- Mangalam Vasan
November 12, 2014
Melbourne’s Rowville Secondary Performing Arts Theatre saw the return of the natya couple from India. They came to celebrate the fifteenth anniversary of the little Bharata Kalanjali being one of the branches of the banyan tree Bharata Kalanjali Chennai. Rathika Mahadeva was a student of the Dhananjayans in the nineties performing and displaying her talent as Draupadi and other roles. She started her own Bharatanatyam school in Melbourne in 1999 and the school has now grown to eighty students showing her passion in propagating the natya tradition.
The fifteenth year celebration was kicked off with the arrival of the Dhananjayans from Chennai. The 13th arangetram conducted by Rathika Mahadeva, that of Narmatha Dushyanthan, was successfully staged with the paramagurus as chief guests. It was followed by a lecture demonstration the next day by the Dhananjayans at the Clayton Town Hall. Shanta Dhananjayan sang with Ramesh Babu on the mridangam for Dhananjayan to demonstrate and together the three of them thoroughly entertained the Melbourne rasikas. After earnestly urging the audience to drop ‘India’ and revert to the name ‘Bharath,’ Dhananjayan launched into demonstrating navarasas in various contexts to pieces such as “Aadinaye kanna.” He showed us the feminine and masculine rendering of the rasas, a display that confirmed him as a bhava raja. He further took the audience into the topic of male dancers and shared tips to avoid effeminate dancing.
Having seen the Dhananjayan choreographed “Aadinaye Kanna” umpteen times, one would expect, a ‘not again’ reaction. But lo behold, Dhananjayan danced his own sanchari bhavas as Shanta sang Ambujam Krishna’s “eedilaa azhagiyar gopiyar unaiththedi naadivanthida nadhikkarai nilavoliyil” and the audience were spellbound as though it was a revelation what the anupallavi could lend itself to, as never known before.
The maestro stressed on the importance of hasta mudras as he has always maintained that, similar to apaswara in music, in dance if one does not hold one’s body postures and hand mudras properly, it is avalakshana. Rathika’s students were caught unawares being called on stage to demonstrate the mudras. The seniors coped fairly well and got away without getting into trouble with the gurus. In the front row, he spotted Shanthi Rajendran who is the director of the big Nrithakshetra dance school in Melbourne and remembering yesteryears teaching in Kalakshetra, laughingly recalled the days when she used to be scared of him. Being captivated by the grand guru’s endearing smile on stage, one wondered whether he could have been such a scary teacher! Quizzed by the audience on his opinion of fusion and Bollywood, Dhananjayan responded with, “Fusion is ok as long as it is not confusion.” As to Bollywood, Bharata Kalanjali students certainly would not be getting into the good books of the guru with Bollywood.
After a week of workshops, the annual concert was held on the 12th of October. Rathika Mahadeva has been staging avant-garde dance dramas in the past years such as Ramayanam and global warming, Mahabharatam and boat people, and gambling and Annapurna. This year she reverted to the traditional margam and called it ‘Parampara’ in honour of her gurus and the rich dance lineage starting from Rukmini Devi Arundale. The supporting ensemble consisted of Rathika Mahadeva on nattuvangam, Uthra Vijeyaraghavan on vocal, Narmatha Ravichandhira on violin and Ramesh Babu on mridangam. The stage was embellished by the Narthana Vinayagar drawn by Melbourne’s own artist Srinanthakumar.
The seven students who danced the varnam did justice to Dhananjayan’s seasoned choreography in Kalayani raga “Gokulabala.” Ramesh Babu thrilled the audiences with his jathi plays. In fact he carried the varnam forward with his spirited percussion support. However many times you witness it, one does not get tired of the sanchari bhavas of Krishna leela, designed by the maestro for rasanubhava of the audience.
The maestros gave in to Rathika’s request and came on stage to present two items. Dhananjayan left the audience sighing when he danced as Nandanar in “Varugalamo aiya” displaying the intense pathos of the devotee who is directly pleading with the Lord who is in his heart, but in reality, divided by a chasm. Shanta on the other hand decided to use a messenger and chose the cuckoo bird with “Kuyile unakku ananthakodi namaskaram.” Her style was more subtle bhava rendition sending messages to Kumaran. As Maanji and Kambhoji pleasantly wafted, the dancing couple delighted the audience despite the lack of makeup and costumes.
The margam included Rathika’s own choreography in the navarasa nayakis and Koneshwara kauthuvam and concluded with the Kapi thillana, once again a Dhananjayan choreography. The students were more nervous performing in front of the paramagurus than facing the five hundred and fifty strong audience. The parting message from the maestros was that, anything worthy will last always.