Navarasa Maalika: A performance with a promise  
(On the 10th Anniversary of Nritya Saagaram Dance Academy, New York) 
by Vishnu Sharma, Toronto, Canada  
November 30, 2003   

Invitation to the annual celebration of Nritya Saagaram Dance Academy of New York has always been an exciting opportunity. Watching young steps explore the classical modes of Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi is uplifting. And when you experience the shaping spirit of Guru Satya Pradeep in its earnestness and intensity, you feel stimulated.  

 Satya Pradeep receiving the title from 
the Kanchi Kamakoti Seva Foundation 
To be present at the 10th anniversary celebration of the Academy at The Hindu Temple Auditorium, Flushing, New York on November 15th, 2003, involved my traveling all the way from Toronto. I am glad that I was able to make it. The rewards were immense. The presentation this time was radically different. The focus was not on showcasing the skills of certain students or typical traditional pieces. Satya envisioned and executed the whole event in a highly original and organic way. She wove a maalika or garland of Navarasas. She did it with great sophistication and imagination. The beauty was in selecting the episodes, sequencing them, and integrating the thematic content through the use of a Sutradhara or narrator.  

Aasish Cherukupalli, performed the Sutradhara’s role. A long time disciple of Satya, he has thrilled the audience many a time in the past. He was the nattuvangist too. He narrated in English and enacted in dance what the audience were to experience. The performance started with the invocation of deities of Vazhuvoor temple from where the style of Bharatanatyam originates. After the traditional prayer and Pushpanjali, the audience was invited to experience all the Navarasas starting from Shringaram and culminating in Shantam. Selection of episodes was thoughtful and the choice of participants was appropriate.  From the end result, it is amply evident that Satya did her homework and did it well.  

In Sringaram, we enjoyed the poetry of three languages – Sanskrit, Malayalam and Kannada in two facets of the rasa - amorous and vatsalyam. Satya herself enacted the archetype of eternal lover Dushyanta with her senior and talented student as Shakuntala. In Vatsalyam a little girl delighted us as baby Krishna. She interacted with captivating mother Yashodha. Satya also appeared in the role of Ravana in Bhibatsam sharing the action with Sita. I have been itching to see Satya in a dance recital, but here I saw the performance of the entire Nritya Saagaram family. Certainly a bonus. 

Images of Hindu deities in dance sequences are pretty familiar, but the choreography this time made some of them unforgettable. In Raudram, Durga showed all the 18 hands. In Adbhutam the churning of the ocean by Devas and Asuras culminated in Parvati stopping the poison at Shiva’s throat. And the song Chandra Chooda in ragam Sankarabharnam initiated the devotees into a sense of wonder. In Bhayanakam, gopis spot a silver boat on the horizon, enter into it, and then encounter a torrential storm to learn a lesson in humility. These are composite images revealing the detailed work done on rhythm, music, movement, poetry and costuming. The Shantham based on prayers from the Jain tradition for peace and harmony was the right culmination of the show. It moved the audience intensely. The slide show of various symbols of peace enhanced the effect. The message of peace came out loud and clear. Thillana in ragam Brindavana Saranga followed by mangalam had its own surprise in the brilliant stage pictures and high quality choreography. The concept for the ballet was given by T K Govinda Rao. 

The music composition and vocal recital by the celebrated artist Saavitri Ramanand evoked emotions and articulated the spirit of each dance episode. Her melody and technical resources effectively guided each step and each gesture of the young dancers. Her music helped them to identify with the objects of their expression. Murali Balachandran on mridangam, Bala Skandan on violin, Radhakrishnan on flute, and Pavithra Sunder on keyboard were simply magical.  

To give an extra dimension to the performance, Satya invited Dr. Kiran Bedi, a highly vibrant and deeply committed personality to preside over the function. To quote her...  “ I am absolutely impressed with Guru Satya in whatever I heard and saw today. Satya, you are perpetuating and transferring the culture to both Indians and non-Indians alike. I am deeply touched. You have created an India here. I do believe that parents who invest in their children will reap rich rewards. In your missionary zeal of teaching dance, you are serving God, humanity and Indians. To the parents…you are good Indian parents… I feel the warmth, love, camaraderie and family spirit tonight. As parents, as Indians and as friends you are going to reap the benefits and this investment will make your children different and outstanding.” 

Dr. Kiran Bedi’s words of appreciation and encouragement came from her heart. In her speech, she addressed the collective psyche of India.   

The master of ceremonies for the evening Dr. Pradeep Gopalakrishna surely set the tone for the program. Mr. Rabindranath Panda, Consul for Education and Culture representing Consulate General of India, New York congratulated the dance academy in their efforts to present India’s heritage and culture in a sincere, authentic and appreciative manner. He stated that the performance distinctively stood out from other such performances. 

Satya Pradeep was honored with the title “Natya Kala Seva Ratna” by the Kanchi Kamakoti Seva Foundation of New York. The felicitations of the artists and the students are a crucial part for inspiring them. The standing ovation of the audience of 550 persons well versed in enjoying and appreciating classical arts and culturally well informed is something valuable. However, it comes with a price tag. Satya will have to continue to maintain the standard she has established thus far.  
Dr. Vishnu Sharma is a retired Professor of English from Punjab. He taught Hindi, and courses in Asian Literature in Translation at the City College, New York. He has abiding interest in performing arts. His experience in theatre and cultural interface has been significant and diverse. Presently, he lives in Toronto (Canada).