Apoorva Nritya Kala Sangamam 
- Sribala Wunnava, NJ 
e-mail: sribala30@yahoo.com 

January 10, 2010 

Sri Venkateswara Temple of Bridgewater, NJ (Hindu Temple Cultural Society)  organized a cultural program for their annual fundraising event called 'Traditional Classical Dances of India,' performed by teachers and students of top dance schools in NJ on November 14, 2009 at the Bridgewater-Raritan Middle School. The audience was treated to a spectacular show in which the classical dance forms Kuchipudi, Odissi, Kathak, Mohiniattam and Bharatanatyam were performed.  

The program started with Shibani Patnaik performing the invocatory item Mangalacharan in the Odissi style. This was a prayer seeking the blessings of Lord Jagannatha. Although Shibani was very graceful, a little more variation in the choreography would have made the performance more engrossing and less monotonous. 

Bharatanatyam by Suba Ramesh Parmar and students from Shubanjali School of Performing Arts was next. Suba performed the famous Thyagaraja krithi "Nagu Momu" in Abheri. The devotion of Thyagaraja was nicely portrayed in the item and Suba's expression in the Govardhana Giri Dhara episode and as Garuda in the “Khaga Raju” stanza was extremely good. Shubanjali students entered in the later half of the item showing the Dasavataras of Lord Vishnu. Choreography of this item, although simple had clarity and excellent synchronization. 

This was followed by a Kuchipudi presentation by Divya Dadi Yeluri and students of Nritya Madhavi School of Dance. The first item that was performed by Divya and her group was the famous Narayana Theertha Tarangam "Neela Megha Sareera." Divya’s abhinaya as Rukmini in the shloka “Kasturi Tilakam” was very involved and beautiful. The actual Tarangam began with the entrance of Krishna and other gopikas. Fast paced footwork and graceful movements set the tempo and soon viewers were enthralled to see Divya and all her students excel in the plate dance which was delivered by each and every one of them with authority and perfect coordination. The item was a pleasure to watch with picture perfect poses of Rukmini and Krishna with peacocks, cattle and Garuda. 

The second item performed by Divya and her students was "Jagadodharana," a Purandaradasa composition in ragam Kaapi. The bhavam of the composition “Mother Yashoda played with her little son Krishna thinking he was the Paramatma (which he was)…” was enacted very well in this elegant choreography. The three episodes where Krishna shows the entire universe in his mouth when mother Yashoda reprimands him seeing him eat mud, little Krishna liberating two Gandharvas when his mother ties him up, and Lord Krishna (The Parama Purusha) explaining the greatest philosophy in the Bhagavad Gita to Arjuna were depicted in the item. Divya as Ma Yashodha and her students in different roles together as a team brought out the beauty of drama and the poetry in dance… the essence of the dance form of Kuchipudi in Jagadhodharana – an item that established Divya’s choreographic genius. 

Bharatanatyam by Renuka Srinivasan's students from Tala Shruti School of Dance came next. The first item presented by Renuka’s senior student Deepti was a Malayalam Padam “Pani Mathi Mukhi Baale” in raag Ahir set to Misrachapu composed by Swathi Thirunal. In this item, the dancer narrated the expression of divine love towards Lord Padmanabha, succeeded in delivering the abinaya to a certain extent, but in some places even though the poses were good, the abhinaya was not conveyed totally. The second item presented by senior students of Renuka was a Thillana in Revathi, and displayed very good coordination. But the audience was a bit disappointed that Renuka Srinivasan did not perform with her students.  

Then it was Kathak by Rita Sharma and her students from Rita Dance Academy. Rita performed a fast paced Tarana with ease very gracefully. Her command on the dance form was easily seen during her spins and her fast rhythmic footwork. Rita’s students later performed "Hemant ritu aagaman." The tihai performed at the end by the students was good. If all students had shown equal level of expertise, it would have added more visual appeal to the entire Kathak performance. 

The Kathak performance was followed by Bharatanatyam/Mohiniattam by Divya Nayar and students of the Bharatakala School of Dance. Divya and her students presented an item named 'Colors of Krishna' in Kalyani. After a quick introduction of the episodes involved, the item started with the shloka “Santakaram..." in Mohiniattam style. Divya's entrance as Krishna behind the curtain and then Divya using the same curtain as upper cloth was different and interesting to watch. Choreography was good in Govardhana giri and Kaliya Mardana episodes. However, the order of the timing of the episodes could have been dealt with more carefully. Draupadi Vastrapaharana followed by baby Krishna killing Putana in the same item was not convincing to the viewers.  

Sudha Grover and students from Sudhamini Dance Academy performed in Odissi style. Sudha's students presented the famous Jayadeva Ashtapadi "Pralaya Payodhi Jale" in Ragamalika. The item started with Bhagavad Gita slokas and Dasavataras of Vishnu were depicted in the dance drama style. The ending poses of each avatar were very well choreographed, especially the poses were unique in the Narasimha and Vamana avatars. Sudha joined in the end and concluded the item with a slokam composed in the melodious Sindhu Bhairavi.  

Next was Bharatanatyam by Sudha Shekhar's students from Kalanjali School of Dance. Sudha's students performed "Muralini Goni..." varnam in raag Bahudari. The item started with a steady pose of Lakshmi Narayana resting on Aadi Sesha. In the first part of the varnam, the dancers concentrated on mudras and different poses. They were very confident and balanced in the poses. Choreography and execution of the Kalindi Mardana episode was fantastic. Footwork, tough movements and balancing of difficult poses were the strong points in this item. Audiences missed watching Sudha Sekhar perform along with her students.  

Swati Gundapuneedi and students from Siddhendra Kuchipudi Art Academy were the last to perform before Mangalam.  Swati with her students performed a very melodious and fast paced Chenchuruti Thillana that had some interesting episodes like Lord Krishna playing Holi and Hide and Seek with gopikas. The boy who danced as Krishna was very good in footwork and aramandi.  Because of the fast choreography, in most of the places the dancers could not finish their hand movements and footwork. Even though the choreography was innovative, lack of synchronization between the dancers made it look clumsy and hurried. The final walk of Krishna followed by Kalindi formation was good, although the end pose did not make total sense. 

Teachers performing Mangalam for the grand finale
As a grand finale, all the teachers came together on stage for the mangalam (Bhoomi Mangalam, the popular composition of Pt Ravi Shankar) and they received a standing ovation from a very appreciative audience. The mangalam performed by all the gurus of the top classical dance schools in New Jersey came as a surprise to the audience and was a real feast to the eyes. Being able to see the perfection in Bharatanatyam, beat of Kathak, subtle movements in Mohiniattam, softness of Odissi, dynamism and grace in Kuchipudi performed together on one stage was a scintillating experience to the connoisseurs. 

Krishnaiah Bikkina, Chairperson of the fund raising committee welcomed the 600+ audience, and the fund raiser raised more than $65,000. Madhusudan Rao Chava, Chairman, Board of Trustees (BOT) explained all the construction plans for the priest housing, community center and the temple expansion; Dr. Krishna Pamidimukkala, Chairperson, Public Relations, spoke about the temple’s struggles in getting the township approvals. Finally, Dr. Krishna Sastry Vanguri, Vice-Chairman, BOT, gave the vote of thanks.  

Sribala Wunnava is a dancer/critic based in NJ, USA