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Dancing duo dazzles Dallas
- Prathiba Natesan

October 19, 2019

I was honored to attend Sugati by Viraja and Shyamjith Kiran a few weeks ago that was organized by Tejas Dance Company in Dallas. Viraja and Shyamjith duo have seen a meteoric rise since they graduated from Kalakshetra and have been doing their international rounds, especially in the US. The fact that they work hard is obviously evident in their form, poise, and professionalism but what keeps you engaged throughout their performance is also their sense of musicality and almost meditative approach to Bharatanatyam.

The duo began the show with Gajanana gajamukham, an invocatory piece in Ahir Bhairav. The mix of pirouettes contrasting with the form of Ganapathi showcased the brilliance of Shyamjith as a choreographer. This piece was filled with lithe, smooth movements and minimalist facial expressions that are typical of Kalakshetra bani. The next piece was called 'Rekha' that paid homage to the lines created by artists. The way the duo scaled the three-dimensional space was impressive. The lyrics were taken from Kalagnirudra Upanishad. The piece focused on lines and bhasmam. However, sometimes the 'rekhas' were confusing because it became difficult to trace the lines made by the artists. Nonetheless this was a very energetic piece that cemented their command of nritta. Viraja's energy matched Shyamjith's calmness throughout these dances. The dancers also made very good use of the space. The choreography by Shyamjith was definitely innovative.

The third piece was a solo by Viraja on Kunti, choreographed by Guru A. Janardhanan. Standing in stark contrast with the previous piece whenever the singer sang mahane, one's heart was wrenched. This piece was followed by Shyamjith's solo which was a Tulsidas bhajan choreographed by Sheejith Krishna. Quiet energy reigned throughout the piece. A classic Sheejith Krishna choreography, this piece exploited Shyamjith's body language and nritta capabilities to the fullest. Sometimes I wished the aridhis were more filled with nritta instead of just abhinaya in some places. Somehow that seemed to slow down the pace of the piece. There was clearly some Kathakali and Kathak influence in this piece which gave it a new dimension. The jathi/korvais were well executed. Crisp clear lines of course, marked that typical Kalakshetra product.

The penultimate piece was a duet, Ashtapadi, choreographed by Odissi dancer Madhavi Mudgal. The soft and mellifluous song and dance perfectly complemented each other. The duo had taken the basic choreography of Madhavi and adapted it to Bharatanatyam seamlessly. The finale piece was a unique thillana by the master composer Balamuralikrishna. This piece was choreographed by Shyamjith and showcased the duo's energy with absolute precision. Set in ragam Garudadhvani, the "konashtai" (naughtiness) that is hallmark of Balamuralikrishna in the anupallavi was only matched by that of the choreography. An extremely energetic piece like a 10000-wala pattasu (firecracker) was a befitting end to this beautiful margam by Viraja and Shyamjith, who I hope will continue to grow and flourish as artists.

If I have to point out one thing that could be improved in this show it would be Viraja's outfit. The Bharatanatyam costume already has a tendency to make women look bigger than they are. I wonder why Viraja chose an outfit where the dhavani was not tucked in and the pyjama made in dhoti style. This did not flatter her beautiful figure. The earthy colors were beautiful but sometimes made the show look duller than it really was. In sum, do not miss this dazzling duo!

Dr. Prathiba Natesan (Batley) is the founder chairperson of Eyakkam Dance Company, a non-profit organization in Dallas, TX. Trained in the Kalakshetra style of Bharatanatyam by Guru Preethi Menon, she is also trained in Kathakali and body conditioning by Kalamandalam Udayakumar Ashaan.

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