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IDIA 2022 - a spectacular dance festival
- Poornima Ramaprasad
Photos: Anubhava SJ

November 4, 2022

San Francisco Bay Area is one blessed place when it comes to Indian music, dance, drama, and other cultural events. The number of artistes and art connoisseurs who ardently support such events is astounding and second to none. The annual event IDIA, which stands for "I Dance, hence I Am", as the name aptly suggests, was started by a group of passionate Bharatanatyam dancers for the cause of the art form. The mission of IDIA is to bring on-stage performances and scholarly lecture demonstrations of highly talented artistes from all over the world. IDIA has been successful in influencing the younger generation by kindling interest in those that are enamored, creating passion in those that are interested and bringing on stage those that are serious practitioners. This was their 5th year and one could not miss noticing the exponential growth year after year and the increase in the engagement of younger dancers, who are the torch bearers of the art form in the coming decades.

IDIA 2022 was a three-day hybrid event from August 19th to 21st, with first two days being fully virtual and third day being in-person. The virtual events started with beautiful intro music along with their logo on a virtual stage, with welcome messages by Ganesh Vasudeva and Kavitha Thirumalai, who are the heart and soul of IDIA. They also provided appropriate introduction to the artistes and explanation of their items making for a pleasant viewing experience.

Day 1:
The first day was completely dedicated to junior artists, who have studied the art form for several years with learned gurus in the US, performed their solo debut and are continuing their learning and practice.

Segment 1:
This segment had five junior artistes perform one after the other, together making a good mix of items.

Divya Sridhar, a disciple of Navia Natarajan, presented one of the most popular padams that dancers love, Ananda natanam aaduvar thillai in raga Purvikalyani. Divya took several interesting poses of Lord Shiva for each of the svara prasthaaras. Choreography was good and Divya had an expressive stage presence, proving herself as a seasoned student-turning-performer.

Svara Deshmukh
Svara Deshmukh

Svara Deshmukh, a disciple of Chethana Shastry, danced to another dancers' favorite number, Purandara dasa krithi "Aadidano Ranga". She made it quite an elaborate one with raga and taana in which she showed meaningful sancharis of the story of Krishna and Kalinga, the snake. She showed a playful Krishna for the raga segment and the dreaded, multi-hooded snake Kalinga in the taana segment. This was followed by an upbeat dance for the song. Choreography by Ganesh Vasudeva was quite a novelty.

Sahitya Sridhar, a disciple of Sreelatha Suresh, performed the second half of a ragamalika varnam on Lord Ayyappa. The unusual jatis and the briskness of the second half, made it a winner.

Srividhya Chandramouleeshwaran, a disciple of Janani Narayanan, presented "Pradosha samayadi" by Padmacharan. Srividhya proved herself as an established dance student gracefully executing a very athletic choreography for the Shiva Tandava and a sensitive enactment of poet Padmacharan's meaningful sahitya. It was a beautiful item, musically intriguing too.

Swati Pramod Hegde, a disciple of Surabhi Bharadwaj, presented the finale of this segment of the event by performing the thillana, in which she showed the tandava of Shiva and lasya of Parvati equally gracefully. Her choreography had incorporated some intricate poses and karanas for the depiction of Parvati's lasya, which added beauty from the common audience's standpoint and some academism to the more learned ones. Choreography for this was by Surabhi Bharadwaj.

So, to say, even though this segment had items by different dancers recorded asynchronously, it was presented as a wholesome traditional margam, and was very enjoyable. With such immensely talented young dancers getting into the pool, Bay Area's dance scene is sure to flourish and take a new level.

Segment 2:
Vivek Ramanan
Vivek Ramanan

In the second segment, Vivek Ramanan, Bay Area's budding dancer and konnakol artiste, performed a short solo recital. He chose a lyrics heavy item from Lila Shuka's Krishna Karnamrta as the main. His youthful expressions for Krishna, the variety of expressions of his friends, the women folk, mother Yashoda and Kamsa (at the sight of Krishna) were one to remember. Ragamalika rendition of the verses with appropriate ragas to depict different emotions added wholesomeness to the performance. Vivek concluded his recital with a thillana in raga Nalinakanti, a laya heavy one composed by the mrdangam maestro Shaktivel Muruganandan. It was interspersed with many jatis complementing the abhinaya piece he did earlier. Vivek proved beyond doubt that he is a promising artiste and one to watch out for in the years to come. Kudos to IDIA for providing a platform for these young artistes.

Day 2:
Segment 3: Senior artistes' solos:

Day 2 started with the virtual performances of five of the leading Bharatanatyam gurus and performing artists of USA. Again, each of these artistes performed an item, which was strung to be a tasteful margam.

Sophia Salingaros, a leading practitioner who has performed across the country and abroad started this segment with her item - the 'Ganapati Talam'. Her strength was her clean and crisp footwork and perfect posture. She followed her invocatory piece with a Sankeerna chaapu alarippu which also, was in the theme of music. This gave a peppy start to the day.

Surya Ravi
Surya Ravi

Surya Ravi of Bay Area danced to a few verses from Leela Shuka's Krishna Karnamrta, starting with the sloka "Karaaravindena mukhaaravindam." The choreography tastefully interspersed complex swaras and jatis with this abhinaya item to make it a wholesome performance.

Next was Deepa Mahadevan, director of Thiruchitrambalam School of Dance in Bay Area. Deepa is a sensitive dancer and is famous for choosing relatable topics for dance, while maintaining its traditionalism. She danced for the varnam "Mohamaaginen" in Kharaharapriya, for which music and nattuvangam were lent by another Bay Area's esteemed artiste Snigdha Venkataramani.

Roopa Anand, yet another sought after guru and dancer of Bay Area, took the stage next for the item 'Devi Todayamangalam', in which she described Goddess Parvati, as the daughter of Parvata Raja, Goddess Saraswati as Veena pustaka dhaarini Vani and Goddess Lakshmi as Prasanna Murthy vittalanarasi, showcasing the nuances of sahitya and the divinity beautifully. Each stanza had good amount of nritta to display Roopa's versatility.

Surya Ravi
Nitya Narasimhan

Nitya Narasimhan, another ace dancer of Bay Area, concluded this segment with a bang, with a thillana in raga Poornachandrika, followed by a Notuswara in raga Shankarabharana. Nitya's deft movements made this a delightful Mangalam.

Segment 4:
Meenakshi Srinivasan
Meenakshi Srinivasan

Meenakshi Srinivasan, a leading artiste from Chennai, took the stage for Day 2 prime time. She is a key disciple of the Bharatanatyam stalwart Alarmel Valli and truly is the personification of perfection and grace. Meenakshi started the concert on a high note with a pushpanjali in raga Malayamaruta, followed by alarippu to an absolutely amazing nattuvangam by Jayashree Ramanathan along with vocals by Hariprasad K, mridangam by Vedakrishnan and flute by Shruti Sagar. This was followed by the varnam "Mohamaginen" in Kharaharapriya, composed by Dandayudhapani Pillai. For the audience, it was a repeat since the same item was performed by another dancer in the previous segment. Yet each was unique in some ways. In this varnam, the nayaka is Lord Shiva himself and the nayika is expressing how she misses him. When it is the divinity that she is in love with, there is a mix of sringaara and bhakti in it and Meenakshi aced in bringing out the most tasteful balance of the two emotions. Her aramandi, hand gestures and various poses were a treat to watch, although one could tell that it would have been way more enjoyable had it been in person.

The next item that Meenakshi presented was the perfectly dramatized Sita's Agnipravesham from Valmiki Ramayana. It was mesmerizing to see how she started and completed every expression and how graceful and flowing her emotions were while Sita gets ready to meet Rama after he had destroyed the vile Ravana. She is angry and grief stricken at the thought of Agnipravesha to prove her chastity and tells Rama that it is not befitting a virtuous person like him. The moment of Agnipravesha was divine with an array of devotional ragas including Vasanthi, Revathi, Hamsanandi among others and Meenakshi's saatvika abhinaya took us and drenched us in the world of Rama and Sita. This item sure was the highlight of the day and was one to remember for a long time. Meenakshi concluded the recital with a thillana in raga Desh, an ode to the motherland, a very emotional one that ended with the shanti mantram "Om Dhyauh Shantih", thus concluding the 2-day virtual convention, and leaving the audience in Shanti rasa.

Day 3:
Day 3 was an evening of in person events at the Cubberly Theater in Palo Alto. Evidently one could see how relieved people were, to have found some normalcy and attending an in-person event after the Covid pandemic. The theater was oozing with excitement as a big chunk of the Bay Area's dance fraternity was there anxiously waiting to watch the day's performances and casually chatting away and exchanging what they have been up-to over the past 2 years. Noticeably, there was a big crowd of second-generation Indians, who are going to be the torch bearers of this art form and everything Indian in the years to come, so in a way, this was a big win for IDIA.

Segment 5:
Nava Dance Theater
Nava Dance Theater

The first program on Day 5 was a dance drama 'Migrations' presented by an upcoming energetic group of dancers in San Francisco, called Nava Dance Theater, under the direction of Nadhi Thekkek. This presentation aimed at examining the thought of American Dream at a time when South Asians have been the target of hate crimes and when safety and stability is in question. The musical tried to show the 1965 Immigration Act and some inspirational stories since then, the constant dilemma of how Indian or how American are we and other such ideas. The presentation was abstract at some places and the generation that had personal experiences would be able to appreciate what was curated in the show. The dancers themselves were very good, so was the music and the group has a lot of promise and creativity in the years to come.

Segment 6:
Bhavajan Kumar
Bhavajan Kumar

Bhavajan Kumar, the name just brings an ear-to-ear smile, a big shout calling 'once more' and an awe of how perfect a dancer can be. Hands down, it was one of the best solo dance concerts I have ever watched and was the icing on an already delicious dessert - the three-day event IDIA 22. Bhavajan is an ace student of Guru Leela Samson and is one of the torch bearers of the Kalakshetra style today.

The concert started with the Tisra alarippu which led to a leisurely paced Viruttam on Goddess Parvati, in the ragas Kamboji, Sahana, Anandabhairavi and Suruti. Music by Vignesh Eshwar was soothing, the dance was music to eyes, so Bhavajan just set the audience's hearts on fire right there right then. This was followed by the soothing Lalgudi varnam in Neelambari which seemed like it was made just for him. He looked like Muruga personified in this item. The second half had the haunting arudi with lyrics "Come, come on the swinging peacock you beautiful Muruga" which had ample scope for taking poses and for some athleticism. The nritta in this was exquisite and seemed effortless.

Next item was the beautiful Jayadeva ashtapadi "Yaahi Madhava" in Sindhu Bhairavi, beautifully sung by Bhubaneshwar Misra. For Bhavajan, becoming the lustful Krishna or the coy Radha or the wise friend was a piece of cake. His expressive abhinaya brought the beauty of Jayadeva's lyrics perfectly.

The following item, the famous javali in raga Paras "Smarasundarangu nee sari evvare", garnered a 'once more' from the audience. In this, the nayika is so sure that her lover, the king of Dharmapuri, is the greatest and will come to her, where else would he go, he would never see another woman. There were subtle nuances for the dheera udatta nayaka and the svadheenapathika nayika which Bhavajan brought out so beautifully and evidently even to the casual viewer.

Bhavajan enthralled the audience in his concluding item, the famous Kalinga Narthana Thillana by Oothukadu Venkatakavi in Gambeera Nattai. The nritta was upbeat, jumpy and the story was elaborated magnificently leaving the audience contented yet wanting more, truly a befitting grand finale to the three-day event. Choreography for all items by Guru Leela Samson just topped every expectation. Nattuvangam by Sheejith Krishna was great.

Thanks to IDIA for doing such a grand scale event, and for telecasting it for rasikas worldwide.

Poornima Ramaprasad follows Indian classical music and dance forms. She reviews Indian dance and drama events in the San Francisco Bay Area from time to time.

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