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Text & pics: GS Rajan

February 4, 2012

Janalamini is not the name of a raga but the new foursome in Bharatanatyam.

The madness in divinity one experiences during Chennai's music and dance season often makes one think a lot even after leaving the city. It stays for long and perhaps till next season. Bharatanatyam with its unending vocabulary gives thinking dancers enormous ideas in experimenting and innovating without forsaking the basic foundation and classicism.

Interestingly, many popular and successful Bharatanatyam dancers have also undergone training in Odissi, starting with the first diva Yamini Krishnamurti to a couple of present day divas Alarmel Valli and Malavika Sarukkai.

Navia Menon

Janaki Rangarajan

Lavanya Ananth

Rukmini Vijayakumar
(Photo courtesy the artiste)

The choreography and powerful presentations of Malavika Sarukkai, Priyadarsini Govind and Rama Vaidyanathan have influenced many dancers of the new generation. Some also follow the new entrant to top category, Mythili Prakash, closely. However it was interesting to note that some of these new generation dancers have finally come out from their shells with a fresh individual approach and with their own choreography, which in turn has brought them recognition. Though there are many highly talented, hardworking and creative dancers ready to carry forward the responsibility from the current divas, I took notice of four serious, dedicated and thinking dancers. They are Janaki Rangarajan, Navia Menon, Lavanya Ananth and the firebrand Rukmini Vijayakumar. Thus, I have come out with a new short form - Janalamini - made up of their four names. I hope to see these four dancers conquering the Bharatanatyam dance scene from now on.

Janaki after undergoing thorough training under Padma Subrahmanyam, worked on herself to portray emotions and nritta through her own handling of the language. This is the best attempt a dancer can make to have artistic satisfaction. I saw the same kind of approach in Navia's and Lavanya's performances. Rukmini however has not featured in Chennai's season shows. Perhaps she is not bothered about competing in Chennai as she is already popular in the West and dancing on most prestigious platforms across the world. Incidentally, all four in Janalamini have connection with USA.

And why do some stand out? Because of their dedication and thought process, searching out old texts or getting lyrics written which suit their style, working closely with music composers, having practice sessions and discussions, creating their own choreography, incorporating suggestions from a light designer and many other factors that help a dancer get noticed.

GS Rajan is a top ranking flautist, composer and arts administrator. (

"Strangely most of these most promising Bharatanatyam dancers all have associations with USA" is what the author wrote in 'Season times' on January 13, 2011, and he keeps harping on the same lines again.

Do you understand how and why GS Rajan could take notice of only "four serious, dedicated and thinking dancers" who all four have connection with USA? Do "some stand out" because GS Rajan spends a lot of time touring in the west and playing for those same dancers (or their friends) who he then tries to write about, hoping to get more accompanying invitations? While I concede that the flautist may know something about playing the flute, what qualifies him a Bharatanatyam critic?

How is being "popular in the West and dancing on most prestigious platforms across the world" related to the "divinity one experiences"? Was it their search for divinity that brought them that "connection with USA"? "The madness," yes, but any claims on divinity need to be taken with a pinch of salt. One look at the Bharatanatyam videos on YouTube will prove that today "prestigious" is not the same as "popular."

Janaki Rangarajan is perhaps the only one among the four who had the most extensive training in the dance form that bears some resemblance to the divine dance. But her performances of many karanas were far from perfect at her best and certainly lack the "outstanding flexibility in her body movements."
(From his comments, it is clear that GS Rajan has never watched any good rhythmic gymnasts or acro dancers).

Rukmini has not featured in Chennai's season shows? Well, Rukmini Vijayakumar became famous in the same way Shobana did: by acting in movies. Fine, she showed that she could do a bit of splits, lifting her legs a bit. Rukmini's face is one of her strong points that made her a career in modelling (something that many dancers like Lavanya Ananth unfortunately cannot even dream about).
- Vijaya Gunasekharan
(Feb 9, 2012)

I very much agree with the above comments. Fusion is very much apparent in Rukmini's dance and while she is in great form, her dance is soulless and lacks classicism. Possibly, a very talented artiste has been distracted by the need for quick fame. Not sure either that she is popular in the west or known in its prestigious platforms. Janaki and Lavanya have a better chance of being good dancers of the future.
- Anonymous
(Feb 9, 2012)

I don't see the point of constructing seemingly clever acronyms like RAMP and JANALAMINI. All this does is exclude the many other excellent dancers out there who also deserve recognition.
- Anonymous
(Feb 11, 2012)

Thank you Vijaya Gunasekharan for your comments.

Reading these objections I realise that you have missed the point of my writing at all. Art for me, whether I write about it or play the flute, or compose music, is just my life. It is something I consider a blessing. I am not writing for money or for some 'ulterior' motives. The articles I post on the Net or which have been published by Narthaki are expressions of my personal opinion and feelings about Indian arts. Nothing I write is motivated by any malafide intention. But of course I realise that anyone who does not share this view of life and the arts cannot automatically understand my approach and could easily think that since the world is as much full of jealousy, cut-throat ambition and negativity as of beauty and peace, my writing too might be powered by such emotions. Therefore, let me try to explain the following:

1. I do not need to write to get more invitations to accompany. You might notice that I do not much play the flute for dance. I have played flute and composed music for veteran Yamini Krishnamurti right from a young age and for the last ten years I have only played for Rama Vaidyanathan because I composed music for her. Recently I played for Ajith Dass, again because I composed music for the repertoire he presented in Chennai. I have never accompanied the four dancers I have mentioned so far, nor have composed music for them. Ms. Vijaya's comment "GS Rajan spends a lot of time touring in the west and playing for those same dancers (or their friends) who he then tries to write about, hoping to get more accompanying invitations" is totally baseless and made without checking facts.

2. Ms. Vijaya comments about me being a dance critic. Well, I was asked to write and was trained by the great Subbudu and I wrote for him in his column for five years in Delhi's edition of The Statesman. I stopped writing in between because I thought I should not write about people whom I am friendly with or have worked with. I have also worked as the Music Critic of The Hindu. Yes, I am NOT a dancer but I grew up in Kalakshetra where Rukmini Devi herself appreciated my critical suggestions. My experience working with veteran arts administrators Rukmini Devi Arundale, Dr. V.K. Narayana Menon, P.V. Krishnamurthy, Keshav Kothari and others while I was at the National Academy of Music, Dance and Drama, popularly known as Sangeet Natak Akademi' (where I worked for almost 14 years and was Deputy Secretary), has opened up my mind to look at and point out perfection and quality in arts in regard to many factors, including technical, music, presentation, decor, costumes, involvement, dedication, etc.

3. Ms. Vijaya may please note that (over the years) a dancer gets a chance to perform in India only through friends, making friends with people in authority etc. Perhaps outstandingly talented ones need not do that. But how can one bring 'divinity' when a dancer is totally immersed in PR activities? My pointing out 'divinity' was because I felt it in that particular show. I am not asking others to agree with me. That was my personal comment and I do have the freedom to say what I have felt according to the constitution of India. Of course there are lots of dancers who too may achieve in their performances the feeling of divinity, but I was writing in the present context about dancers I saw, never saying no one else can do it! As for dancers living in the U.S., very true, it was probably a search for material prosperity and not divinity that took them to the land of plenty. But once there, an Indian dancer often takes a closer look at the philosophy of Indian arts and realises that prosperity is not the same as inner peace. If they do, it is their luck only, that's all I can say, and again I don't say it can't happen in India!

4. Approval from the dedicated rasikas of the West has always played an important role in the career of Indian classical artists starting from Uday Shankar, Ram Gopal, Ravi Shankar, Ali Akbar Khan and innumerable others. Whether that is a good thing or not, well, that is another debate!

5. Ms. Vijaya watching Bharatanatyam videos in YouTube makes clear her outlook on quality in arts. Indian arts cannot be judged from videos or by learning from videos.

6. I am not sure why it would be necessary to compare a Bharatanatyam performance with one by "good rhythmic gymnasts or acro dancers"...???

7. Ms. Vijaya's comment on Janaki linking Karanas: I look at a performance in 'totality' and NOT from one particular aspect. A good creative person will always have something new to add to his or her concert every time. They improve upon themselves after each stage. I look at the individuality. If Ms. Vijaya writes an article on 'Linking Karanas' and educates many individuals like me, it would be welcome.

8. Talking about Rukmini. I have not met her or interacted with her so far. Only have watched her shows and enjoyed them. I do not want to know whether she has become famous because she acted in films or modeled. I was commenting on the effect of the particular performances I saw.

9. As for some dancers having faces fit for modelling while others "cannot even dream about" it, I am surprised to hear such a strange, purely physical comment on a Bharatanatyam dancer. This is a dance that, although a physical activity, attempts to rise beyond the physical. And Ms. Vijaya brings in the concept of a model's face!

In conclusion, I suggest Ms. Vijaya please open her mind and start looking at arts writing from a broader view and not only from the point of view of how karanas are combined. While such technical aspects are very, very important for the health of the field, it is just as important not to spread disinformation and distrust by making false allegations about people.

- GS Rajan
(Feb 13, 2012)

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