A spellbinding performance brings an ancient tradition to life 
- Radhika Acharya, MI 
 
October 19, 2007 

On Saturday, October 13, 2007, Ranjani Murthy, a 16 year old junior at the Troy High School mesmerized an audience of close to 500 people with a flawless performance marking her Rangapravesham (debut solo dance recital) in Kuchipudi, an ancient classical Indian dance style. 

The 3 ½ hour show held at the Avondale High School Auditorium saw Ranjani sparkle with her brilliant footwork, perfectly executed adavus and exquisite form and posture. Strong on her feet, with a good grasp over rhythm, Ranjani performed ten traditional pieces displaying a unique style combining in equal measure, grace, power and expression. Blessed with an arresting stage presence, Ranjani's dance had the quality of a polished professional performance. Each of the items performed clearly reflected the eight years of hard work and training invested by this young dancer under the meticulous guidance of her guru Sandhya Sree Athmakuri, a premier disciple of guru Vempatti Chinna Satyam. She runs Natyadharmi Foundation for Performing Arts, Rochester, MI where she trains aspiring dancers in the dance forms of Kuchipudi and Bharatanatyam (Vazhuvoor school). 
 
In an evening appropriately abounding with tradition, Sandhya Sree Athmakuri conferred the academy's graduation certificate to Ranjani with a title of "Nritya Nandini." The high priest of the Canton Hindu temple blessed the proceedings, the young dancer and her guru. 

The evening was distinctly marked by Ranjani's beautiful rendering of Tarangam "Govardhana Giridhara," a composition of poet Narayana Teertha. A complex piece involving both Jathis (footwork) and Abhinaya (expressive element), it climaxed with Ranjani dancing on a brass plate to sollukattus (vocal rendering of various rhythmic patterns). 
 

Noteworthy was also "Bhama Samvadam," an excerpt from Sri Krishna Parijatham, a conversational piece between Narada and Satyabhama. This excerpt was experimentally introduced in the Rangapravesam repertoire to portray and justify the dance drama format of the Kuchipudi tradition. Ranjani powerfully conveyed the role of Satyabhama the queen whose arrogance and jealousy is mixed with self doubt and insecurity about her place in Sri Krishna's affections. 

The Sai bhajan "Dhimi Dhimi Natana Shiva" adapted and choreographed into a Shiva tandavam by Sandhya Sree Athmakuri was one of the highlights of the evening. It was performed by Ranjani in honor of her grandmother Saroja Sastry. Crisp footwork and sculpturesque poses marked this item. 

Equally enthralling was the Manduka Shabdam, an interesting two fold depiction of the beautiful animals of the forest, in particular the lives of the frogs intertwined with the famed legend Gajendra Moksham. An analogy is drawn between the agony of the frogs whose survival in the pond is threatened, and the agony of Gajendra who is in the clutches of the crocodile. 

The Alarulu, an Annamacharya Keertanam, as also the Ashtapadi "Sancharadadhara", the composition of the famed poet Jayadeva showed Ranjani's maturity in abhinaya well beyond her years. 

The Thillana in Punnagavarali, Adi Taalam culminating in the Mahishasura Mardhini stotram was a fitting finale to the program. Brilliantly choreographed by Athmakuri, it provided the perfect platform to display Ranjani's strengths in footwork and technical perfection. The orchestral support for this piece was magnificent. The stotram seemed appropriate in the context of the start of the Navarathri Festival. Kuchipudi demands no less than complete dedication, perfection and mastery over form and technique. Ranjani's performance most definitely showed her talent and promise in achieving these goals. 

With Ranjani's expressed desire to make dance a large part of her future plans and under the continued nurturing guidance of her illustrious guru, we look forward to this dancer blossoming into a fine exponent of this art form and a deserving torch bearer of her guruís lineage. 

Athmakuri's creative brilliance as a choreographer and versatility with nattuvangam were clearly evident throughout the show. The melodious voice of the lead vocalist Geetha Navaneethan and the excellent orchestral team of Gowrishankar Balachandran on mridangam, Ajit Ranganathan on the flute, Jeyasingham on morsing and chandai, Shashidhar on veena, Pavani Mallajosyula on violin and Nurani Chandra - male supporting vocalist, provided measured and appropriate support to the dancer. The outstanding coordination between the musicians, nattuvangam and the dancer enhanced the quality of the performance. The percussion support for the Tarangam and Thillana were particularly brilliant. The role of Narada was played beautifully for the Bhama item by Archita Achanta. 

All in all it was a memorable performance by a young dancer of great promise deserving of her illustrious guru. Trained in Bharatanatyam by her mother Bhavani Murthy, Sudha Chandrasekar, Bhanumati and Sheela Chandrasekar of Bangalore, Ranjani Murthy had her Bharatanatyam arangetram at the age of 14.  She is also training in Carnatic vocal for the past 10 years. 
 

Radhika Acharya is a well-known dancer in MI.