Dallas audiences thrilled by two great performances
- Prathiba Natesan
e-mail: prathibachaj@gmail.com

November 13, 2011

Shijith Nambiar

This Fall has truly been a visual treat for Bharatanatyam lovers in the Dallas metroplex! Recently, we were treated to two amazing performances by Shijith Nambiar and Rama Vaidyanathan! The two performances could not have been more different and yet both were captivating.

While both performances were filled with energy, the moods set by the two artistes were very different. I had seen Shijith dance with his beautiful wife Parvathy Menon and was unsure what to expect from his solo performance. It was a revelation! While the duo’s performance usually leaves you impressed by their chemistry, the solo performance left me impressed by Shijith’s display of how far one can build upon the traditional repertoire.

The highlight was the long version of nattakurinji varnam, chalamela leaving the audiences asking for more. While shorter varnams (20 mins) are becoming the favorite of several dancers (thanks to the attention span of today’s audiences), Shijith had taken upon himself the challenging task of executing a 45-minute varnam with such grace that we were caught in a time warp that made me wish the varnam were longer!

The mridangist in him shone brilliantly as he executed each theermanam and aridhi with a different twist. The camaraderie that he shared with the mridangist was moving as they smiled at each other with the completion of the theermanams and aridhis, giving an almost Kathak-like atmosphere where the dancer and the percussionist exhibit a unique rapport. The finale piece on Ardhanareeswara showed an excellent transformation from the sloka into the thillana. The ardhanareeswara piece, I believe, was choreographed by Leela Samson, which was absolutely brilliant! I am so happy to witness the experimentation of different movements in Bharatanatyam without losing the essence or the syntax of the dance form, which brings me to Rama Vaidyanathan’s performance.  

The first thing that impressed me about Rama when I watched her videos online was how strongly she portrayed women. Frankly, I have often wondered how Bharatanatyam, a field that is replete with female dancers, has thrived (and continues to thrive) on the nayika waiting, longing, pining, wasting away for her lord. Do we not have any other kind of women? After Alarmel Valli, Rama was the first artist I saw who portrays women as strong personalities. Case in point, her excellent depiction of the heroine in Sadhu maatalu. I can never tire of this item of Rama’s for her nayika shows love for Krishna, at the same time displays strength as woman, and dares to click her fingers asking him to leave without showing anger.

Rama Vaidyanathan

The highlight of Rama’s performance was her item on Mahishasura Mardhini that also included an alarippu. She seems to have a unique knack for innovative choreographic creations of alarippus. Interestingly, Rama’s finale was also the same Ardhanareeswara slokam that Shijith performed, but choreographed very differently. I cannot tell which one was better, because both were good and different. Her aramandi seems to get better with every performance (and I thought it was already quite good), something that continues to strike me with awe! My only complaint is I wish I could have heard the singer better. I love Indu Nair’s voice and singing. Maybe I was sitting too close to the stage that the mridangam and the nattuvangam overpowered the voice or maybe it was the microphones. On a more personal note, I did miss GS Rajan’s flute that so gives a different flavor to Rama’s performance, although the orchestra was excellent!

Something that has been bothering me for a while with the audiences here is how they feel compelled to applaud for everything. They applaud after every jathi which, frankly, disturbs the flow of the item. They applaud after every swaram. Sometimes, they applaud after every aridhi! They even applaud after every announcement. Applause loses its meaning in this process and becomes mechanical! I understand the need to encourage the artiste. But there is a fine line between such appreciation because of the performance and a compelling need to clap. The artist will still understand the rasika’s appreciation if they applauded at the end of the performance. At that moment on stage, the applause is the last thing on the artiste’s mind.

The jaw-droppingly gorgeous Rama and the simple-looking Shijith taught Dallas several things which I hope our NRI parents and their children will understand. In an era where arangetrams seem to be conducted on scales larger than weddings, and costume changes/stage decorations seem to be given more importance than the actual dance itself, serious commitment and extensive practice are what matter, finally.

Prathiba Natesan is a Bharatanatyam and Kathak dancer. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Statistics and Measurement at the University of North Texas.