AABHA pays homage to Rukmini
The Bharatanatyam rasikas of Atlanta had a most memorable afternoon on the 16th of November 2003, at the Hindu Temple of Atlanta in Riverdale, GA, where the Atlanta Association for BHAratanatyam (AABHA) had organized a fitting homage to one of the most remarkable terpsichorean geniuses of India – Smt. Rukmini Devi.
“Remembering Rukmini Devi”, a program that commemorated Rukmini Devi in her Centenary year, was conceived and executed by AABHA with a deep understanding and awareness of Rukmini Devi’s oeuvres in the realm of classical dance. After all, her legacy to the cultural heritage of India was not merely the revival of Bharatanatyam (shunned by the elite of her times) but also its reformation. She helped this art that was essentially routed in solo temple performances evolve into the genre of a dance drama. Rukmini Devi was an artiste who understood the ethos of her art. Her creations were total, not designed in parts and put together, but crafted with the whole in mind. Every sequence was thought out to the minutest detail, and every mood and passage visualized in its entirety before even the production. And uncompromising artiste that Rukmini Devi was, she demanded utmost perfection in teamwork and execution. In “Remembering Rukmini Devi” the teachers and students of AABHA paid apt homage to this facet of her inventive genius with a series of seven group performances that dovetailed with each other with absolute precision and created a rich tapestry of Bharatanatyam from Pushpanjali to Thillana. This was all the more remarkable when one considers that a large majority of the performers were very young children.
started with a welcome address and a song on Rukmini Devi composed by Mysore
Vasudevachariar was rendered by Subhashini Krishnamoorthy. Then (and this
was one of those items that set the afternoon’s events apart from more
mundane “remembrances”) an extremely well made documentary on Rukmini Devi
from the 1980’s was shown. No better introduction to Rukmini Devi
was needed; she, along with many other stars of Kalakshetra who claimed
her tutelage, was interviewed exhaustively during the course of the documentary.
This was followed by “Janakita Pushpanjali” set to raga Nattai and Eka tala. In this fairly contemporary invocatory piece, the young students of Anupa Thakurta offered salutations to various gods and goddesses of the Hindu pantheon; Ganesha (Vighna Vinayaka – the remover of obstacles), Kartikeya (the merciful), Saraswathi (the goddess of arts and learning), Mahalakshmi (the goddess of wealth) and Shiva (as the embodiment of Shakthi). This dance was choreographed by Lalitha of Saraswati Gana Nilayam. It was beautifully presented by the very young dancers.
The next item
to follow was “Jatiswaram” in Ragamalika choreographed by the famous Dhananjayans.
This arguably difficult piece of Bharatanatyam repertoire that emphasizes
on pure dance (nritta as opposed to nrithya) was performed with considerable
verve and skill by Anuradha Murali’s students from South Carolina.
The absence of any ‘sahitya’ in these compositions of course precludes
the expression of bhavabhinaya in Jatiswaram. The performer instead
seeks to enthrall the audience by skillfully executed rhythmic patterns,
aesthetically sculptured poses and delightful musical phrasing. All
this was accomplished very nicely in this item.
The item that followed the Jatiswaram was the “Madhurashtakam”, composed by the Pushti-marga sage-philosopher of sixteenth century, Srimad Vallabhacharya. Originally set in either raga Misra Pilu or Misra Kamaj, this item was choreographed in Ragamalika and performed by the students of Preeti Vinayak Shah. The young students did a delightful presentation of this item. The eight stanzas that form the ashtakam were illustrated with expressional (abhinaya) dance, culminating in pure nritta.
After the “Madhurashtakam”
came one of the most complex, elaborate and interesting pieces of the evening,
the famous keerthanam “Natanam Aadinar”, composed by Gopalakrishna Bharati
and choreographed by none other than Rukmini Devi Arundale. Set to
raga Vasantha and to Khanda Ata Talam, this item describes the Ananda Tandavam
of Lord Shiva, a metaphor to the belief in the interdependency of the good
and the bad and the dynamic balancing between opposites that constitute
life. This piece embodies every major element of Bharatanatya, a
challenging combination of nritta, nrithya and abhinaya that provides ample
scope for the dancer to exhibit her talent and skill. The students
of Savitha Viswanathan made superb use of this, and the resulting performance
was truly enchanting.
Gayatri Devi, the chief guest, then performed a beautiful javali, set to Suruti raga and Adi Talam, in which the Sakhi teases the Nayika and says “My dear friend I happen to see Krishna making signs at the lady who covers herself with a silk saree”. She then goes on to describe the pranks of Lord Krishna, like him stealing butter. The abhinaya in this piece was exquisite and yet it was light and uplifting for everyone to enjoy.
The grand finale
of the afternoon’s performance was the traditional Kalakshetra tillana
dedicated to Rukmini Devi. Set to raga Natabhairavi and to Adi Talam,
this was presented by all the teachers of AABHA, and was veritably a visual
treat. The joys of rhythm and movement predominated in this item
of pure dance. What the students had introduced through pushpanjali
and jatiswaram was fully developed and brought to its logical conclusion
by the teachers in the Tillana. The simple eye-neck-shoulder movements
evolved into a mesmerizing display of rhythmic patterns and postures during
this piece. The performers were Anuradha Murali, Subhadra Sudarshan, Chandrika
Chandran, Preetha Sayeekrishna, Savitha Viswanathan and Uma Pulendran,
the last four also being on the AABHA executive committee.
Arun P Madangarli is an electrical engineer, art enthusiast and a literary writer. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org