur, Deepti began her recital with a Ganapathi Stuthi composed by guru S. K. Kameshwaran which provided a glimpse of what was to come in terms of nritta and bhava. If it is just good dancing we are talking about then there are many who can qualify - but here what one saw was an artiste who commanded attention. With her talent and her authoritative expression of it. And with generous movements she covered the small stage twice over on most occasions without showing any signs of flagging energy. The varnam, a composition of Seetharama Sharma - was an example of that.
Deepthi has a rather stern looking face, which transformed with the abhinaya. The devotee pays obeisance to lord Siva - but the expressions were neither meek nor self-effacing. In her invocation to her deity, she was demanding, showing the insistence of her appeals in a powerful way. The typical clean, geometric, precise Kalakshetra style of dancing was evident in her nritta and the item was an example of how bhava and nritta fused to produce a startling effect. The feeling of devotion and prayer was strong and at the end of it all it was not just dance but worship at the altar of some divine ambience, which could only be felt.
Accompanying her were Vanati Raghuraman who on occasions went off-key but was on the whole acceptable, on the nattuvangam Seetha Sasidharan and Shanta Dhananjayan, on the violin Seetharama Sharma and on the flute Muthukumar. Sometimes they produced a cacophonic effect but overall were in tune with the dance.
Puneet Panda from Syracuse has been trained under the Dhananjayans at the Yogville Gurukulam, Virginia. Gangly and energetic, this 18 year old performed the same day displaying a sprightly approach to his dance. Krishna and Rama were forefront in his themes and in the items chosen for the evening and the element of devotion that comes from an inspiring audience and the temple ambience gave his recital its special appeal. Puneet is a good example of how Indian children growing up in the U.S. are assimilating their roots along with the discipline of the West especially in terms of commitment. He has also learnt Kathak from Birju Maharaj and is a good violinist as well. Classical western violin at that. His racy nritta (especially in the varnam) gave his recital speed but it was in the padam in Ragamalika that finesse found its place. Rama asks Hanuman to go to Lanka as his messenger and find Sita. It was a piece that evoked much devotion from the depths of his heart. The Kapi Tillana in Adi that concluded the recital was sparkling.
Trained by G. Narendra and Mahalakshmi during their successive camps in Cleveland, Ohio and now in India for a year learning the art at Bharata Kalanjali from the Dhananjayans, Preethi Athreya and Divya R. Sivsundar, Mekala Krishnan was a pleasure to behold. Young and dedicated to what she is learning Mekala showed tremendous promise in her recital. . The fact also remains that those who come out from Bharata Kalanjali are of a certain standard. Rarely do you see a poor performance or a badly trained dancer from there.
Fetching in a deep red costume, Mekala began her recital with the Natyanjali a combination of Alarippu, Jatiswaram in Ragamalika where evidence of her good training emerged. The next item that came was a pada varnam - a composition by guru Raji Narayanan from Mumbai in Kalyani that focused on Krishna and his leelas.
The piece was devotion personified. The small incidents that so often find expression in dance were performed with innocence that poets often talk about - an innocence that comes from an inner calm and quietude. If there was an extra bounce to her nritta it was masked by the lyrical quality of the jatis.
Strangely enough, almost as a contradiction, the dancer revelled in the swaying movements to still that very bounce that seemed to overtake her now and then. The padam in Huseni that followed - Netrandi Nerathille was a beautiful traditional number performed with a gentleness that suited Mekala very well. The Ashtapadi in Mohanam, ``Yahi Madhava,'' was fair, but the tillana that followed in Behag had Mekala jumping back into form. Accompanying her on the vocal was Sashidharan, Divya Ramachandran and Shanta Dhananjayan on the nattuvangam, Krishnan on the mridangam, Sunil Kumar on the flute and Lakshmi Narayan on the tambura.
Also featured that day was Nina Rajarani from London who has been trained by Prakash Yadagudde and Chitra Visweswaran, the Dhananjayans apart. In addition she has evolved her own style and founded the Srishti School of Dance in London. She has staged many dance productions and has been recognised by the Arts Council of the U.K. for her work.
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