Dedicated foursome  
- Vinod Menon 

September 30, 2004   

Delightful in their coordination and radiant with their individual energies, the foursome of Ashley Varakalayil, Shefy Alexander, Tesa Thannikari and Veena Kaniyaly presented an evening of entertaining Bharatanatyam at their arangetram on July 11th 2004 at the Schaumburg Prairie Arts Center in Schaumurg, IL. They were presented by Nrithyanjali, headed by Sushmita Arunkumar, a prominent disciple of Adyar K Lakshman.  

Well rehearsed co-ordination was the key feature of the opening item - Mallaari (Gambhira naattai, Adi). This was followed by a competent presentation of a jathiswaram (Saraswathi, Rupakam) by Ashley.  An involved dramatization of Lord Krishna’s exploits by Tesa in “china china padam” (Kapi, Adi) was the next piece. The majestic varnam (Naatakurinji, Adi), “swami naan undan adimai”, of Papanasam Sivan was the mainstay of the program. The format had an arrangement where the nritta sections were arranged for a group with all four dancers whereas the four sections of the pallavi and anupallavi were performed individually. Simple and neat choreography seemed to be Sushmita’s motto for the jatis and the dancers executed her vision with clarity.  The abbreviated sancharis darted by before the audience could begin to relate to them. A little more detail and setting up a context for the various episodic narrations would have helped the communication better. All four dancers could probably exercise a little more caution while executing the nritta portions, which will enhance the movement aesthetics that are so characteristic of the Kalakshetra style. Regardless, the ebullience throughout, spoke of their passion for the art form.  

The second half opened with “Govindan kuzhalosai” (Raagamalika, Adi) describing the effect that Lord Krishna’s music has on nature. The brisk nritta passages proved a perfect opener for the section.  Celebrating Lord Muruga and his attributes was the theme of “Thiruparam kundra velava” (Hindolam, Adi) performed efficiently by Shefy with stylized movements representing the kaavadi. The grace and grandeur of Devi were pictured by Veena in the next item, the ever-popular ranjani maala.  The program concluded with an energetic and well co-ordinated thillaana (brindavanasaranga, adi), which again showcased the efforts taken to practice together. The teacher and her students showed keen attention to detail that are sometimes lost in the projected glamour of the dance. 

The live orchestra headed by Sushmita on nattuvangam was composed of Mysore Srinath on the vocals, Narasimhamurthy Ramamishra on the flute and Hari Rangaswamy on the mridangam.  

Sudha Chandrashekar, the chief guest on the occasion spoke eloquently about the role of dance in her life and the need for the community to realize the value of dance education beyond the simple goal of an arangetram or a string of performances. Yet another significant point made about how a teacher is not seen as a performer anymore. Pointing to Sushmita, she said, “Do not allow her to be just a teacher. Make her perform”. We, in the Chicago land area certainly hope that Nrityanjali takes that to heart and we see performances of the teacher and her dedicated students. 

Vinod Menon is a dancer, musician and dance critic.