A Maryland, USA
non-profit organization, Aahaarya, devoted primarily to promoting Kuchipudi
dance presented an unusual and interesting performance as its initial offering
on September 19, 2009 at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Lanham, Maryland.
The saahityam for a Kuchipudi concert is typically predominantly in Telugu
with some items or portions of items in Sanskrit. An occasional Kannada
or Tamil item might be seen if the subject is especially of interest to
the choreographer or the audience. This program, titled 'Nritya Neerajanam,'
comprised of items in several non-traditional languages in addition to
Telugu and Sanskrit, one item each in Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam, Manipravalam,
Hindi and Bengali. The concept and choreography for all but one item
(one was choreographed by Guru Vempati Chinna Satyam) as well as the music
for a couple of items and the lyrics for one item were by Vempati Ravi
Shankar. Many of the performers, in addition to Ravi Shankar himself
in two of the items, were long-time senior former students of the Kuchipudi
Art Academy, Chennai, currently living in several states in the US.
The performers included physicians (Yamini Saripalli, Bindu Madhavi Gutti,
Sangita Rangala), Ph.Ds (Subha Maruvada, Anuradha Murali), a pharmacy student
(Vanita Sundararaman), as well as professionals (Sasikala Penumarthi, Hima
Bindu Challa, Swati Gundapuneedi, Lakshmi Babu, Jyotsna Potarazu), and
a school girl, Shreya Babu. When Ravi Shankar called, all these very
busy people took the time and made the effort to give the lucky members
of the audience an audio-visual treat.
for Kuchipudi, the items in other languages were all compositions by masters
in their own right, the items in Hindi, Sanskrit, Malayalam and Manipravalam
being by Maharaja Swathi Tirunal, Kannada by Purandara Dasa, Tamil by Gopalakrishna
Bharati and Bengali by Rabindranath Tagore.
showed his unique combination of adherence to the traditions of Kuchipudi
with his flair and original ideas and a willingness to try innovative change.
These were evident in the invocation item, with lyrics (in Sanskrit), music
and choreography all by Ravi Shankar; he incorporated the five jaatis,
with the sahityam perfectly matching the rhythmic patterns, especially
the part in sankeernam. This item, titled
starting with Ravi Shankar and Sasikala, brought in the whole group of
dancers who performed with excellent coordination. The precise timing
and coordination also marked the other item that included all the performers,
namely the Tillana at the end of the program. The Tillana in Bhupalam
ragam was a Sanskrit composition by Maharaja Swathi Tirunal. Ravi Shankar
aptly used charis and hastas according to the theme and flow of the item.
He used the following akasaki charies: atikranta, apakranta, parshwakranta,
noopura paadika and vidyutbranta. He also used uromandalam and rechita-ardharechita
nritta hastas. The combination of hastas and charies that enhance the inherent
nature of the song or its theme can be seen in choreographers who have
a keen sense of imagination and aesthetic sense. This aesthetic sense in
a choreographer allows the lyrics, ragam and dance to gel as a whole unit,
rather than simply using a movement for the sake of using that particular
movement. This illustrates that if one delves deeply into the technical
aspects of the Natya Satsra, a talented choreographer has much scope for
innovation within the Natya Sastra tradition in the Kuchipudi dance style.
Art Academy, under the direction of the Vempati father and son, has always
emphasized the importance of Abhinaya to complement the words in the sahityam
to bring out every nuance of the story being told; and this was noticeable
in all the items presented in this concert, especially in the five solo
items, one by Ravi Shankar, two by Sasikala Penumarthi, one by Swati Gundapuneedi
and one by Subha Maruvada.
portrayal of Nandanar in the Tamil item "Enneramum" from Nandanar Charitram
with lyrics and music by Gopalakrishna Bharati was the keynote of the evening.
He brought the wide and complex range of emotions felt by Nandanar to life
- sadness at not being allowed to enter the Lord's temple, utter devotion
when he beseeches the Lord to show himself, and blissful realization that
Lord Siva has granted his ultimate wish. Ravi Shankar's skill at
using movements to depict events was on display especially in portraying
the arrival of Siva on Nandi.
lit up the stage and infused in the audience the joy she herself obviously
feels when she is performing. In the item titled "Javvadi Mettinadi,"
an Annamacharya composition with music by Dr. M Balamuralikrishna, she
gave a perfect portrayal of a vaasakasajjika, depicting Goddess Alamelumanga's
joyous anticipation of her romantic encounter with the Lord. The
heroine's love and devotion shine through Sasikala’s brilliant abhinaya.
In the other solo item by Sasikala, with Bengali lyrics and music by Rabindranath
Tagore, the heroine is Chitrangada, one of the consorts of Arjuna.
The story traces Chitrangada’s transformation from a warrior princess to
a loving damsel that leads to successful union with Arjuna. The wide
range of emotions in this item provided Sasikala the opportunity to show
her mastery of Abhinaya as well as her ability to use the entire stage
and hold the audience's attention.
(Manipravalam) and Subha Maruvada (Malayalam) each performed a solo with
lyrics and music by Maharaja Swathi Tirunal and addressed by the nayika
to Lord Padmanabha. Each gave a good portrayal of a nayika confiding to
her friend that she is pining for her Lord Padmanabha, and one sadly asserting
that without her Lord, her life is meaningless (Swati); the other asking
her to tell Him of her longing and to hopefully bring Him to her (Subha).
The rest of
the items were performed by small groups with the excellent coordination
characteristic of disciples of the Kuchipudi Art Academy. One was
a Swathi Tirunal composition in Hindi titled "Aaj Aaye" set to music by
Dr. Balamuralikrishna, with Swati Gunapuneedi, Lakshmi Babu, Himabindu
Challa and Subha Maruvada as gopikas dancing with joy because Lord Krishna
(Sreya Babu) has come to amuse himself with them. Another item was
an Annamacharya composition titled “Kolani Lona” with the gopikas this
time being Sangita Rangala, Bindu Gutti and Jyotsna Potarazu and Sreya
Babu again as the young Krishna. The theme of gopika vastrapaharanam
where Krishna succeeds in ridding the gopikas of their inhibitions, symbolizing
the Lord's teaching for the atma to give up their ego and be one with the
paramatma was delightfully presented. The third group item, also
in praise of Lord Krishna, with Anuradha Murali, Sangita Rangala and Jyotsna
Potarazu was "Narayana Ninna" in Kannada, with lyrics by Purandara Dasa,
music by P Sangeeta Rao and the only item of the program choreographed
by Dr. Vempati Chinna Satyam.
In honor of
Vempati Ravi Shankar's talent and dedication to the art of Kuchipudi, Aaharya
honored him with the award of 'Kuchipudi Nava Ratna.' As he is a
kidney transplant recipient, Aahaarya donated much of the proceeds from
this program to the National Kidney Foundation of Maryland and the TANKER
(Tamilnadu Kidney Research) Foundation. Dr. Prabhakar Baliga, who
played an important role in facilitating Ravi Shankar's treatment, graciously
gave a speech educating the audience on the prevalence of kidney disease
and diabetes, primary initiator of kidney disease, in the Asian community
and the importance of supporting such research organizations.
supports the teaching of Kuchipudi to blind children. Sruthi Lingam,
a senior student of Kuchipudi Kalakshetra, Visakhapatnam, is successfully
conducting dance classes in a government-run school for the blind.