Distinctive Bharatanatya Rangapravesha of Nikita Rao 
- Thara Narasimhan, TX
e-mail: tara3102@gmail.com

October 25, 2008 
Petite Nikita Rao was precise in adavus, jathis and mudras which form an integral element of a Bharatanatyam performance. Nikita is only eleven years old and has been learning dance since she was six. Her captivating performance kept the audience enthralled.  Nikita staged her dance debut on September 27, 2008 at the Bayou Theatre, University of Houston at Clear Lake. She is a student of Yamuna Srinidhi of Nrityasiri Center for Performing Arts.  "Nikita took her dance seriously and right from day one she never came to her dance class without practice," a comment made by her guru Yamuna, was evident in the recital. Nikita considers her Rangapravesha as a unique opportunity to combine her passion for dance, music, Kannada language and Hindu culture. The repertoire was distinctive to include seven dance items in Kannada language specially choreographed for this performance by Yamuna Srinidhi.  

The program commenced with invocation vocal singing in Kannada with the auspicious "Gajamukane Ganaptiye" in Raga Yamankalyan in praise of Ganesha by Nikita's 8 year old younger sister Ankita Rao.

Pushpanjali in Vallachi raga and Adi thala was the opening dance that was followed by shlokas in praise of Ganesha, Raghavendra and Krishna and completed with Allarippu, the initiation to pure nritta.  Jathiswaram in Kaanada raga ensued with swara and intricate jathis and Nikita unfalteringly executed with perfection. 

"Maathe Malayadwaja Pandya Sanjathe," a Daruvarnam in Raga Kaamas was chosen to be the spotlight, the main piece where the performer fuses different aspects of dance.  In a combination of pure nritta and abhinaya, Nikita displayed excellent control of rhythm and stirred in a variety of emotional expressions to   depict the story of Mahishasura Mardhini. This Varnam is composed by Muthiah Bhagavatar, who impressed the Maharaja of Mysore and was appointed as court musician at Mysore Palace. He composed 115 kritis in Kannada in praise of Chamundi Devi, the matron goddess of the Mysore dynasty.

Prior to the Varnam a special treat to the audience was the recitation in vocal by Nikita of two Trikaala jathis, in three speeds exhibiting yet another special talent and exemplary perception of rhythm. 

‘Devarnama' are devotional songs written in simple and lucid Kannada language.  Nikita performed to the song "Inthaa Hennanu Naanellu Kaanenu" by Saint Purandaradasa, who is proclaimed as the Father of Carnatic music. The composer refers to Lord Vishnu as Mohini, whose beauty he describes is awe inspiring and has not seen any woman so witty and intelligent. The two mythological episodes presented were ‘Samudra Manthana' and ‘Mohini Bhasmaasura.'  There was ample scope for abhinaya and Nikita used it to the fullest extent with superb choreography by Yamuna Srinidhi. Following Devarnama was a Krithi in Raga Hamsadwani. The popular krithi of Saint Kanakadasa's "Nammamma Shaaradhe" was performed with combination of nritta, nrithya and abhinaya which was even and enriching. Here Kanakadasa engages in interrogative in which he poses a rhetorical question about who "this person" is and then replies to it with the answer, "Gananatha, of course!", each time referring to a different facet of Lord Ganesha. 

The penultimate dance was yet another Kannada song "Bharatha Bhoomi," a patriotic song composed by the greatest poet of Kannada literature and Jnanapith awardee, Kuvempu, and was rendered in Desh raga and set to Eka thala. 

Kannada is one of the major languages of India, spoken predominantly in the southern state of Karnataka, whose native speakers are called Kannadigas and makes the 27th most spoken language in the world. Contemporary Kannada literature is celebratory in India, with India's highest literary honor, the Jnanpith awards conferred seven times upon Kannada writers, which is the highest for any language in India. Nikita concluded the performance with Tillana in Hamsanandi raga followed by Mangalam by Purandaradasa.  Nikita dazzled the audience with her ingenuity of rhythm in this grand finale.  

Music forms an integral part of Bharatanatyam. All Houston musicians comprised the orchestra which was one of the highlights of this Rangapravesam. Neela Chakarvarthy presented the vocal support. Her mellifluous voice and enchanting melody gave brilliant support to the dancer. Being familiar with Kannada language was indeed an added advantage for Neela, which synchronized with the perfectly harmonious music. Karthik Subramanyan on the flute was very alluring and resonating in between the dance numbers. Deepa Ramachandran on the violin added flair of enchantment to the ensemble. Maayavaram Shiva was astounding in his performance as he integrated rhythm in its entirety which is the most vital element of a Bharatanatyam performance. 

Yamuna Srinidhi presented her fondest tribute to Nikita not only for her admirable performance but for being an exemplary student. Yamuna is dedicated to preserving and promoting fine arts among the Indo-American community. Nikita Rao's Rangapravesham was the 14th dance debut presented under the auspices of Nrityasiri Center for Performing Arts.

The guest of Honor, Leslie Schwanke, Nikita's third grade teacher at North Pointe Elementary School could not believe that the soft spoken Nikita had so much hidden talent and was pleased to be part of Nikita's debut performance. Amrutha Nanjappa, lawyer by profession, was the emcee for the evening. She grew up in Houston and has performed Kuchipudi. She still enjoys dancing at functions whenever possible.  

Nikita's mother Suma Rao created a website with all information including invitation, information and photographs posted online to be eco-friendly. Nikita Rao, a Sixth grader at Westbrook Intermediate, requested donations to charity of their choice. Additionally contributions were also made to an organization in India (Sri Sathya Sai Baba Institution) to meet health care and clean water needs for the less fortunate.