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Natananjali's 15th anniversary celebrations
- Nalini Prakash

August 26, 2017

Natananjali School of Dance recently celebrated its 15th anniversary with a thematic production, Krishna - Shades of Love, at the Jewish Community Center in Rockville, Maryland. Choreographed by N. Srikanth, the multifaceted dancer, actor and nattuvanar from Chennai, the production was seamless in its execution from start to finish. Lakshmi Swaminathan, founder and artistic director, established Natananjali School of Dance in Bethesda, Maryland, in 2002 as a result of her lifelong passion for dance. A senior disciple of Dr. Thankamani Kutty, director of Kalamandalam, Calcutta, Lakshmi maintains a high level of excellence while imparting rigorous training to her students. This was evident in the way Lakshmi identified appropriate roles for her students, and also in the way the young dancers executed these roles with maturity and finesse.

Lakshmi introduced the evening with a brief introduction to the concept behind Krishna - Shades of Love. Krishna, an avatar or incarnation of Lord Vishnu, is the embodiment of love and compassion. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna says, "The only way you can conquer me is through love and there I am greatly conquered." Krishna is well known for having many women in his life, each sharing with Krishna a unique and distinct bond. During the evening the audience was introduced to some of these women who were bound to Krishna inextricably through different shades of love.

The performance commenced with a Pushpanjali, which was executed with precision and grace by a group of six young dancers. Following the lively Pushpanjali, Sharanya Suresh depicted the first shade of love - maternal love - through her role as Yashoda. Although Yashoda is not Krishna's biological mother, her relationship with her son exemplifies the ideal bond between a mother and child. Her heart melts every time she hears Krishna call her "amma." Sharanya immersed herself in this role and conveyed the vatsalya bhava with great maturity.

Radha is jeevatma to Krishna's paramatma, the soul eternally longing to be united with the divine. Ananya Mishra captured the hearts of the audience through her portrayal of Radha's yearning love as she depicted the pangs of sorrow that resulted from her separation from Krishna. She questions the reason for her to be alive and prefers death over life if she cannot be united with her beloved Krishna.

Rukmini's bold love is evident in the way she pens a letter to Krishna beseeching him to elope with her on the day of her wedding to Shishupala. It is believed that Rukmini's letter to Krishna is the world's first ever written love letter. Beautifully attired in a blue/green costume and dazzling jewelry, Sachi Koulgi was the embodiment of Rukmini and executed her role with confidence.

Aradhana Vyas played the role of the jealous second wife of Krishna with poise. Satyabhama believes that no one can love Krishna more than she does. Arrogant, short tempered and willful, she always wants Krishna by her side and is very jealous of Rukmini. Aradhana portrayed Satyabhama's possessive love for Krishna very convincingly.

Medha Swaminathan, daughter and disciple of Lakshmi, rendered a powerful portrayal of Draupadi - platonic love. She embodied the fiery and assertive nature of Draupadi with ease. In contrast she depicted Draupadi collapsing in fear when her confidence is shattered, as the evil Dushasana unceremoniously drags her by her hair from her chambers. She stands helpless in the royal court begging her Pandava husbands to save her from being humiliated. However, only her best friend Krishna comes to her aid when her womanhood is threatened. In addition to performing, Medha also conceptualized the production.

Meera - blind love! Born into Rajput royalty, Meera fights every challenge using pure devotion to ward off evil forces that try to separate her from her beloved Krishna. As a little girl, Meera blindly believes her mother when she is told that Krishna is her husband. In spite of being married to a Rajput Royal, she holds Krishna captive in her heart and soul believing him to be her husband. Abhiksha Desai, with her winsome smile and gentle portrayal of Meera, captured the attention of the audience.

Adorned in a beautiful red costume, Trisha Sankineni epitomized Andal who was found under a Tulasi bush by Periya Alvar, Vishnuchittar. Also known as Kodhai, she was raised on the stories and songs of Krishna and was determined to marry none other than the lord himself. She secretly wore the garlands meant for the lord to see how she would look as his bride. Her father eventually took Andal to the temple, where she merges with the lord. Trisha's portrayal of Andal's divine love was mature and elegant.

The celebration of 15 successful years concluded with a vibrant Thillana, which included the Raas Lila of Krishna with the gopis. During the Raas Lila, the gopis only see Krishna and forgot everything else. Their devoted love unites their hearts with Krishna's forever. Dressed in vibrant black and teal blue costumes, the students of Natananjali once again danced with precision and grace bringing the evening to a fitting end.

Throughout the production, Srikanth appeared like an illusion on stage, taking the role of Krishna for each of the divine women and their shades of love, and also danced with the gopis in the Thillana's Raas Lila. His role was subtle and carefully executed so as not to overshadow the young dancers with his personality. Lakshmi's years of disciplined training of her students in collaboration with Srikanth's choreography resulted in a very successful and enjoyable evening of artistic expression.

A senior disciple of Prof. Sudharani Raghupathy, Nalini Prakash was instrumental in spreading arts education in the Nilgiris region through her school of Bharatanatyam, Silambam, and also by founding the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Nilgiris Kendra. Nalini is also a dance/movement therapist and a certified movement analyst who currently works at Saint Elizabeths Hospital (Washington, DC) where she integrates elements of Indian dance and creative movement to enhance the quality of life for individuals with serious and persistent mental illness.