Natya Darpanam
- Manisha Murgude
Photos: Peter Varshavsky

December 26, 2005

On Dec 11, 2005, the audience in Sunnyvale Performing Arts Center was treated to a special performance entitled "Natya Darpanam" by Ashwini Ayanam. The show beautifully juxtaposed styles from two different schools of dance, one from the "Pandanallur" school, which adheres to the text Abhinaya Darpanam, and the other from "Bharatanrityam", created by Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam, which claims to come closest to the techniques described in the Natya Shastra. Ashwini has been learning Bharatanatyam from guru Nirmala Madhava for five years and she learnt Bharatanrityam from Sundari Santhanam, her guru in India. Even though her tenure under Santhanam was only three months long, Ashwini proved her versatility and demonstrated the differences between the two styles to perfection.

Pooja Deshpande, the hostess of the show started off the program with a story narration of the origin of the Natya Shastra and a brief introduction to the two schools where Ashwini had learnt.

The first dance was Swara Sangamam, in the Bharatanrityam style. This dance explored the parallels between the basics of dance and music. The musical content of this piece was the beginning scales of Carnatic music, which slowly developed into a song. Ashwini displayed an excellent understanding of rhythm, and in the opinion of the reviewer, performed very good justice to the dance style.

This was followed by two short pieces "Jayashree Vaikunta Mukunda," in the ragam Mishra Thillang, and "Chinanjiru Pen Polei," in the ragam Sindhubhairavi. These dances were also choreographed in the Bharatanrityam style.

The next item was the Varnam. In this half-hour-long piece, Ashwini depicted the popular incident between Markandeya and Lord Shiva. It was Ashwini's abhinaya that was the hallmark of this piece. She conveyed surely and succinctly the feelings of the Father, Mother, Markandeya, Lord Shiva and Yama. Ashwini's portrayal of these different emotions ensures her place in the same league as many of today's most popular dancers. The piece was in the Ragam Naattukurunji, and was choreographed by guru Nirmala Madhava. The piece, in the Pandanallur style, was an effective contrast to the Bharatanrityam dance style, and was very well received by all present. The Varnam was followed by a brief intermission.

Ashwini's next item was based on the 25th couplet of the Thiruppavai and on the story of Andal, an incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi. Again, Ashwini's excellent abhinaya shone through, as she nailed every emotion to perfection. It was based on the Rag Behaag, which was appropriate for the mood of the piece.

For the stellar Ragam-Tanam-Pallavi in the Ragam Bhairavi, the music was pre-recorded, yet challenging. The Raaga section invoked the various Gods that reside in various parts of the human body; in the Tanam section, Ashwini depicted the different incarnations of Vishnu. She displayed her mastery over rhythm, by being completely at home with the anuloma pratiloma variations in the Pallavi section. The Pallavi section elaborated on the story of Vamana, the 4th incarnation of Lord Vishnu. As much as the Varnam showed Ashwini's strength in abhinaya, this piece showed off her strength in nritta. It was in the Pandanallur style.

The audience was once again treated with a change of style as Ashwini performed "Chandana Charchita," an Ashtapadi written by Jayadeva in the Geeta Govinda. This piece described the romance between Lord Krishna and Radha, and once again brought out the best abhinaya from Ashwini. It was choreographed as a Rasaleela in the Bharatanrityam dance style by Sundari Santhanam, and was in the Ragam Yamuna Kalyani.

The final item was a Thillana in Rag Khamas, and Ashwini performed it commendably. The Thillana itself was a little slow, but was sufficient in bringing out the requisite variations in footwork.

In all, the performance, at the Sunnyvale Performing Arts Center, was a very successful one, and in the eyes of this critic, Ashwini has a very bright future in the art form.