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Rangoli Dance Company presents 'Viriboni'
- Sudha Prakash
Photos: Gene Lewis Virtu Imagery

July 20, 2019

Rangoli Dance Company presented 'Viriboni' (a flower-like beauty), a collection of vintage varnam and new Bharatanatayam classical dance program on June 22nd in Los Angeles at the iconic and intimate Electric Lodge. The packed auditorium held an air of anticipation and expectation. Guru Malathi Iyengar usually elicits such an expectation in her presentations backed by years of carefully done research, months of preparation and lot of hard work by her dancers. She practices, teaches and promotes the art of Bharatanatyam in the greater Los Angeles area.

'Viriboni' was no exception in presenting a rarely performed varnam, a vintage piece carefully researched and choreographed. 'Viriboni' varnam is a time-honored masterpiece of melodic and rhythmic composition by the 18th century music composer Pachimiriyam Adiyappayya. The composer lived in the 18th century and is well known for contributing the musical form Tana Varnam. For this reason, he is known as the "Tana Varna Margadarsi". Though Adiyappayya has composed many krithis and varnams, his varnam in Bhairavi raga, set to Khanda Jathi ata talam, the first of its kind, remains unsurpassed.The heroine refers to the presiding deity, lord Rajagopalaswamy of the Dakshina Dwaraka, Mannargudi Temple in south India. The metaphor of a beautiful flower is used to convey the heroine's love for Lord Krishna. Varnam literally meaning color is the crowning piece of the Bharatanatyam repertoire which portrays elaborate sequences to a repetitive line of a song which allows the dancer to portray each line of the poetry in many ways, using their artistic skills to enact the story. Varnam also tests a dancer's ability and mastery of the dramatic elements through coordination of facial expression, hand gestures and intricate footwork.

In this varnam, Malathi presented seven of her senior dancers Anita Anand, Shivani and Vaishnavi Aysola, Amiya and Anya Prasad, Nishitha Viswanathan and Anshu Voruganti. Dressed in vibrant red with their ankle bells ringing rhythmically, the dancers fanned out in a flower pattern on the stage and presented the nuances of bhakthi and love for the lord in their hand movements, facial expressions and detailed dance adavus. It was a pleasure to watch the dancers showcase their artistry and grace with fluid movements in pure dance (nritta), beautiful, concise and rich emotions (abhinaya) and drama with expressive facial and hand expressions (natya) in individual segments embedded in the varnam. The choreography was exquisite in combining the dance segments with expert story telling.

Dhruv Sumathi

The show started with 'Ikshudandadhara,' a composition by B.R. Sheshadri beautifully presented by the male dancer Dhruv Sumathi who displayed his well-honed craft with effortless ease portraying Lord Ganesha, the son of Lord Shiva and Parvathi, who removes all obstacles and grants wisdom and knowledge to his devotees. Alarippu which invokes the cosmic energy through the geometrical lines and forces of the body was presented by Malathi Iyengar's daughter Lakshmi Iyengar and Ritika Iyer.

Dhruv was a perfect choice of a dancer to present the melodic poetry 'Nagendra Haraya' composed by Adi Shankaracharya. The dancer portrayed the various forms of Lord Shiva, who is the embodiment of strength and compassion skillfully. The five syllables na-mah-shi-va-ya are representations of five elements that make up the world - earth, water, fire, air and space - and considered sacred by the ancient Hindu traditions. Dhruv displayed the vigor and vitality of Lord Shiva beautifully combining it with the expressions of compassion and love. He leaped, jumped and swirled displaying Shiva's energy and formlessness as the cosmic dancer Nataraja. His performance mesmerized the audience watching in sheer reverence.

Malathi introduced author Judith Teitelman who read excerpts from her debut novel 'Guesthouse for Ganesha'. Judith has straddled the worlds of arts, literature and nonprofit sector working as a consultant and educator for more than three decades and has collaborated with Malathi in many of her dance presentations. Her writing has been published in various formats and publications. In the course of her book, Judith explores the world in which different cultures merge and differ in surprising ways. The book has a beautiful illustration of Ganesha dancing on a spindle to depict the story of Esther who relies on her masterful tailoring skills to navigate war-torn Europe and emigrate to India along with her traveling companion and the novel's narrator Ganesha. The story is woven against the backdrops of the European Holocaust and the Hindu 'Kali Yuga' (the age of darkness) when human civilization disintegrates spiritually. The novel is a tale of love, loss and reclaimed spirit.

The last piece 'Unstoppable: Her Diligence' was presented in honor of all women who in spite of centuries of suppression and discrimination are silently and strongly creating solidarity everywhere to make their voices heard alluding to the #Me Too movement. The dance portrayed the inequalities created in the society against women due to gender discrimination and harassment in the workplace in various fields and the echoes of the peaceful but powerful resistance and togetherness with which the women are overcoming the prejudices. The dancers did full justice in creating a world where women endure injustice, silently bearing witness to the atrocities committed against them for centuries but also showing a world where they stand up together to throw away the yolks of subjugation. Malathi Iyengar used Bharatanatyam, yoga and movements drawn from daily life and original music to create this contemporary twist.

Music for the performance was recorded in India and vivid and elegant lighting was provided by Eileen Cooley and set design was by Suresh Iyengar. The event ended with a beautiful reception in the lobby.

Sudha Prakash is a freelance reporter based in Los Angeles and writes about art, culture and social happenings in the greater Los Angeles area for many years. Through her writing, she wants to spread awareness about Indian arts and culture in the Western United States.

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