ABHAI summer workshop
- Priya Murle
e-mail: pmurle@gmail.com

May 30, 2014

This summer, the weather god was kinder to the people of Chennai. With the onset of the ‘kathiri season’ we all usually experience the full impact of Surya Bhagavan. But for us dancers, members of ABHAI (Association of Bharatanatyam Artistes of India), come summer, it is time for us to soak in a great experience of learning (apart from soaking in perspiration), usually, a varnam from a guru, who shares his / her knowledge, time and process of creativity. In this we have learnt from gurus Prof. C.V. Chandrasekhar, Adyar K Lakshman, Kalyanasundaram Pillai, Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam, Prof. Sudharani Raghupathy, Chitra Visweswaran, M.V. Narasimhachari, Rhadha, Nandini Ramani, Alarmel Valli, Jayanth Kasthuar, Krishnakumari Narendran... to name just a few.
But this year, the committee and the President decided that the Abhivridhishala (a more comprehensive concept, where we strive to look at the art in many perspectives than the mere learning of items), should encompass something more than a varnam alone. So starting from 30th April 2014, the members young and old, were treated to a wonderful experience in the Summer Abhivriddhishala 2014. Dr. Ananda Shankar Jayanth with her knowledge and experience started the Abhivriddhishala with the younger members literally dancing to her tunes. Ananda taught the children an Annamaya Kriti, a Nithya Puja dedicated to Venkatachalapathy. Ananda split her sessions into two, where in one, she worked on adavus giving a new creative twist - exploring the space, helping children understand their bodies. The creativity flowed and Ananda even incorporated the explorations of the children in the piece which they learnt in session two. The children blossomed under Ananda’s guidance and they shared an enviable rapport with her.

With the success of that, it was the turn of the seniors. This time in the week-long Abhivridhishala sessions, we were treated to what I call a ‘creative coup’ of ABHAI! We learnt abhinayam from Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam, a tillana from Dr. Vyjayanthimala Bali. We interacted with Dr. Anita Ratnam, had a fun session of tala with K.S.R. Anirudha.  We also learnt about Falun-Gong.

From May 1- 3, we were treated to the nuances of abhinaya form Padma Subrahmanyam. Her delineation of Dharijuchu, the subtle knotting of the eyebrows, the use of eyes, the importance of feeling, of emoting was emphasized; it was an experience to treasure. With the mellifluous  singing of Gayatri Kannan, Padhukka taught us three pieces, helping us to explore the sancharis ourselves. The spontaneity of the expressions that flitted on her face was source of Ananda to us.

Then on 4th May, after the AGM of ABHAI, we had an interactive session with Dr. Anita Ratnam. In her short but impactful session, Anita emphasised the need for focus and perseverance. She spoke about the travails of the ‘manduka mudra’ while constantly using the mobile phones! The need for sacrifices to make forays into the artistic world globally. I know of many youngsters and seniors who were so inspired by Anita's experiences - those 20 minutes made a difference. We then had a presentation of Falun Dafa / Falun Gong, a high-level cultivation practice guided by the characteristics of the universe - truthfulness, benevolence and forbearance. The practitioners demonstrated a few exercises that would help us dancers.

Then came the fun - K.S.R. Anirudha dealt with intricacies of rhythm. In his presentation he brought out the concepts of our tala system, the syncopation of rhythm and its nuances in an interesting but fun way. It was like taking away the fear of a Mathematics paper! The Nandi kauthuvam was also demonstrated. But the icing on the cake was the ‘Salangai Mangalam’ (Jingle Bells) - our laughter ‘jingled like the jingle bells!’ He was assisted by Uma Namboodripad Sathyanarayana.

Then from May 5 - 7, we had the honour of interacting with the legend Vyjayanthimala Bali, who with her team taught us a tillana, a Thanjavur Shankar Iyer composition that she learnt from Kittappa Pillai. For all of us, interacting with such an artiste was THE experience of our lives. Her quickness, her attention to detail, her insistence on perfection of movements... one can go on. That dedication I realise is what makes a dancer an artiste, a legend. Her knowledge of music, the anga shuddham, the bends that she showed us with such ease....

The members at the end of the week took with them a treasure house of experiences, to reflect, to practice, to enrich... Thank you, President... Thank you, ABHAI.