Dhananjayans in Birmingham, Alabama  
by Sreelatha Meleth 
August 8, 2003 

On June 28th 2003, the audiences in Birmingham, Alabama, USA watched spell bound as V.P.Dhananjayan and Shanta Dhananjayan flawlessly illustrated the depth and timelessness of Bharata Natyam.
The legendary couple was in Birmingham, to help Sheila Rubin, who was among some of the first students to graduate from Bharata Kalanjali, celebrate the 25th anniversary of her school, ‘Natyananda – the dance of India.’  

The Dhananjayans performed three pieces- Arunachalakavi’s Ramanataka keertanai ‘Ean Palli Kondeer Ayaa’ Raga Mallika Aadi Talam, ‘Radha-Madhavam’ and The Dasavatara Varnanaa, with Sheila Rubin. 

The first half of the show was devoted to the students of Natyananda, who ably demonstrated the Nritya aspect of Bharata Natyam, with four pieces, The Lotus Dance, The Nataraja Anjali, a Jattiswaram, and a Tillana in raga Shivashakti. 

V P Dhananjayan connected instantly with the audiences, when he came on stage singing “I am sixty going on seventy’ as a preamble to his description of Bharata Natyam as a timeless art form that has no age boundaries. He described Radha Madhavam, as a tiff between a husband and wife that everyone is familiar with, effortlessly bringing the 12th century Jayadeva poem into the current century and making the dance relevant to young and old alike. 

The couple have danced for so long and have been recognized in so many ways around the world, that anything one says about their performance has probably already been said in a number of ways and a number of times. It was a breath taking performance that beautifully demonstrated both the nritya and bhava aspects of Bharata Natyam. ‘It is an unforgettable experience’’ We will always remember this’, ‘ Did you see the expression on his face?’, ‘It was a beautiful program’, were just some of the phrases repeated a thousand times over by Indian Americans and  Non-Indian Americans alike.    The Bharata Kalanjali musicians complemented the dance with music that was a performance in itself.  The Dhananjayans along with their musical troupe were truly cultural ambassadors of India, demonstrating not only a timeless art form flawlessly but also demonstrating a confidence and affability that made the Indians in the audience proud to claim the same heritage as them. 

The program however was unique in a number of ways. It was the first time the Dhananjayans had performed anywhere in the South Eastern United States, although they have visited the USA annually for the last fifteen years. It brought together many groups both within the Indian American community, and among the dance community in Birmingham. The program was aptly named  ‘Celebrate Unity – Honor Diversity’. 
The theme of the show was demonstrated in the finale, which brought together Bharata Natyam dancers, Middle Eastern Dancers, African Dancers and Hispanic dancers in a rendition of song that fused ‘Vaishnava Jana to’, and ‘Raghupati Raghava Raja Ram’. The organization and planning of the program, which required a full year of active planning and a year of dreaming, also brought together diverse community groups.  The program was funded with grants from the Alabama State Council for the Arts, The Humanities Foundation, The Community Foundation, corporate sponsorships, and ticket sales.  Birmingham, Alabama, once known the world over for discrimination and racism, demonstrated on June 28th, that notoriety could be replaced by renown if enough people put their minds to it.