Another arangetram in the Washington DC area 
- Krishna K Kasturi, Hyderabad 
May 10, 2007 

On 22nd April, Dipika Mouli performed her Arangetram at the Ernst Cultural Center in Virginia. Dipika is 17 years old, a senior at Thomas Wootton High School, Rockville, Maryland. About 400 people attended her Arangetram for which she has been practicing for the past 8 months.
Making an auspicious start with the Sama Veda chanting by Vedic Priests, the dance programme commenced with the Pushpanjali in Naattai which was followed by a kirtanai dedicated to the Goddess Rajarajeswari “Paahimam Sri Rajarajeswari” in Janaranjani before proceeding to the Varnam in Ananda Bhairavi. A break for drinks and costume change at this juncture came much too early in the recital. Three padams dedicated to Siva, Muruga and Krishna came after the intermission and these were rounded off by a Vote of Thanks by the parents Mouli and Mira paving way to the Thillana in Simhendramadhyamam. 

The Alarippu in Khanda Chapu talam was simple, there was more scope in the next piece Sri Rajarajeswari in Adi with the varied postures of the Goddesses, which went down well with the audience and got the young dancer appreciative claps. The Varnam in Ananda Bhairavi and Adi talam was a let down. Being the most complex piece of the repertoire which ought to have shown the virtuosity of the dancer, a more dynamic number would have been appropriate. Kaalai Thooki Aadum in Bhagyashree, which describes the beauty and grandeur of Nataraja’s dance, gave the dancer another opportunity to burst into various poses with its appropriate choreography. Valli Kanavan Perai in Senjuruti, a Kaavadi Chindu  was definitely Dipti’s forte; a folksy number with a peppy beat brought out the grace that is hers if only she lets the dancer in her free. Alaipaayude in Kaanada had a slow tempo, but the lyrics which speak of a Naayika's undying passion that reverberate in her heart, preventing her from concentrating on anything else, needed a more kinetic execution. Thillana in Mattya talam picked up pace from Alaipaayude. The spatial construct was precise and the dancer was quite adept in making use of the large stage not confining herself to one area.
In expressing emotion through her pursed lips and excessive eyebrow movement did not add to her loose Angikabhinaya. It was only when she was performing Alaipaayude that she came into her own a little bit, though the pining that goes into a Virahothkhandita is not a child’s play. It would need more than being in high school to feel the pangs of separation and desperate longing. The song though very well choreographed was out of place in an Arangetram for such a young person, who could obviously not do justice to this tempestuous item. Ardhamandali was lacking, half-completed teermanams gave one an impression that the artiste was in a hurry, that she was not enjoying what she was doing. Her footwork was out of synch at times but the overall confidence revealed hours of practice, unfortunately not adequate enough to be effortless. 
For about three hours, a very seamlessly executed event enthralled the audience which comprised a mixed lot. Many Indians of course but also friends and teachers of the young high school dancer which meant a cultural motley of Indian-American, Chinese-American, African-American to mention a few ethnicities. Such a cross section of audience always ensures that the program starts on time, people stand in queues in the restroom, there is a master of ceremonies explaining the items which would normally be left to the vague knowledge of the viewer to decipher. 
The Ernst Cultural Center in Virginia has been the venue of many a dance performance. It is a good stage with good acoustics. Though some work could have gone into the lighting, which could have been more stylized to suit the mood of each piece, the overall effect was that of a professionally organized show. The rest of the arrangements were no less than that of a wedding. 
It is about time though that the patrons of art, who can afford such Arangetram extravaganzas, also invest in taking up the challenge of presenting contemporary themes. With such varied issues affecting our present day lives it would be foolish to become ensconced in the traditional repertoire. Keeping the purity of art alive is no hindrance to conceiving new frontiers of expression. Most youngsters are turning away from this age old means of reaching out to the divine because it lacks any social context. For eg, how topical is a Naayika pining away for a lover who is quite busy with other women? In the modern context such a man would be a prime target for verbal abuse!! How can we expect young high school girls to convincingly portray the uncontrollable emotions surging in the heart of a lovelorn maiden directed towards such a man?   
Understanding the motivation behind the mechanics of any art is the key in making an artiste complete. It differentiates the great dancer from a mediocre one. Compulsory reading of dance theory, dance history, dance biographies, watching other dance performances, seeking to appreciate the context and subtext of lyrics, knowledge of mythologies etc goes into creating a suitable subconscious for a dancer. Since an Arangetram is only the beginning of a life long pursuit of excellence, Dipti has ample opportunity to learn and improve. She has already proven her commitment by engaging her time and energy in this field.   
Experienced musicians and singers rendered the orchestra. Nattuvangam was ably performed by guru Radha Ganeshan, her deep throated booming voice is just right for the orthodox Thanjavur style that she teaches her students. S Venkatraman on vocals is the first choice for most dancers performing in the area, though when singing the Kaavadi Chindu, his voice unfortunately lost its zest. This song more than any other, needed his ample support. On the mridangam was Mahesh Krishnamurthy. On the violin, Sandhya Srinath. V Kalyan Raman on the flute stole the show. The choreography was by Radha Ganeshan’s gurus, Mahalingam Pillai and CV Chandrasekhar and she herself choreographed Alaipaayude.
It is wonderful to see, despite carping that money is spent like water for such events, that the youngsters who are the repositories of this age old tradition are continuing to seek and learn Bharatanatyam in a land with so many distractions. This is definitely a merit in itself.

An engineer by qualification and a writer by vocation, Krishna K Kasturi is currently a film maker who enjoys living in Hyderabad as well as in Washington DC. She is a Bharatanatyam dancer indulging in her love for dance by putting it down in writing.