Cleveland Aradhana 2007 
Nrityobhavam: Gems of Great Composers - a visual treat! 
- Kala Ramachandran, Poona 
April 22, 2007 

The Cleveland Thyagaraja Aradhana Festival opened with a rich performance schedule of classical music and dance, attended by well initiated concert-goers and thousands of rasikas. This year heralded the additional focus and impetus given to classical dance. Towards this endeavour, the Cleveland Aradhana Committee featured a noteworthy initiative titled "Nrithyobhavam" featuring Bala Devi Chandrashekar, senior disciple of Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam, complimented by Smitha Rajan - Mohiniattam, and Anuradha Nehru - Kuchipudi.

As an ardent connoisseur and supporter of classical arts, I was one of the fortunate to visit USA around the time of Cleveland Aradhana festival. Bala gave a brief overview on "Nrityobhavam" and her performance laid focus on the beauty of movement, picturesque poses blending with a charming graceful technique, which was a visual delight.

Bala made a graceful entry in the invocatory Pushpanjali, a demanding piece combining both Nritta and abhinaya, paying obeisance to the gods, an impressive recital describing the devotee's total surrender to the Lord. Her expression and footwork were clear and precise. The quintessence of Bharata Nrityam lies in its sculpture like stances and this was reflected in the item, Sri Muthuswami Dikshitar's composition in ragam kalyani steeped in the bliss of Shivananda - "Sivakameshwari Chintayeham."

Bala's performance brought about the fulfillment of the sentiment of Shringara Rasa, clearly depicting the mood, fascinating the mind of Shivakameshwara. The sanchari for the lines Madhurya gana with references from Sri Soundaryalahari, the 66th verse, "Vipanchaya Gayanthi" referring to the sweet words of Mother to Goddess Saraswathi was beautiful.  Even the line on "Madhalasam hamsoulasini" was depicted with great devotion. 

The high point of the evening was Bala's ability to demonstrate the potentiality and technique Natya Shastra offers for creativity. "The Jatayu Moksham," an episode from Ramayana to Tchaikovsky’s overture for Romeo & Juliet, has been choreographed by Bala's guru Padma Subrahmanyam. 

Bala's demonstration of the Angika abhinaya technique with full use of satva was evident, depicting the moving episode of the divine bird. We were so engrossed watching and living the experience of each character in the Ramayana that we even forgot to applaud! It was amazing to see Padma Subrahmanyam's great choreography of the episode for the symphony music without the help of a single word to express the situation. Truly Tchaikovsky's overture took a new meaning through this brilliant choreography and presentation!

The next item was Oothukkadu Venkata Kavi's composition, filled with devotion, excellent imagery and brilliant sollukkattu.  Bala depicted Krishna's incomparable beauty, portraying the longing of the gopikas for Krishna and His infinite mercy. She brought out the beauty of these lyrics through "Asaindhadum mayil ondru" in Simmendramadhyamam ragam.  

In the song "Baro Krishnayya" by saint Kanakadasa, Bala's depiction of Yashoda beckoning child Krishna with vatsalya, taking his hand and walking along before scooping him up in her arms was remarkable. She also depicted "Kalinga Nardhanam" sequence using specific temple sculpture movements - Karanas. She brought to life Krishna's image turning to give darshan to Kanakadasa. 

In the Saint Annamacharya's composition "Brahmam Okate," we could feel the real trance of experiencing the "Parabrahmam," the joy that one experiences studying about the bliss that the Siddhars enjoyed, experiencing the truth that every living being is a part of the Supreme energy. 

Bala's performance to the great composers' kritis, portrayed an aesthetic and devotional journey of rasa and bhava, expressive in every frame, with brilliant visual dimension to the devotional lyrics while preserving the musical brilliance of the kritis.

The program continued with substance filled Mohiniattam and Kuchipudi performance and concluded with a Thillana composed by Padma Subrahmanyam in Kannada ragam and Adi thalam. Poignancy and vibrancy marked the Thillana, presented in all three styles. The poise and graceful movements of the artists struck a deep chord with the rasikas. It was the coordination of the dancers that stood out. The kaleidoscope of color and movement gave a rich tapestry for the viewer!

Through this dance initiative, the Cleveland Aradhana has given a rare treat to its rasikas.

Bala feels that mastering the finer nuances of the art form is not an end in itself; it is in fact the beginning of a spiritual journey though dance, that leads to the birth of an artiste.