Lavanya Ananth's recital replete with impeccable movement
- Kalyani Giri

May 31, 2011

With a performance born of soulful spirituality and an intrinsic understanding of her craft, accomplished young award-winning dancer from Chennai, Lavanya Ananth enchanted a capacity audience in Houston at the Kaplan Theater, Jewish Community Center, with an outstanding Bharatanatyam recital. Jointly hosted by three local organizations Bharathi Kalai Manram, Samarpanam and Silambam on May 22, 2011, the presentation Nrithya Samarchitha meaning An offering through Dance, bore testimony to Ananth's prowess as a choreographer of note and was a study in the adherence to tradition, lyrical grace, and eloquent facial expression. Ananth's visit to this city was part of her nationwide concert/workshop tour; traveling with her was a formidably gifted live orchestra, also from Chennai, whose artistic cohesion with the dancer made for a culturally enriching experience. A disciple of luminaries in the exalted ilk of SK Rajarathnam Pillai and Guru KJ Sarasa in the majestic Vazhuvoor style of dance, Ananth also came under the expert tutelage of the doyen of abhinaya, Kalanidhi Narayanan.

Ananth began with Nrityanjali followed by the Amba Sthuti that described the goddess Devi in all her winsome beauty and incarnations. Replete with arresting poses and meticulous hand and foot movements, Amba Sthuti accorded the dancer a broad landscape to showcase her finesse at abhinaya. Ananth's next piece, Swamiye Azhaithodi Vaadi, an exacting varnam penned by the maestro KN Dandayuthapani Pillai, told of a maiden's yearning to be united with her beloved Lord Nataraja, the Cosmic Dancer. Through a complex lexicon of expressions and hand gestures, the heroine cajoled, begged, and scolded her friend to hasten her on her way to bring Lord Nataraja to her. Interspersed with interludes of pure dance in impeccable rhythm, and excerpts of elaborate storytelling, the dancer drew parallels between the heroine's longing for her celestial lover and the soul's yearning for salvation. The dancer's poetic interpretation of the varnam drew attention to the hypnotic timbre of vocalist Murali Parthasarathy's voice as he segued through the garland of ragas effortlessly and empathetically.

The Devarnama was an engaging composition by poet Purandara Dasa telling of the gopis' many questions regarding the divine child god Krishna. Was he really a child, they pondered? How could that be when he flirted with them and asked impertinent questions that discomfited them? Perplexed, the gopis discuss Krishna, telling of his mischievousness and oftentimes risqué behavior. Then one of the gopis reveals that Krishna appeared to her as Lord Purandara Vittala, the deity of the village and a form of Lord Vishnu. The towering Ardhanarishvara Sthuti vividly displayed Ananth's felicity for conveying moods and emotions through the whisper of a smile or the errant lift of a brow. In her portrayal of the composite androgynous form of Lord Shiva and his consort Parvati, Ananth dramatically articulated the glowing, scented, melting grace of Parvati in contrast to the vigor, energy, and ash-smeared Shiva. She ended her recital with the rousingly patriotic ode to India, Vande Mataram, and drew a standing ovation from an audience of art lovers and respected classical dance teachers in this city.

A critically acclaimed dancer, Ananth ranks among the dance elite in India today, a status very tough to achieve in the competitive field of the arts. Among many honors, she was a recipient of the prestigious Ustad Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskar award from the Sangeet Natak Akademi in 2007. Her inordinately gifted accompanists along with vocalist Parthasarathy included nattuvanaar S Srilata, violinist R Kalaiarasan, and mridangist MS Sukhi who created the music arrangements for the performance. Seated proudly in the audience was Houston-based medical doctor Shobana Chandrasekhar, Ananth's older sister, also a gifted dancer; back home in Chennai, the sisters often performed together.


June 4, 2011

I have a few questions for Kalyani Giri.

What is "felicity for conveying moods"? How can we establish its presence?

How does she see whether a performance is born of soulful spirituality or of something else?

What were the signs that the capacity audience at the Kaplan Theater was enchanted?

In what was Lavanya's performance outstanding. What exactly was there in An offering through Dance that bore testimony to Ananth's prowess as a choreographer of note?

What were Lavanya's most memorable eloquent facial expressions, and where are these photos (or videos)? What exactly showed her finesse at abhinaya?

What were the arresting poses?

What is the difference between a formidably gifted orchestra and merely a gifted orchestra? What is the difference between "formidably gifted" and "inordinately gifted"? How can we see it?

Who else does she consider as "luminaries in the exalted ilk"? How did the ilk become exalted and the luminaries start to shine?

Are other Bharatanatyam banis less majestic? What is there particularly majestic in the Vazhuvoor style?

Did she succeed in portraying the maiden's yearning to be united with her beloved Lord Nataraja, and whether she was using any of the 108 karanas that Nararaja is seen in? How did she manage to do it at Murali Parthasarathy's voice despite Bharata Muni's indication that only women vocalists should accompany dance performances?

What makes a dancer "critically acclaimed"? Who are the ones who rank among the dance elite in India today?

Can a dancer (like me) whose face may not qualify for being published in fashion magazines successfully portray Devi in all her winsome beauty?

Thank you for clarifying my humble doubts.
Ashwini Shankar