Pragati Prasad's impressive dance debut 
- Thara Narasimhan, TX 

September 12, 2008 
 
Meticulous mudras, agile adavus, graceful jathis and picture perfect portrayal of Nataraja, Krishna, Durga, Lakshmi, Sharada and Andal, marked the arangetram of 14 year old Pragati Prasad at Stafford Civic Center on August 16, 2008. Coming under the tutelage of Rathna Kumar in the Vazhuvoor tradition, Pragati excelled in all aspects of her performance.

Guru Rathna Kumar's zeal to teach did not initially come when she first arrived in the US.  She wanted to be a performer but with time she had a change of heart and started Anjali Center of Performing Arts.  That change of mind became a boon to many of her students. She became a celebrated guru who attracted talented students to her fold. She reaped the reward of producing yet another exemplary star performer in Pragati Prasad.  Rathna Kumar tailors the repertoire of each studentís arangetram to suit the dancer. Pragati staged her performance far beyond the expectations of all who contributed to its success and marked an evening of impressive dance debut.  
                                            
Pragati's dance commenced with "Gajavadana Beduve," an invocation to Ganesha to shower his grace and blessings, composed by Purandaradasa in raga Hamsadhwani. Following the invocation, the format continued with traditional Jathiswaram, Sabdham and Varnam. Jathiswaram in raga Kamas depicted her versatility of footwork. Sabdham, a piece that provides the artist an ability to focus on abhinaya was marked by a unique composition in Telugu by Swathi Tirunal on Krishna. Ninda Stuthi is a term that literally means grumble to praise. By bringing out the faults of Krishna, the composer actually lovingly pokes fun at him that he too like humans, has his failings.  The mischievous look of Krishna and the angry mood of the gopis were vividly portrayed by Pragati. 

The centerpiece of the performance, the Varnam had many dimensions to it. Composed by musical genius Dr. Balamuralikrishna in ragam Gambeeranata, it described Goddess Devi as the personification of three syllables that constitute the primordial sound "AUM."  Rathna Kumar's choreography was impeccable, the rendition of the song by vocalist J Ramesh was stirring, accompaniment on the percussion by N K Kesavan was awesome and the mellifluous flute of B Muthukumar made for a perfect setting. Pragati Prasad carried all of this to greater heights and punctuated it with complex and intricate movements. The nine different emotions which are mentioned in Natyasastra as Rasa Abhinaya were executed with brilliance. It seemed that the music composer had a dancer in mind when he composed this Varnam; it had the components of bhava, raga and tala that goes to make Bharatanatyam and gives scope to the dancer to make it all complete. J Ramesh intercepted the song with a slokam on Devi Janani. Kesavan's beat using two or more percussion instruments helped enhance the dancer's extinction of Mahishasura.  
After Varnam, the song celebrating Shiva, the lord of dance, was in Rishabapriya raga and Pragati displayed her skill as a full-fledged dancer by the graceful movements of Ananda Tandava.

The song "Samagaana priye" was a composition of Sri Satya Saibaba of Puttaparthi, in praise of Sharada Devi enshrined in Sringeri on the Sri Chakra Peetam. Set to raga Atana, Ramesh sang with bhava and Pragati beautifully crafted abhinaya and nritya in tune with the lyrics "Sakala Kala Vallabhe Sharadhe." The penultimate number was Tillana in Amritavarshini raga and Pragati performed this with invigorating rhythm. Aandal Kanavu is taken from 'Nachiyaar Thirumozhi,' its most popular 6th segment, a lovely poetic creation in which Andal describes to her friends her dream of an elaborate wedding with Sriman Narayana. Pragati proved her proficiency in Bharatanatyam by paying attention to details of depicting the joy of a coy maiden.

Dancer Sindhuja Devarajan gave introductions of Rathna Kumar, J Ramesh, N K Kesavan and B Muthukumar. Pragati's Carnatic music teacher Rajarajeshwary Bhat aptly pointed out in her remarks that Pragati understood the meaning of the music, accuracy in laya, the beat, and abhinaya, all of which she combined to bring out the best in the recital.

Pragati started learning dance when she was 8 years old from Madhusri Sethuraman, founder of Srutilaya School of dance in Plano, Texas. Madhusri was invited as the chief guest of the evening and congratulated Rathna Kumar and Pragati for a brilliant performance. Nalini Sadagopan, the emcee of the evening, was fluent with introduction of the dance items. 

Pragati donated the proceeds of the performance to her favorite charitable institution Pragati Foundation, a non-profit organization, and plans to spend a few weeks working at its beneficiaries - the rural schools of Karnataka, India. Mr. Harish of Pragati Foundation spoke about Pragati's enthusiasm to help underprivileged children in India. Her ambition is to carve a career in the medical field.