Maadhurya Shauryam by Harshitha Venkatesh
- Priya Das

April 7, 2016

Maadhurya Shauryam, “Sweetness of Compassion and Empowerment” was presented by Harshitha Venkatesh, daughter-disciple of Bhuvana Venkatesh, Artistic Director of Nrithyanivedhan School of Dance, on March 26, 2016, in Sunnyvale, CA. It was a bold move to present a young, post arangetram dancer in a three hour solo. The topic was also a very mature one, one that aided Maitri, a non-profit that supports South Asian survivors   of domestic violence, emotional abuse, human trafficking, cultural alienation and family conflict.

The format was a traditional Bharatanatyam margam, starting with Pushpanjali and Gam Ganapathim which was followed by Dhyaana Slokam, Nrittanjali. Harshitha looked appealing in her youth and charm, her upper body crispness carried the pieces well. The Shakti poses especially were perfect and the nritta sequence with the repetitive, emphatic araimandi, on-toes, and muzhumandi was especially attractive. You could tell that Harshitha could handle a faster tempo, it felt as if she was raring to perform more. It should have been a stronger start, the vocals, both singer (Chandrika Pai) and nattuvanar (Bhuvana) should have held the mic closer and aimed for a clarion effect; the mridangam (Balajai Mahadevan) should have come on stronger. After all, the first item in a program is a promise made to the audience of a great experience.

Swati Thirunal’s Gopalaka Paahimam was next. Harshitha’s upper body execution was flawless, she shone as the various roopas (Yashoda, Kuchela, Gopala, Vishnu). Her sideways jump poses were noteworthy, the highlight being “bhujajaraaja sayana.” Her footwork faltered here though, most of the dit-tit-tais were hurried. A takeaway for the vocals here is that there was no need to enunciate every word in the song, the piece would have benefitted greatly from just holding a swara for a while, allowing the nattuvanar to hold sway.

The varnam Maathe in Kamas paid homage to Goddess Chamundeshwari. The item was well presented with the quality of abhinaya matching that of the nritta; laya, gati and orchestra finally came together. The aradhi with jumps was charming; the oft-heard Tariku Dhiruku Dhin Dhin Kukuta was given a fresh flavor; Harshitha’s Chamundeshwari was shimmering, fierce, divine, gentle. However, the teeramanams (footwork) were most often not completed, which distracted greatly from the complete enjoyment of the piece.

Sri Chakraraja in adi-Ragamalika followed. It was a light and evocative piece. Harshitha brought the various forms of the Devi to life here. However, the next version should be presented without the jatis, they were not required. Highlights of what came next - Kalinga Narthanam - was the Taamita tat jham in off-beats; use of karanas to show the creeper preceding Krishna’s dive into the Yamuna; the depiction of the giant Kalia contrasted by the mischievous Krishna, and the face-off between the two.

Throughout, it felt as though individual units of choreography, presentation, and orchestral interludes were above par, but the effect of the whole could be better. It felt as if attention to detail was only paid to some parts; the dancer’s upper body execution was superlative, lower body not so much; the cymbals were perfect but the sollukattu could have been stronger; the singing highlights should have played off better with the mridangam; the flute (Prasanna Rajan) and violin (Vikram Raghukumar) should have come on stronger in the lighter pieces. However these are all easily fixable oversights, one would rather have the heart in the right place, which it was. Harshitha has the potential to be a brilliant dancer, with continued exposure to varied and disciplined training.

What also deserves a mention is the theme. Sonya Pelia, President of Maitri, spoke simply but powerfully of the why and how of the organization. Bhuvana spoke about how deeply she was moved by Maitri’s efforts and the contributions received. It is rare to find a sync and heart-felt commitment between the theme and the cause. Kudos to all parties for putting this together. 

Priya Das is a writer based in San Francisco Bay Area, USA, covering extraordinary nuances of everyday life with a focus on the performing arts. She is a regular contributor to India Currents, a magazine reaching more than 170K readers on - and offline. Some of her writing is at