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Nrtyangana 2024
- Dr. Jayadev Raju & Kate Macdonald

June 11, 2024

Nrtyangana 2024, the vibrant first edition hosted by Adhvaya School of Arts, drew rasikas to the popular Shenkman Arts Centre on a chilly afternoon in Ottawa. Artistic Director Seena Nair, Adhvaya's founder, warmly greeted guests at the black-box Richcraft Theatre that boasts of an excellent stage, sound and light technical capabilities, and perfect sightlines for every spectator.

Established in 2019, the pandemic initially constrained Adhvaya to online learning. Six students, including three from neighbouring USA, studied Bharatanatyam virtually. From these humble beginnings, Adhvaya expanded into regular studio classes, and has blossomed into a well-organized institution of Bharatanatyam and allied performing arts. Adhvaya offers classes to a diverse group of children, young adults and mature students, currently at beginner and intermediate levels.

From the opening of the Alarippu in tisra jathi, eka talam, to the invocatory Mudakaratha Modakam, a hymn in praise of Lord Ganesha set to Ragamalika, adi talam, the rasikas were captivated with thoughtful and well-executed dancing. A Pushpanjali set to Neetimati ragam, adi talam choreographed by Ganga Thampi of Kalakshetra (Chennai) was featured next, and the first half of the programme concluded with Carnatic music composer and percussionist MS Sukhi's Thillana set to Hindolam ragam, adi talam. For a traditionalist, this pattern of presentation stands out as an alteration of the typical Margam sequence.

Nrtyangana 2024

Seena provided assurance that the change was intentional and necessary to accommodate various batches, and allow full participation of students in Adhvaya's first annual recital. It was apparent that the current students have yet to advance to learning complex and lengthy choreographies such as the Varnam, but their enthusiasm, fed by the creative and academic atmosphere that characterizes Adhvaya's mission, shone forth.

Dr Rashmi Venkateswaran, a tireless promoter of Indian arts, culture, and language in Canada, was the Master of Ceremonies for the programme. Dr Rashmi honoured this emerging dance institute's noteworthy efforts in both English and French (Canada's official languages). Her explanation of the meaning and nuances of the individual dances provided context for the music, narrative, and choreography. It was satisfying to know that Adhvaya promotes a curriculum-based theoretical understanding of Bharatanatyam certified by Akhil Bhartiya Gandharva Mahavidyalaya Mandal (Maharashtra). This allows students in Canada to test their competency through guidelines and ratings followed in India. For the academic year of 2023-2024, the students of Adhvaya took these theoretical tests according to their level (beginner or intermediate), and all successfully received certificates of achievement. Adhvaya cultivates professionalism through its Bharatanatyam training and simultaneously provides opportunities to explore other allied forms of Indian dance and physical/spiritual training such as yoga for a holistic learning experience.

Sanjay Sundaram, an accomplished and environmentally conscious architect based in Ottawa was the evening's Guest of Honour. In his address, he emphasized the importance of the arts as an essential medium for the communication of pressing issues such as climate change. Jeffrey Richstone, Vice-President of the Arts Network Ottawa, provided a description of the multicultural activities supported by this organization (currently amalgamating with the Ottawa Arts Council). Both Mr Sundaram and Mr Richstone praised Adhvaya, its founder Seena, and the students and their families for their continued effort in promoting Indian classical arts in Canada. Bharatanatyam, among other Indian classical art forms, has currently reached the fourth-generation of the Indian diaspora born in Canada, since its inception by the pioneer immigrants.

Nrtyangana 2024 - Thiruvathirakali

The programme continued with a Mallari in ragam Ghambira Nattai, chathusra eka talam. Excitement built as the dancers adhered to the progressive pace of the choreography. Next was Jathiswaram in Kalyani ragam, rupaka talam, to which the students demonstrated fluency in executing the adavus and their combinations. Adhvaya's advanced trainees then took the stage, offering a refined interpretation of Ambujam Krishnan's "Aadinaye Kanna" in ragam Mohanakalyani, adi talam, choreographed by the legendary Dhananjayans. The dancers confidently portrayed their deep understanding of the story depicting the playful Krishna and his gopis. This was followed by Thiruvathirakali, a folk dance from Kerala celebrating the collective strength of women. As the evening drew to a close, the Mangalam resonated with blessings: the auspicious conclusion of a programme overflowing with artistry and camaraderie.

Nrtyangana 2024 marked a significant moment for this young institute, an annual day to recognize the practical and theoretical achievements of Adhvaya's students. Seena's direction ensured a seamless progression of the programme from start to finish. The students demonstrated their passion, dedication, enthusiasm, and most importantly, discipline, in their dancing. Collectively, these beginner and intermediate level students excelled technically, maintaining mandala sthana (the half-sitting position), anga shuddham (posture), and nritta hasthas (supporting hand gestures), the hallmarks of the Bharatanatyam technique. Seena's mentorship was evident throughout, but was surely highlighted by her students' expressive abhinaya. Their technical and expressive prowess on stage, combined with the success in achieving theoretical certification, gave the students accomplishments to celebrate. Adhvaya sets a high standard with its commitment to promoting Bharatanatyam as an experiential art form, and not a mere curricular activity for its students.

Nrtyangana 2024 provided the rasikas and patrons, especially from the Indian diaspora with a moment to reflect on the impact that such schools are making in Canada. Scholastic training of classical Indian dance in Canada is opening the door to an immersive experience of culture, tradition, language, music, philosophy, and literature. This contributes to the building of high-calibre Canadian artists, augments professional development in dance, promotes career opportunities in the performing arts. Additionally, it gives credibility to such trained dancers applying for operating and training grants funded by arts, culture and heritage organizations.

Thus, Adhvaya's scholastic underpinning and such educational systems contribute to shifting the formative paradigms of pioneer Gurus, immigrant teachers, and artists who have in the past depended heavily on overseas resources, to equitable, diverse and inclusive services and materials that are generated within our borders.

Opting for using a theatre for school recitals is a positive trend in Canada and elsewhere; it helps students to gain confidence on stage, and creates the possibility for them to participate in multicultural arts and heritage events. In the nation's capital, opportunities are opening up to showcase our Indian arts in venues such as the iconic Parliament Hill, Ottawa City Hall, the High Commission of India engagements, and the Shenkman Arts Centre. Adhvaya's ticketed programme attracted a full house of patrons and rasikas. Ticketing such artistic events is essential in defraying the considerable costs involved in staging an event.

Adhvaya's approach is commendable as it supports the collective call from all Gurus, teachers, artists, and dancers for a culture change to eliminate the prevailing stagnancy of patronage to Indian classical arts in Canada. Times have changed. There is a growing demand for Indian classical arts in Canada, but yet systems such as academic endowments, scholarships, training grants, and performance incentives, and production support are insufficient to meet this demand. The current patronage is centred from the Indian diaspora to support their cultural exposition. So, investing in classical arts by providing financial stability is critical for the sustenance within the diaspora, and furthermore would promote Indian classical arts to the mainstage of Canada. Multiculturalism is the buzz word in Canada; however, there is a paucity of the Indian culture and its classical arts in the mainstages of Canada. A main reason could be that there is little sponsorship or patronage that support art organizations at the mainstages to influence programming of the Indian classical arts. Thus, like in India, both the diasporic and mainstages of Canada would benefit from a sustained patronage where classical arts such as Bharatanatyam is recognized as a transformative media of exploring themes and a powerful form telling stories.

Nrtyangana 2024 was well-attended by elders from the Indian community: patrons, dancers, Gurus and rasikas were treated to a traditional array of Bharatanatyam choreographies presented by this relatively new institute of dance in the nation's capital. The Adhvaya School of Arts is a testament to the benefits of nurturing the next generation of dancers and fostering their sustainable future in Canada, and is an accomplishment in the diaspora united by a shared love of Bharatanatyam and the Indian arts. Nrtyangana 2024 was thus a success - artistically, culturally, and communally!

Nrtyangana 2024 - Seena Nair
Seena Nair

Seena Nair began training in Bharatanatyam under the tutelage of her aunt and Guru Ratnam Janardhanan. She performed her debut full-length solo performance (arangetram) at 14 years of age, and subsequently obtained senior proficiency in Bharatanatyam by receiving the Alankar Poorna title from Akhil Bharatiya Gandharva Mahavidyalaya Mandal (Maharashtra). Seena pursued her studies in Bharatanatyam by attending outreach programmes offered by noted Gurus, including Ganga Thampi (Kalakshetra), Shobana Bhalchandra, and Narthaki Nataraj. Seena has been teaching for over 15 years and continues to impart her knowledge to students enrolled at the Adhvaya School of Arts. She is currently serving as president of the South Indian Cultural Association, in addition to being an advisor to several arts and community groups in Ottawa.

Kate Macdonald and Dr Jayadev Raju
Kate Macdonald ( and Dr Jayadev Raju ( are Ottawa-based active practitioners of Bharatanatyam and yoga. Both have significantly contributed to several productions and festivals promoting Indian arts and culture in Canada.

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