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January 6, 2004 > Bharatanatyam - Journey of Classical Indian Dancing from East to West!

Bharatanatyam - Journey of Classical Indian Dancing from East to West!

by Arathi Satish

Bharatanatyam, one of the oldest dance forms in India, has gained popularity in America over the last few years. Various Dance Academies have sprung up all over the country and, in Fremont, Nrithyollasa Dance Academy has taken a leading role. Indumathy Ganesh, Artistic Director of the Academy, remarked that the rising popularity is due to people associating with their culture and this traditional form of dancing.

Bharatanatyam literally means a combination of bhava (expression), raga (music), tala (rhythm) and natyam (dance). According to ancient Indian mythology, there are basically four Vedas (Knowledge of God), which are considered very difficult to understand by common people. Lord Brahma, Hindu God of Creation, created a fifth Veda, Natya Veda, based on the four existing ones. He took the pathya or words from Rig Veda, abinaya or gesture from Yajur Veda, geeth or music and chanting from Sama Veda and rasa or emotion from Atharva Veda. Bharatanatyam has three main elements: Nritta is the rhythmic element, Nrithya is the combination of rhythm and expression and Natya is the dramatic element.

Through the ages, Bharatanatyam has undergone significant changes. Today, the combination of dance and music is beautifully coordinated and colorfully presented to the audience. It has retained its traditional and religious roots and considered as poetry in motion where the dancer is the worshipper of Divine. Bharatanatyam is performed by male as well as female artists. Renowned sculptors have sculpted this great form of dancing in the art work of temple structures. Every body muscle, including facial muscles, is important to the dance.

Nrithyollasa Dance Academy is presenting a Bharatanatyam Arangetram (Solo classical dance debut) of Priya Shankar on Saturday the 10th January, 2004, at 4 p.m. at Jackson Theatre, Ohlone College. Arangetram (climbing the raised floor) or Rangapravesha (Entering the stage) is the most important occasion in a dancer's life. Indumathy Ganesh pointed out that it is the beginning and not the end of a dancer's career. Dancers must realize that they have a long way to go. It is the responsibility of the teacher to decide whether the dancer has attained adequate perfection needed to perform solo, she added. Indumathy feels students need commitment, the ability to understand, memorize and perfect the art of dancing. The teacher's knowledge and the students dancing ability is displayed and judged by the audience. It generally takes ten to twelve years of training to give this kind of performance.

The accompanying artists play a very important role in the Arangetram. The artists sit in one corner of the stage. In the forthcoming performance, the Orchestra consists of the following artists: Choreography and Nattuvangam or dance conducting by Indumathy Ganesh, Vocal by Asha Ramesh, Mridangam by N. Narayanan, Violin by Shanti Narayanan and Flute by Ranjani Narasimhan. They are all well experienced artists and often provide the music for Nrithyollasa Dance Academy. The artist will wear the traditional dance costume and heavy make up, especially around the eyes, so that her expressions are highlighted. She wears Gejje or Jingles on her feet. The rhythmic sound of the jingles is pure music as she dances. The entire performance will be of approximately three hours duration. According to Indumathy, the dancer must display her individuality while dancing and live the characters she portrays. The dancer must also understand the songs sung in different Indian languages, and go beyond mere words and impart the feelings of the characters they are playing so that the audience are emotionally moved and learn and enrich themselves by this experience.

The Arangetram performance is divided into two sections. The first half consists of the following dances: Pushpanjali, which is the introductory dance, where the artist salutes to God, Guru (the teacher) and the audience. Allaripu, the next dance gives importance to movements, the coordination of eyes, neck, arms and legs movements. Jatiswaram, involves more complicated movements with great postures and the musical composition is set to a particular tune and varying rhythmic patterns. Shabda is a rhythmic dance with emphasis given to facial expression.

Varna, which means color is a very complicated and important dance of 30 to 40 minutes duration, which tests the skill and stamina of the dancer. Here, the sanchari bhava or the story aspect is depicted. The second half consists of Padam where the dancer's facial expression assumes importance. This is followed by Ashtapadi. These are the great Sanskrit poet Jayadeva's romantic compositions called Geeta Govinda, describing the love of Krishna and Radha. The next dance, Devaranama is devotional in context. Tillana, the last dance is fast paced, full of complicated movements and postures. Mangala is the ending of the performance where the dancer makes her final bow to God, teacher, the accompanying artists and the audience thanking them for a successful performance.

Apart from the Arangetram, Nrithyollasa Dance Academy is having their annual talent showcase in the third week of January, when all students will dance and display their talents to parents and audience. Indu points out that this is a good opportunity for the students to overcome their stage fear and nervousness. According to her, the students put in more effort to memorize and perfect what they know when they perform in front of the audience. Priya Shankar, her student who is performing in the Arangetram next week acknowledges that the Indumathy Ganesh makes a difference in a student's life by understanding them and respecting their abilities. She adds that, "Dance has become a very important part of my life, although at first it was a pain to practice, it is now something that I enjoy and that I would like to continue."

As the ancient dance treatise in Natyashastra says, Bharatanatyam is a great art form "where the hands go, the eyes follow, where the eyes go, the mind goes, where the mind goes, is the heart, where the heart is, lies the reality of being."

Those who want to enjoy the Bharatanatyam experience may attend the Arangetram of Priya Shankar on 10th January, 2004, at 4.00 p.m. at Jackson Theatre, Ohlone College, 43600 Mission Blvd, Fremont, CA 94539. Interested people are invited to this free performance.

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