Monalisa's vibrant dance of joy  
- Kamakshi Mallikarjun 
September 6, 2007 

The arangetram of Monalisa Ghose was held on July 14, 2007 at Plymouth Meeting in Pennsylvania.  Mona is a student of Viji Rao at the Three Aksha Institute of Bharatanatyam.  

My mother who had seen the legendary Baby Kamala perform used to speak in awe of Kamala's amazing flexibility when she did her signature 'Snake Dance'; my daughter used to tell me with similar awe of how Mona was the only one who could do a perfect split in dance class.  At the Arangetram, during the intermission, the audience was expressing similar amazement at Mona’s gymnast like flexibility as well.  

Mona began with a Mallari which is performed as part of the procession of the deities in the temples of South India.  Praveen D Rao set this to the melodic raga of Amritha Varshini, in Khanda Triputa Tala.  The beauty of the sculpturesque poses was greatly enhanced by the neatness of the lines and the ballet-like correctness of posture.  

Next was a fast paced Alarippu in chatusraeka where there were turbo charged sequences interwoven into the traditional movements.  Mona's ability came shining through where despite the much faster pace, the beautiful natya rambha  was maintained, the finish of the thai did did thai  was just perfect with the hand going all the way back.  The Jatiswaram in Vitapi, music composed by KS Jayaram showcased more elaborate and complex sequences. Both the above mentioned items were choreographed by Viji Rao. This was followed by the Shiva Panchakshara Mantra where each of the verses describing Lord Shiva start with the syllables that make up Na Ma Shi Va Ya, with choreography by the Sridhars. 

"Shri Krishna Kamala Natho" in Ritigowla, choreographed by Guru Narmada was the center piece of the evening. It describes the key events in Lord Krishna's life such as his father Vasudeva taking him to Yasoda's house, the Rasa Leela, and the Geethopadesha. The pace of the varnam was super fast and with the help of the skilful support provided by the orchestra and the razor sharp nattuvangam by Viji Rao, Mona pulled it off without missing a beat. There was a spectacular arudi for the charanam which was nailed with precision every single time.  The opening theermanam, a "gopucca yati - a rhythmic pattern which has a broad beginning and narrows at the end" in 3 speeds was majestic.  As I watched, I thought of my late aunt Anandhi Ramachandran who was on the faculty of Kalakshetra. Always a teacher at heart, Anandhi maami would have been so happy to see the correctness of the angles, the way Mona’s arms were extended as she did the flourishes, her perfect posture, the lifting of the leg, all elements that showcase the Kalakshetra style at its best. 

Next was the famous Meera Bhajan "More Tho Giridhar Gopala."  It adorned a new identity with the new tune by Praveen D Rao.  Bragha Bessel's choreography transformed Meera into Radha expressing her love for Krishna as she does in Jayadeva's Gita Govindam.  

This was followed by a Purandaradasa composition "Yamanelli Kanenendu" in Shivaranjani that describes how Lord Vishnu who is the protector can turn into the destroyer when confronted by the demons - a choreography of guru Sridhar. 

Mona herself announced the next piece in Bengali and dedicated it to her grandmother. It was a composition of Rabindranath Tagore that described a "dancer entranced by the one who dances in her heart."  It was most apt and Mona's love for dancing came shining through.  The music by Praveen D Rao perfectly captured the whimsical nature of the song. A beautiful dance choreographed by Viji Rao. 

The imaginative choreography by Viji for the varying gaits and rhythms of the beautiful composition by Praveen D Rao, the grace with which Mona danced, all added luster to the Thillana in Shanmukapriya making it a brilliant finale. 

Viji Prakash who was Mona's first dance teacher expressed her joy in seeing Mona blossom into such a wondrous dancer under the guidance of Viji Rao. The members of the orchestra were Viji Rao (nattuvangam), Pusthakam Ramaa  (vocal), Balamma Puttanna Haribabu (mridangam ),  Praveen D Rao (tabla and additional instruments), Ramakrishna Ragunandan (flute), DV Prasanna Kumar (morsing and kanjira).   

I would like to add that Viji Rao had 2 students give debut performances a week apart.  Both brought out the best of each student and the variety of the items in each of the programs underscored the broad canvas of her imagination and choreography skills that she has. Both programs also had innovative tunes by Praveen D Rao in a wide array of lilting melodies. 

Kamakshi Mallikarjun is a classical music and dance enthusiast.