Arpanam - A global offering from the heart
- Suja Pillai
January 5, 2021
Conceived, conceptualized and curated during the global pandemic, Arpanam is an online dance series born from the heart of an artiste, presented by artistes extraordinaire with intentions to reach the hearts of art lovers across the world.
Dr. Sunanda Nair
Dr. Sunanda Nair is the founder and Artistic Director of Shruthilaya Institute of Fine Arts, Mumbai and Sunanda's Performing Arts Center, USA, which is now conducting classes for Mohiniattam in Kerala also. As an eminent Mohiniattam exponent, she believed she could facilitate a platform via her popular online channel for artistes allowing them to propagate the beauty of their dance. Additionally, this would bring them closer to their rasikas, who eagerly crave quality artistic immersion during this period. Arpanam seeks to fulfill its meaning - an "offering" - of a distinct and valuable platform and the outstanding offering of each dedicated artiste who shares their craft with devotion.
On October 26, 2020 the Arpanam series premiered with a dynamic duo of artistes including a Mohiniattam presentation by Vinitha Nedungadi and Bharatanatyam by Uma Satyanarayanan. Vinitha Nedungadi presented the Devi Stuti, Ranganayaki. Although Mohiniattam has started to break the pre-conceived notion that it must be limited to the confines of lasyam alone, it is still refreshing to be reminded of how the feminine energy can be portrayed with such depth and grace in this style. Vinitha carried us seamlessly through her movements; the deep bends and sways, so distinct of her style. Interspersed were moments of stillness in which she looked like a sculpture of the goddess herself. Her captivating eyes draw you in to the moment and pull you along her journey.The musical accompaniment and strong vocals of Kottakkal Madhu added to the ambience of the performance.
With Chitra Visweswaran on nattuvangam and as the choreographer of the next two items, Uma Satyanarayanan for her first piece, began with an Adi Shankara shlokam leading to the Ganga Kautuvam, continuing the theme of the divine female energies with her engaging performance. She is an artist who communicates with strongly grounded footwork and the most joyful expressions. Just as she perfectly woke us up from our pandemic slumber she moved on to her second presentation, the krithi "Sama gana lole". The distinct difference from the energetic first piece to this second, sweet, soulful depiction of Devi was an unexpected but wonderful transition. The surprises continued, as within the piece the interlude depicting Ardhanareeshwara was pure bliss. Again, the musical and vocal accompaniment cannot go unmentioned as they lifted the performance in every aspect.
If female energies took us by storm during Arpanam, on November 21, 2020 it was a trio of men who were to do the same for Arpanam 2. As the debate over the place of male dancers in classical Indian dance forms takes over in one corner, these dancers take center stage to confirm that art belongs not to any defined individual, but to any devotee who takes the plunge into its depths with sincere passion.
Beginning with the young and talented Kasi Ayola, we are witness to the world of Kuchipudi. Kasi presented the classic Bhama Pravesa Daravu choreographed by the late Dr. Vempati Chinna Satyam. Special mention must be said of the precise footwork Kasi demonstrated during the performance and the intrinsic dignity he brought to his portrayal of the proud Bhama. With a solid knowledge and aptitude for the foundation of Kuchipudi, the diversity and freshness he will be able to bring to the Kuchipudi style will be something to watch.
Shankar Kandasamy is an artist whose dance accolades span many styles and stages. Shankar presented the Surdas bhajan "Main nahin makhan khayo". A wonderful choreography, which delves into one of the purest relationships known, that of the unconditional love of mother and child and in this case, it is Yashoda and little Krishna. Shankar portrayed the innocence, mischievousness and energy of Bala Krishna with such full abound that it was impossible not to watch the entire piece without a smile, one that culminated with a chuckle at Shankar's embodiment of Krishna's antics at the end. It was second nature to bring the coy smile of Krishna's to life and was enough to melt every mother's heart.
The final performance was presented by Deepak Mazumdar, a spellbinding performer, who presented his Guru, Dr. Kanak Rele's Rama Viraha. It is most difficult to begin a piece set in the emotion of sadness as the audience has yet to reach that state with you, but with such captivating eyes, Deepak pulls you along the depths of despair that Rama must have felt when separated from Sita. The focused and sustained embodiment of this emotion weighs heavily on the viewer leaving us no choice but to feel every minute detail. The memories of Sita found along the way bring glimpses of happier times, but always with the angst of the current separation intact. It was the ending, in the way Deepak used a simple cloth, depicting Sita's Uthariyam that pierced the heart so forcefully. For a moment Rama was not holding just a cloth but was holding Sita again, and the sudden realization that she was truly gone was utterly heartbreaking, such was Deepak's total involvement.
The third in the Arpanam series was held on December 12, 2020 and featured again a trio of talent. It was a pleasant beginning with Purva Dhanashree who performed 'Choornika' followed by 'Pallavi' in the not seen enough form of Vilasini Natyam, revived by the internationally renowned Kuchipudi dancer and Guru Swapna Sundari. With such exquisite grace and lyrical prowess, Purva flowed effortlessly through the Choornika depicting the devotion to the goddess Devi, whose beautiful lotus feet can only be worshipped with the same lotus flower and whose neck must adorn the same lotus flowers. Such a lovely poetic depiction of devotion! The transition to the crisper nritta of the Pallavi was again natural to Purva as her connection to the form was evident and distinct. The unique step patterns, mudras and sequences were brought to life in a refreshing way and certainly Purva is one whose stage presence can take the reach of Vilasini Natyam far and wide.
It was again wonderful to see one of the younger generation's leading Kuchipudi dancers in Bhavana Reddy next. Even with her strong lineage under Gurus Raja-Radha Reddy, it is still important to see the growth and continued development she herself brings to this form. Bhavana certainly captures your eye with a majestic stage presence beyond her years and choosing a piece with Shiva bhakti allowed her to release an energy and firm footing at which she is a natural.
Arpanam 3 ended with the inimitable Roja Kannan. With much thought Roja Kannan named her presentation "Hari and Haran" already piquing the interest of the viewer. For the first part she began with Annamacharya's krithi "Sriman Narayana". It was a performance of tradition at its best, where music, abhinaya, adavus all cohesively existed in such a pure form. How many ways can Lord Vishnu be depicted without being repetitive? Roja showed us and with clarity and understanding she brought each lyric to life, in detail, cleanly with the purpose of ensuring the audience feels the devotion. Only such a seasoned artiste can achieve this. As one would hope, for Haran, Roja brought her focus to Lord Shiva with Thevarams on Lord Thygesa and the nine planets. Although Roja has beautifully introduced the piece with a spoken prelude, it must again be mentioned that her detailed abhinaya and dance movements bring not only the theme but also the meaning right into the hearts of those watching. She need not explain a word! A mark of someone, who has become one with her art, and continues to keep it alive for those lucky enough to catch a glimpse.
After just the first three episodes in this series, it is evident that Arpanam has successfully delivered its offerings to our hearts. Artistic surrender never ceases for these tremendous artists; so with open hands, I await to be drenched in more glorious dance with the upcoming Arpanam episodes.
Suja Pillai is a Mohiniattam dancer as well as an avid reader, speaker and writer about all things dance. A physician by profession, she devotes every spare moment to her dance training under Dr. Sunanda Nair and has co-founded the Mohiniyattam performance group, Sakhyam.