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An alluring Bharatanatyam recital
- Manjari Sinha

September 19, 2022

Kalanidhi Dance, a non-profit organization committed to the preservation, propagation, and education of Kuchipudi, is an internationally recognized DC area dance school and dance company. Established by Kuchipudi exponent Anuradha Nehru in 2005 at Bethesda, Maryland with the mission to spread awareness and inspire appreciation for Kuchipudi in the US, Kalanidhi Dance, with branches at three locations now, has been striving towards its mission through artistic excellence, creative performances, high quality educational programs, and collaborations.

A special evening of Bharatanatyam by Bhavajan Kumar was presented at the artistic and spacious studio salon of Kalanidhi Dance, on the 5th of September, which is celebrated as 'Teacher's Day' in India. There could not have been a better way to mark this auspicious day for two reasons; first Bhavajan's dance Guru Leela Samson herself is groomed under the iconic teacher Rukmini Devi Arundale at Kalakshetra, the Gurukul she established to transmit the art of music and dance and secondly, Kalanidhi Dance was also established with the same purpose of transmitting Indian music and dance in this far away land by Anuradha, herself groomed under a legendary teacher like Guru Vempati Chinna Satyam.

Bhavajan Kumar

Alka Khanna, the Vice Chairperson of Kalanidhi Dance, welcomed the enthusiastic audience and introduced the artiste of the evening. Born and initiated into Indian classical dance in Canada, Bhavajan further pursued his passion for Bharatanatyam by studying in India under the watchful guidance of well-known exponents of the art form like Guru Leela Samson and Jyotsna Narayan. He is also trained in nattuvangam and vocal music under Bhagavatulu Seetharama Sharma. The brilliant Bharatanatyam performance that followed proved that Bhavajan has absorbed the art form in a holistic manner, cultivating the indispensable 'samskaras' that make all the difference in the performance of a mature dancer.

Both the adjectives used for Bhavajan Kumar in the invite, 'a sensitive, nuanced dancer' and a star in the making, came out to be literally true by the riveting dance performance by this gifted artiste. Opening with a Virutham by Varaguna Pandyan preceded by the Tisra Alarippu, Bhavajan established his credentials as a well-groomed dancer both in the technical and aesthetic aspects of Bharatanatyam from the very beginning.

Invoking Shiva, the Virutham "Anjal endra karathalamum" composed in Ragamalika, sung by Vignesh Ishwar and choreographed by Leela Samson was prefaced with an aalap in the auspicious ragam Nattai that continued even for the recitation of the mnemonics of Tisra Alarippu being recited/sung in the same raga. The crisp Alarippu with perfect lines paved the path for the Virutham translating the attributes of Shiva through picturesque poses like the uplifted hand promising protection, arms adorned with ornaments of the hooded serpents, his feet like the petals of the red lotus and anklets sounding music as he danced, the slim waist Parvathi incarnating his Ardha-Narishwara swaroopa, depicted with the artistic movements of the dancer's chiseled body endowed with innate grace.

Varnam, the main piece of the performance, was a Thyagaraja composition addressed to Rama, "Ela nee daya radu..." (Why do you not look at me with compassion in the hour of my need, O Lord?). This composition in raga Atana set to adi talam was very aptly chosen and choreographed by Leela Samson for her male disciple, instead of the oft seen varnams where one usually finds a nayika pining for her beloved. Bhavajan told us that this composition was found with notation by his Guru in the diary of Late Rukmini Devi, which she herself had performed in 1940. The varnam rendered by Bhavajan Kumar projected the requisite stylistic and interpretative foundation conveying his equal command on both, the technical aspect with electrifying jathis and abhinaya in bringing out the essence of devotion.

Bhavajan Kumar

Next came the ashtapadi "Yahi Madhava Yahi Keshava...." from Jayadeva's Gita Govindam, composed in ragam Sindhu Bhairavi and misrachapu talam by Pt Bhubaneswar Mishra and choreographed originally by Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra for Madhavi Mudgal's Odissi, which was re-choreographed in Bharatanatyam for Bhavajan by Leela Samson. With a melodious prelude on violin, marked by the Deepchandi Chhand on the percussion, it opened with the shloka "Rajanijanit...." depicting the eagerly waiting Radha for the whole night, before Krishna appears with tell-tale marks at dawn. Bhavajan's mobile visage and the ability to register the nuanced bhavas of a khandita nayika without any exaggeration were remarkable. Keeping in mind that she is none other than Radha, an uttama nayika who can't be aggressive, Bhavajan dealt with sensitive subtlety.

The famous Kalinga Narthana Thillana composed by Oothukadu Venkata Subbayar in ragam Gambeera Nattai and adi talam came as a comely contrast with its inherent vibrancy. The rhythmic gait changes in the varied arithmetical combinations of the Thillana gave room for its vigorous execution with an obvious display of delight and abandon in sheer physical enjoyment of moving technically to the demands of Bharatanatyam with fluidly and aesthetic beauty. Thirupugazh as mangalam in ragam Hamsanandi reached the recital to its serene climax.

The accompanying musicians who contributed to the melodious audio recording that enhanced the fascinating Bharatanatyam recital were Sheejith Krishna - nattuvangam, Vignesh Ishwar - vocal, Karthikeyan Ramanathan - mridangam, B. Ananthakrishnan - violin, JB Sruti Sagar - flute and Srimudi on veena. The flawless recorded music was mixed and mastered at Resound India by Sai Sravanam.

Manjari Sinha
Manjari Sinha has an M.A. in Sanskrit and Music, and trained in vocal, tabla, sitar and Kathak dance. She has regular columns in national dailies as a music and dance critic.

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