Natya Sagara 2009 - Celebration of International Dance Day 
- A Seshan, Mumbai 

May 20, 2009 
The sixth edition of NATYA SAGARA, an Indian classical dance competition, was organized by the Kanaka Sabha Centre for Performing Arts, Mumbai, and on May 3, 2009 at the premises of the Academy of Fine Arts and Crafts (AFAC) in Chembur, Mumbai. As in the previous years, it was in commemoration of the International Dance Day observed the world over to honour Jean-George Noverre (1727-1810), the father of modern ballet, on his birthday that fell on April 29. The objective is to bring all dances together on this occasion, to celebrate this art form and its universality, to cross all political and ethnic barriers and to bring people together in peace and friendship with a common language - dance. 

Category No. Duration of performance (Minutes)
Junior (below 12 years) 17 6
Senior (12-16 years) 12 6
Special (16 years and above) 5 10
Total 34
Bharatanatyam, Kuchipudi and Odissi were represented. There were contestants from Pune and Bangalore besides from Mumbai. 

Panel of Judges 
Moli Siddharth: Dance guru and choreographer for Bharatanatyam and Kathak 
Mahathi Vijayprasad: Bharatanatyam artiste / Carnatic musician 
Usha Srinivasan: Carnatic music vocalist for dance / teacher 
Akila Satyanarayanan: Bharatanatyam artiste and teacher 
Following the past convention, the names of judges were not revealed to the candidates. Judges were also not informed about the gurus of the participants to ensure objectivity. Students of Kanaka Sabha were debarred from registration to avoid any conflict of interest. 

Prize Winners 
1. Vaishnav Venugopal 
2. Nadoran Keerthi Pradeep 
2. Janhavi Uttam Ubhe 
3. Nikita Subramani 
Vaishnav Venugopal
Nadoran Keerthi Pradeep
Janhavi Uttam Ubhe
Nikita Subramani 
Ashwathi Pramod 
Disha Satish Varghade 
Sanjana Moodbagil 
Ashwathi Pramod
Disha Satish Varghade 
Sanjana Moodbagil 
1. Nupur Pai 
2. Ramya Krishnan 
2. Krishti Das 
3. Deepshika Mondal 
3. Surabhi Andrade 
Nupur Pai 
Ramya Krishnan  
Krishti Das
Deepshika Mondal 

1. Priya Singh (Odissi) 
2. Vani Venugopal (Bharatanatyam) 
3. Snehal Phatak (Bharatanatyam) 

Priya Singh
Vani Venugopal  
Snehal Phatak
The Contest 
As observed in the past reviews, the average standard has been going up year after year despite the variations in individual performances. It was obvious that the participants had taken the event seriously and undergone intensive training for the day. It was heartening to see so many youngsters, especially the tiny tots, dancing without any stage fright and completely devoted to giving their best to impress the judges and the audience. Due to the limited number of participants the entire program could be staged in the main hall. It was a spin-off for this reviewer. Thus he could see all the performances at one place for the first time. In the past, due to larger participation, the competition for different categories was held simultaneously in two other rooms also making it a difficult choice for the rasikas. 

A few comments on the performances would be appropriate to highlight certain features observed by this writer. The close nature of the contest was evident from the fact that some prizes had to be shared. 

Special Category 
Priya Singh, who secured the first prize in the Special Category, has the personality of an Odissi dancer. Her tribhangi and chauk (asymmetrical and symmetrical poses) were near perfect. The chalas (torso movements) and the charis (movement of the feet) were executed well. Although she exceeded the time limit, what impressed the judges must have been her emoting on the stage in bhakti sringara in a colourful and convincing manner for a Jaidev ashtapadi in a raga that sounded like the Carnatic Malahari. Vani Venugopal's Sriranjani item ("Sami nee") had a tough pose to end with, which she managed well. However, her performance had to be cut short due to the time limit. "Mate Malayadhwaja" in Khamas, composed by Muthiah Bhagavatar, is a daru varnam popular among dancers and rasikas; it is quite challenging. Snehal Phatak rose to meet the occasion. She managed the sancharis well presenting different events in Goddess Meenakshi's life and executed such adavus as Murukku Adavu, Nattu Adavu and Kuditta Mettu Adavu in an exemplary manner. The sanchari bhava of bhakti came through well. However, she also ran short of time. Aarti Naidu's Miyan-ki-Todi (Subhapantuvarali in Carnatic music) item was yet another instance of aesthetic adavus. Anusuya Dutta's addamis were attractive. 

Senior Category 
It was clear that the selection of songs is the first step to success at such contests. Mellifluous music, recorded well, is a source of encouragement to the artiste besides being pleasing to the judges and the audience. This was evident from the very first performance of the day by Nupur Pai, who set the ball rolling and the contest going. She secured the first prize in the Senior Category. Her item in Nattakkurinji in obeisance to Lord Ganesh made a good start for the event. The word "Navarasa" in the song was exploited in a sanchari mode for the portrayal of the nine rasas with an impressive mukhajabhinaya. She was resourceful enough not to exceed the time limit. Her frequent araimandis were done in the correct position. 

Ramya Krishnan's Natesa Kavuthuvam ("Dheem dheem") was impressive and had the support of mellifluous music recorded well, as in the previous instance. Amantrita Mondal's Odissi was noted for the execution of some difficult karanas and an electrifying ending. Whether in music or dance, stylistic conclusion is a major plus point in impressing viewers. Kathak dancers excel in finishing an item with the flourish of a statuesque pose. Others could emulate them. Debarati Bhowmik is another contestant to be mentioned in this context. Her dancing to "Ananda natanam adum Vinayaka" in Gaulai, ended in four different poses held in steadiness. 

A few bravehearts attempted to present capsule versions of varnams. It requires good guidance from gurus to do this successfully. Surabhi Andrade was a good dancer who could not finish "Nathanai" in Kambodhi in time. Sindhuja Bheesette danced well to Sankarabharanam but she was handicapped by poor recording of music. It is important that the articulation of words is clear in the recording for the audience to understand the theme of the song. This problem was observed in a few other cases also. Ruchita Jamanji was the only participant from Kuchipudi style. Her adugulus, sancharis and response to jatis in a song in Sriranjani were all of a good standard and she executed some deep-seated positions effortlessly. Sonia Malgundkar's Tilang piece was noted for uninhibited dancing. 

Junior Category 
Vaishnav Venugopal, the one and only male contestant, justified his unique position carrying the day winning the first prize. He impressed everyone from the beginning to the end with his effortless execution of adavus, adhering to the rhythm and making a full use of the stage in dancing to "Neeraja" in Kalyanavasantam. Nadoran Keerthi Pradeep was yet another contestant who had the advantage of good and well-recorded. music. Her dancing to "Nanda nandana" of Narayana Tirtha in ragamalika in such evocative ragas as Sriranjani, Dwijavanti, Kalyanavasantam and Madhyamavati made the grade. Little Janhavi Uttam Ubhe danced into everyone's heart with her joie de vivre in performing to a ragamalika. She was sprightly and danced like someone with years of experience. She got the loudest approbation from the audience. Nikita Subramani's was one more case with a dramatic ending (Purandaradas's "Narayana Hari" in Shanmukhapriya). Ami Mehta too danced the Natesa Kavuthuvam but ran into the time barrier. Ashwathi Pramod was among the few contestants who attempted utplavanas (jumps) to a medium height. Her song was "Ananda nadamidum padam" in Surati. 

It is noteworthy that all the songs were in Adi. At the current stage of their artistic development, youngsters would do well to concentrate on this tala with easy even numbered beats in angas before graduating to more difficult rhythms and cross rhythms. 

General remarks 
We are living in a fast jet age of instant idlis and capsule courses in many disciplines. So it is but natural for contestants to attempt in a short time a heavy item like varnam, which is the ultimate test of a Bharatanatyam dancer's prowess. But then they have to be judicious in selecting the sahityas and just try to give only a sample of each element like abhinaya, nritta, sanchari, etc. If one were to dance to a song with a reference to Dasavatara it would be difficult to cover all the incarnations within the stipulated time. The strategy should be to select a song where the sancharis could be cut down to a minimum. This reviewer had seen some participants doing this successfully in the previous years. Gurus should guide their students in this matter. 

The candidates are judged on the basis of their performances in different aspects, viz., abhinaya, adavus, rhythmic control, etc. The effective portrayal of abhinaya depends on expressive eyes or a mobile face. One has to be naturally endowed with these features. On the other hand, notwithstanding the concept of body language (kinesics of Laban), adavus are more physical than emotional and depend on the skill of the dancer in portraying them aesthetically and according to the sastras. The benchmark in this department of dance is anga shuddha. Inter alia, it refers to perfection in sthanaka, chari, hastakshetra, nritta hasta and mandala. After seeing the performances, this writer felt that gurus need to identify the strong and weak points in anga shuddha and concentrate on the areas where more intensive training is required. 

The importance of ending a dance item with a flourish was emphasized earlier. A dance artiste should be aware also of the impact of an electrifying entry to the stage. This writer still remembers, after a half century, the manner in which Kumari Kamala, as she was called then, used to make a dramatic entry perking up the audience. She would run around the stage like a deer with lilting steps and pay obeisance to the gurus, the other members of the orchestra and the audience. As in life, the first impression is often the last and lasting impression. Although today there may not be a nattuvanar on stage, the cassette or CD player having usurped his role, the artiste can still make the entry impressive a la Kamala. For example, a fast dancing entry would be more eye-catching than a slow stroll like one walking into a living room. Saushtavasthanaka in Bharatanatyam or Poorvarambham in Kuchipudi performed in the correct manner at commencement can be the first step to a successful performance. 

One of the benefits of attending music or dance competitions is that one comes to know of sahityas or ragas not heard before. It is an educative process not only for the general audience but also for the critic and the connoisseur. For example, this writer came to know about Natesa Kavuthuvam after seeing its performance at the contest. Kanaka Sabha should consider announcing the sahitya, raga, tala and composer before any contestant ascends the stage. This is all the more necessary when the recording of music or the articulation of sahitya is not satisfactory enough to identify the pallavi. 

The program was compered efficiently by Vidhya Mani. Registration for the contest was handled by Archana Shetty, Punitha Selvaraj, Rajeswari Nair, Muthulakshmi Nadar and Shivaranjani Moopanar. The food counter was in the charge of Bharati Moopanar and Muthulakshmi Nadar. Bhuvana Selvaraj kept time. The other volunteers were Sreelesh Nambiar, Chandrika Shetty, Nimisha Nair and Rumya Nataraj. Surekha Radhakrishnan and Sarikha Shetty were in overall charge of the program. 

Wrap up 
It was creditable on the part of the organisers to have made excellent arrangements for the smooth conduct of the proceedings without any hitch even though their gurus –Saroja Srinath and Dr. Siri Rama - could not be present due to other engagements in Singapore, where they reside. Of course, they were the invisible and long-distance guides to the organisers! The extent of participation saw a sharp decline from 90 last year to 34. 

Kanaka Sabha should reflect on the possible reasons thereof. This writer feels that May 3 was perhaps not the best time to attract youngsters when most of them would be having their vacations outside the city. Further, the long weekend (April 30 through May 3) due to holidays saw many in the city going out. This had affected the general election in the city too on April 30 when polling was marked by the voting percentage in the lowly 40s. Last year's timing (June 1) in the first week of June seems to be ideal. Many students would return by that time to the city to prepare for attendance at educational institutions in the new academic year. 

The author, an Economic Consultant in Mumbai, is a music and dance buff. He thanks Vidhya Mani, Surekha Radhakrishnan and Sarikha Shetty for the assistance received in getting the details of the competition.