A feast of performances by Arpana Dance School students 
- Priya Iyengar

November 25, 2008 
It's the arangetram season for Arpana School of Dance, Los Angeles. The season of: ankle bell tintinnabulations; soft rasping of silk dresses; twinkling jewelry; airport visits for picking up near and dear ones; mailing invitations, and long nights. The season brings festivity, joy, celebration, accomplishment, and contentment.

Arpana graduates proved once again that they go flying through the expectation ceiling of parents, audiences, and especially their teacher, Ramya Harishankar. This is the scintillating fete offered biennially by Arpana School of Dance.  The arangetram season usually spans mid September through the first week of October.
In 2008, Arpana School of Dance offered twelve memorable debut performances featuring young and energetic budding dancers in a mix of solos and duos. The arangetrees enchanted the audience with their riveting performances.

"Dance, like music, knows no geographical boundaries, no linguistic barriers and no racial divisions.  All walls crumble where art is concerned. It's a great unifying and integrating force." 
- Vempati Chinna Satyam

It's so true! All these young girls have roots from different parts of India. They speak different languages, and celebrate different festivals. But on the stage they speak only one language, the language of dance, Bharatanatyam. The solos were captivating and the duos were mesmerizing. Many years of continuous rigorous training by guru Ramya Harishankar and consistent practice has given these girls the ability to carve a special niche for themselves.

Ramya Harishankar isn't only a passionate guru but a disciplinarian as well. Her excellence in teaching the art combined with commitment churned out the best in her students. Perfection and professionalism are synonymous with Ramya Harishankar. "A teacher/choreographer can compose a great piece, teach and train a dancer. But ultimately it's the dancer who should be able to touch and move their audiences," says Ramya.

Arpana students left no stone unturned in amazing the audience and parents, and inspiring the future Bharatanatyam aspirants.  
Amrutha Mukerji and Janindha Gundwardhane made the characters of the varnam come alive. The centerpiece of Bharatanatyam repertoire, the varnam encompasses all the essential elements of dance. A dancer should have absolute dexterity in mastering varnam.  It wouldn't be palatable unless the piece is prepared with well-proportioned ingredients of nritta and abhinaya and seasoned with a dash of mental, physical and spiritual energy. These young ladies triumphantly exemplified the visual imagery of varnams.

Next, Ritika Rastogi, Malavika Tripathi, Arthy Venkatesh, and Disha Bhagwat were masters in their solo performances. Although Ritika and Malvika danced together; their solo pieces were conspicuous. Ritika's luminous smile replicated Meera in the bhajan while Malvika successfully embodied Durga.  Disha was a very composed dancer and convincingly portrayed the mischievous young Krishna in "Gummana Karayidhire." Arthy's rendition of the renowned "Varugalamo" moved the audience.

Tripti Shah and Janani Arangan danced like each other's alter ego. Their timing and accuracy in understanding the steps orchestrated them to render their pieces brilliantly. The Thillana made it evidently clear that these girls danced with joy.

Srilekha Jhandyala and Natasha Parekh's duo performance was unique by song selections and the solo pieces allocation. "Alukalu Chellavu" (Annamacharya Kriti) by Srilekha was captivating and her abhinaya in interpreting the melodious language of Annamayya was admirable. Natasha's Gujarati composition on Saint Nemunath and his bride Rajul was excellent. Natasha did the piece with much alacrity changing the abhinaya according to the male and female characters in the song.

Shipra Shah and Jhankana Jani's arangetram demonstrated that they are budding artists. Through the entire show it looked like as if they have set their goal ahead to achieve artistic excellence.

Last but not the least, it's worth a million talking about the musical ensemble. The musicians who flew down a month before from India specifically to work on the pieces with the arangetrees deserve more than a line of praise. They not only offered delightfully enthralling music but extended their full support and encouragement to the dancers. Without their music, the arangetrams would have looked like a painting without colors; tasted like food without salt; sounded like a river without water; felt like the temple without a bell.  Srikanth's melodious voice, Haribabu's rhythmic mastery on mridangam, and Ragunandhan's cascading flute were the soul for the dancers' heart and mind. Our local talents, Shiva Ramamurthi and Kiran Athreya on violin were equally competent with music maestros from India.

I don't want to finish my article without sharing my ecstasy about this exotic journey of Bharatanatyam arangetrams.  Joan Erdman said, "Bharatanatyam, true to its name became the artistic representative of Indian-ness and of ancient heritage."

This arangetram series is a true reconnect to Indian communities living across the globe. These young dancers are our real cultural ambassadors who are putting enormous efforts and time to keep our cultural torch glowing. Although many of these girls have a miniscule opportunity to visit India and experience the diversity of Indian culture, they understand its essence and richness.  Ramya Harishankar is the protagonist for this evolution. But for her unrelenting efforts, strong will power, dedication to the art and culture, the Arpana family couldn't have come into existence and birthed these many amazing dancers. These young girls' commitment and passion to art is highly commendable. 

As education today is becoming more demanding, it is sometimes impossible to spare time for another extra curricular activity. Many of these dancers are high schoolers and college sophomores. In spite of hectic scholastic schedules they dedicated time for practice sessions and arangetram preparations. They aren't just here to dance momentarily and make their parents proud but they are the cultural icons spreading our culture across the borders.

Priya is a freelance writer and teaches creative writing. She finished her writing course from Cal State University, Fullerton. Her stories and articles have appeared in Kid Magazine Writers, Fandangle, Stories for Children, Balagokulam, Traveler  magazines. Two of her pictures books are scheduled for publication in 2009.