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Nrithyopacaram: 30th anniversary celebrations of Roja Kannan's Bharatha Natyalaya
Photos: R Nagarajan

July 22, 2017

Roja Kannan celebrated the 30th Anniversary of her dance institution, Bharatha Natyalaya on July 6th and 7th at Narada Gana Sabha, Chennai. The program conceived as 'Nrityopacaram' was dedicated to her Guru Adyar K. Lakshman to highlight the continuum of his extraordinary legacy through the Guru-Shishya parampara. The two day event was packed with artistic presentations of classic and timeless choreographies of Adyar Lakshman, as well as the choreographies of Roja Kannan. The more than 70 participants in the event demonstrated the rigor, subtlety and beauty of the Kalakshetra style in their presentation with outstanding orchestral support.

The chief guest on day one of the function, Dr. Umayalpuram Sivaraman, described Roja's dedication to the art, and her knowledge of natyam and music as extraordinary. He commended her for her perseverance and grit in maintaining the high standards of the Kalakshetra bani and in training youngsters with such passion and devotion. The guests of honor Sudharani Raghupathy, Nandini Ramani and Dr. Anita Ratnam all congratulated Roja on this huge accomplishment and noted her talent not just in performing, but in teaching and training the next generation of young dancers. Anita Ratnam walked the audience down memory lane and described the dedication and commitment of the "great foursome" of Adyar K Lakshman, Madurai N. Sethuraman, Trichur P. Ramanathan and Madurai N. Krishnan with whom she, Vyjayanthimala Bali, Sudharani Raghupathy and Roja Kannan had the good fortune to work with. They blessed Roja with a long career in teaching dance and hoped that she would continue the legacy to celebrate her institution's golden anniversary.

For Roja Kannan, there was no better way to celebrate the 30th anniversary of her academy than by presenting her guru Adyar Lakshman's classic compositions known for their unique and exceptional choreographic excellence. All the group items presented were originally choreographed for individual performance, but Roja had redesigned the items for group presentation. Nandi Chol was followed by Siva Dhyanam (Vasantha, adi). This invocatory number was choreographed by Adyar Lakshman along with the renowned mridangist Trichur P. Ramanathan almost four decades ago at a time when invocatory numbers were restricted to Alarippu, Pushpanjali and Thodaya Mangalam. The rhythmic cycle of the sollus follow the Gopuchyathi pattern reaching a crescendo and finishing with a tisra gathi Mukthaipu and theermanam. The Jathiswaram (Abhogi, rupaka) choreographed by Adyar Lakshman for his disciple Mavin Khoo in Japan in the early 90's, is packed with adavus and is a continuous performance from start to finish with no breaks in-between the korvais, a real test to a dancer's stamina, focus and ability.

The Ragamalika Sabdam in Tamizh, a composition of Thanjai Arunachalam Pillai, choreographed by Adyar Lakshman's sister Nagamani Srinivasa Rao, was about a lovelorn nayika smitten by the Lord Nataraja at Chidambaram and her yearning to be united with him. Roja Kannan presented Papanasam Sivan's "Swami naan undan adimai" (Nattakurinji, adi). This pada varnam was choreographed by Adyar Lakshman in the late 70's and instantly became a rage with every student of his who vied with each other to perform it on stage. The composition has 9 electrifying jathis in the first half of the varnam, which has two lines of pallavi and two lines of anupallavi and was a veritable test of stamina and grit for every dancer. In the lines "Thamadam siyaadu vandarul" Adyar Lakshman gave his disciples the liberty to use any one of the episodes from the Thiruvilayadal Puranam, thus initiating them into choreographing their own dances. This evening, Roja chose to present the story of Kaliya Nayanaar, one of the 63 Nayanmaars who attained siddhi at Thiruvotriyur near Chennai.

Lakshman was one of the first Nattuvanar Gurus to send his disciples to Kalanidhi Narayanan to learn padams and javalis which gurus did not normally allow. Roja's senior disciple Saranya presented a padam learnt from Kalanidhi Narayanan. A unique item special to Lakshman's school is 'Skanda Leela', a composition of Srilankan Tamizh scholar Ananda Kumar Satchidananda (Ragamalika, adi). Adyar Lakshman deftly handled the episodes of the Skanda Puranam starting from the birth of Muruga till Valli Kalyanam aligning with the poet's innate imagination. Next was a classic composition of Neelakanta Sivan, "Ananda Natamaaduvaar Thillai" choreographed by Adyar Lakshman describing the Ananda Thandavam of Lord Siva in Chidambaram.

The program concluded with a thillana (Mohanam, rupakam) composed by Madurai N. Krishnan, one of the very first ones that Adyar Lakshman choreographed which has all the aspects mandatory to a thillana. The orchestral support was provided by Adyar K. Gopinath (nattuvangam), Radha Badri (vocal), Nellai D. Kannan (mridangam), R. Kalaiarasan (violin), J.B. Shruthi Sagar (flute) and R. Lakshminarayanan (tambura).

Slide show

The chief guest on day two, Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam, commended Roja's extraordinary dedication and deep emotional connection to the art and her students and for conceiving a beautiful bhakti-laden presentation. Guest of honor Guru Ranganayaki Jayaraman, commented on Roja's broad and inclusive outlook in integrating and incorporating music from various poets and artists in her choreographies. She highlighted Roja's open approach to working with the community of artists as a true blessing. The other guest of honor, Guru VP Dhananjayan fondly remembered Roja and her sister Meena as child prodigies who have consistently maintained their love for the art and their extraordinary devotion to their guru. He also mentioned the challenges in running successful dance institutions and commended Roja for upholding the values and traditions of this art amidst many challenges. Guru Savithri Jagannatha Rao recollected Roja's days as a young dancer in Lakshman's dance class and congratulated her for her sincerity and hard work. She specifically mentioned the time and commitments it takes to train students and applauded the parents for supporting their children in their endeavors.

The evening featured choreographies of Roja Kannan in a Margam format presented by her disciples. The items included Ganeshanjali of Oothukaadu Venkata Kavi; Subramanya Kouthuvam choreographed by K. Shubha, a senior disciple of Roja Kannan; "Pancha Raga Oudava Malika" jatiswaram composed by Guru Ranganayaki Jayaraman and choreographed by Roja's disciple Parur M.S. Ananthashree; Kummi by the youngest dancers of Bharatha Natyalaya for verses from Thiruarutpa of Ramalinga Adigalar, choreographed by senior teachers of Bharatha Natyalaya (K. Subha, Anuradha Ramesh and Jayanthi Srivatsan); Sabdam "Thandai Muzhanga" of Sembanarkoil Shanmugam (it was written exclusively for Shanta and VP Dhananjayan and set to music by Madurai T. Sethuraman); Daru Varnam "Maathay" of Harikesanallur Muthiah Bhagavathar; "Adi kondaar" of Muthuthandavar, depicting the various scenes in Gokulam where Krishna is playing with his friends and the Gopikas; a padam "Naada murali gaana vilola" and thillana in Suruti of Oothukadu Venkata Kavi.

The accompanying artistes for the evening were Roja Kannan (nattuvangam), Radha Badri (vocal), Nellai D. Kannan (mridangam), B. Ananthakrishnan (violin), J.B. Shruthi Sagar (flute) and R. Lakshminarayanan (tambura). The 2-day event filled with many choreographic gems of Adyar Lakshman and the newer choreographies of Roja Kannan celebrating the richness of Bharatanatyam, saw a houseful auditorium on both days.