Rich, traditional and soulful – a treat by Krithika Rajagopalan
- Usha Raghavan
Photo: Andy Chang

August 30, 2014

It was a weekend in August in New York City. The atmosphere was already festive given that the city was celebrating the Indian Independence Day. With the added occasion of Janmashtami that night, I was especially looking forward to an afternoon of Bharatanatyam organized by Navatman – the go-to center for classical Indian performing arts in New York City, which was hosting Drive East, an annual dance festival that aims to create a buzz by bringing the South Asian performing arts to the forefront of New York City’s artistic landscape. The flyer had names of about 40 musicians and dancers performing in this weeklong festival. Walking to La Mama Theater in the heart of the Lower East Side of Manhattan, I did not realize that I was going to be blown away by what was in store.

Having seen quite some Bharatanatyam performances in the US, I was eager to see Krithika Rajagopalan, a well-known dancer from Chicago. The very selection of compositions went to prove what a seasoned dancer she was. From her production ‘Divine Equations’ she had chosen 4 compositions, which included Oothukadu Venkatakavi’s compositions on Krishna, in celebration of Janmashtami. The vibrant invocation and the kriti that followed were rich and bhava laden. ‘Vishamakara Kannan’ had folk elements. It was rendered elegantly and with a light classical touch. 

It was the last composition ‘Enna punniyam seidheno’ that was the highlight of the entire performance that touched my heart. Krithika performed this masterpiece by Oothukadu in Reethigowla ragam and misra chapu talam with great depth and intense bhava. Having internalised the kavyartha, padartha and vakyartha came flowing like waves in her abhinaya. Set to tune for dance by Chitravina Ravikiran, each line of the sahithya had musical interludes. Krithika’s elaboration of the sahithya for each interlude made the piece more interesting and individualistic. For example, her every hand gesture and mukhaja abhinayam for the lines “Vaadiya payirukku peyyum mazhai poley Valar mullai kodikku oru kozhukidaithar poley” had multi-layered expressions that were rich and soul-stirring. As we saw the composition unfold, there was a sense of calm in the hall as if everyone were fully immersed in the spiritual experience.

It was interesting to note that the audience was diverse. Yet, Krithika had chosen to perform compositions as she would do in any festival in Chennai – the performance was deeply traditional. After her show, there was a stillness as if the audience were savoring the experience and didn't want to let it fade away, as if wanting for more. It goes to show that, if done well, there is always an audience for a traditional performance, be it in Madras or Manhattan!

Kudos to Sahasra Sambamoorthi, Sridhar Shanmugam and their team at Navatman, for inviting such seasoned artists. 

Usha Raghavan, Director, Kalasagara UK, hails from Chennai. She learned Bharatanatyam under eminent gurus Adyar Lakshman and Kalanidhi Narayanan. A postgraduate in Indian Philosophy, Usha is a dancer, choreographer and teacher currently residing in London.