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Multidimensional experience of Aum
- Vinatha Kumar

July 14, 2017

Natyabhoomi presented an eternal song of the divine sound “Aum” in Bharatanatyam style on June 25, 2017. The show was organized by the Mukunds, Deepti and Shruthi, the director and co-director, Natyabhoomi School of Dance, Potomac, MD. The dancer of the evening Nirupa Balendran, who performed her Rangapravesham in June 2013, has blossomed into a mature dancer with abhinayam as her special forte in the last few years.

The program commenced with an invocatory prayer to Lord Ganesha followed by a soulful rendition of “Omakara swarupini” on the Mother Goddess, by D.S. Srivathsa. What followed was an evening of tranquility in chanting the divine sound ‘Aum.’ Melodious music by Srivathsa and his musical ensemble of gifted mridangist Vedakrishnaram, flautist Raman Kalyan and the young violinist Saketha V. Pantula and pristine dancing by Nirupa Balendran in Mysore style of Bharatanatyam along with an aesthetic, screen background of artistic visual effects designed by Shruthi Mukund depicting the five elements of Nature, set the mood and tone for a performance full of rasanubhuti.

In the very first dance item on Surya - Akara, Ukara, Makaara Aum - Nirupa established her luminous stage presence, with her dynamic and energetic nritta. She made a dramatic entrance as Surya, riding a chariot. Nirupa performed the yogic postures of Surya Namaskar effortlessly and went on to describe the glory and splendor of the Sun god as a cosmic flower, life giver and life sustainer. What followed this poetic metaphor (blooming flower) was pure dance when Nirupa traversed the stage space with ease while performing intricate jatis and adavus and the eyes simultaneously reflecting the luminous “fire” element of the sun. In this kriti, Sapthashwara Samarudam, composed by D.S. Srivathsa and choreographed by Deepti Mukund, Nirupa was full of tejas with her illuminating eye expressions and energetic postures while at the same time reflecting sublime surrender.

In the next dance ‘Paramanandam,’ Nirupa interpreted the joy of witnessing Lord Shiva’s cosmic dance in a multitude of ways. Her facial expressions of great joy as well as shaking the damru in Shiva’s right hand with vigor while executing the various postures of the dancing god Nataraja, was impressive. Srikanth N. Natarajan, the talented choreographer and dancer, is always known for his attention to detail with his immaculate description of every deity. Nirupa did full justice to this dance number with her agility and dancing prowess. Vedakrishnaram’s mridangam beats added that third dimension to this dance item.

For the varnam of the evening, Deepti Mukund chose the river goddess Ganga, to depict the ascent and descent of Ganga from the heavens to the matted locks of Shiva and then to descend on Mother Earth as an eternal river flowing smoothly in waves of movement and enriching the plains along the way. In this varnam “Lokapavani Nagaloni Ganga” in raga Shudda Dhanyaasi and adi talam, Nirupa’s description of the magic and mystique of Ganga was immaculate. Her graceful hand gestures describing the rising of the waves as well as her strong arms depicting Shiva’s arresting the torrential descent of Ganga into a knot on his head were remarkable. Nritta, natyam and abhinayam came to fruition in this piece. Be it the aramandi or muzhumandi, the leg extensions, hand gestures, the graceful neck movements and the expressive eye movements, Nirupa covered it all with grace and elegance. Ganga Devi never looked more alluring - a Mohini full of saundaryam and lavanyam.

In ‘Neeradasama’ composed by Oothukadu Venkata Subbaiyyer, in raga Jayantashree and adi tala, choreographed by Kiran Subramanyam, Nirupa was love personified as the omnipotent Krishna. It was interesting to watch the many emotions running through this item - vatsalya, sringara, prema rasa bhakti as a seamless thread. Nirupa whirled around as the dancing Muralidhara and the fluidity and flexibility in her body movements were impressive. Raman Kalyan’s flute was mesmerizing. Nirupa Balendran’s eyes speak even when they are closed, the lips smile even when they are closed, hallmark of good abhinayam.

In Kavadi Chindu, ragam Cenchurutti, adi talam, choreographed by N. Srikanth Natarajan, Nirupa’s exuberance reached an all-time high as she danced around the stage with the make believe Kavadi on her shoulders to the sound of “Arohara”. She was playful in this role as Lord Muruga and the Srilankan crowd that was present in the audience clapped nonstop. Exuberance combined with excellence in nritta and playful abhinayam made this a winning item. The subtle message being conveyed was, all burden becomes light with the lord’s name on one’s lips.

Aum is more than a sound or a symbol. It is the inner essence of one’s self. In the final item of the evening choreographed by Shreya, Nirupa put her heart and soul into an ultimate act of surrender to ‘aum,’ the nirguna brahman by meditating on the sound of aum and finally dissolving into oneness with the sound and ultimately there was no sound, only stillness and silence. ‘Samarpanam’ was composed by Lavanya Ananth in raga Brindavanasaranga and Varamu, adi talam.

The evening concluded with Natyabhoomi’s “Bhoomi Mangalam” (adapted from Pandit Ravi Shankar’s music). Visually pleasing art and aesthetics by Shruthi Mukund, imaginative and creative choreography by well-known artists, conceptualization of ‘aum’ as Brahman in both saguna and nirguna aspects, the divine imagery of Surya, Shiva, Ganga, Krishna and Muruga in the dance items and finally Nirupa Balendran’s boundless energy, and the talented music ensemble made this evening memorable. Srivathsa’s chanting of ‘aum’ was the ultimate. Kasi Aysola deserves a thumbs up for the gorgeous makeup. Shruti Japee as master of ceremonies was calm and collected while describing the dance numbers in tune with the theme.