|In the beginning….
in 1982 with a handful of students, Ramya Harishankar’s Arpana School
of Dance celebrated its 20th anniversary this year with a multitude
of productions. Arpana has been a pioneer in S.California in many ways;
held the first Arangetram in the area with a live orchestra from India
which included Ramya’s guru the late Swamimalai K Rajaratnam; conducted
annual programs for the last 10 years raising over $60000 for charities
worldwide; has presented over 30 visiting Indian dancers/companies to local
audiences through the Arpana Foundation.
over 120 enrolled students including active graduates and another 35 graduates
who are in various parts of the world, took on the challenge to create
an event that would celebrate the past, present and future of the school.
Irvine has been home to the school and hence all the events were scheduled
at the Barclay, Irvine one of the finest theaters in S. California.
planning began for a weekend of performances showcasing the talent of the
current students, more recent graduates and some of the senior members
of the Arpana Dance Company (ADC) that started with the school 20
years ago. Accordingly 2 weekends were chosen and the productions slated
for June 30th and July 6th. After much thought, it was decided to attempt
2 shows in a day; one as a matinee and the other as the evening presentation
on June 30th. This was to be ‘Samarpan’ and ‘Maya Manusha – the illusive
One’. The new production ‘Woman Divine’ was scheduled for July 6th and
would feature some of the most senior members of the Arpana Dance Company
and a guest choreographer. An undertaking of this magnitude was also made
possible by the dedicated efforts of Harish Murthy, Geetha Nath and Usha
has been the annual ‘offering’ of the school for the last 10 years. Always
featuring the various levels of enrolled students, it serves as a showcase
of their efforts and progress towards achieving proficiency in the art
form. The special presentation this year, a first of its kind in this region,
was dedicated to all the children of the community who had committed to
the arts; a program of these children, by the children and for other children
in the community serving as cultural role models. Students of Carnatic
Music pitched in to be the musical soul – singing, playing the mridangam
as well as the violin. No professionals. No seasoned amateur musicians.
Just the children and their art! Additionally, there was an interesting
format by selecting songs that would fit the sequence in a typical Carnatic
music concert. Beginning with ‘Melukovaiya’, the evocative prayer
by the great Thyagarja, some of the songs featured in the program were
the popular geethams followed by ‘Gajavadana’, the Mohana Varnam
‘Ninnu Kori’, Thyagaraja’s ‘Gandamu Puyaruga’, ‘Shiva
Shiva’ (Bhajan) and a Poornachandrika Thillana. The senior members
of ADC handled every aspect of the program including introductions and
ensemble featured vocalists Ahila Gulasekaram (disciple of Rose Muralikrishna),
Sruti Chandramouli (disciple of Sunanda Chandramouli),
Vani and Shiva
Ramamurthy, Visalini, Varshini and Vinodini Sundaram, Aniruddh Venkateswaran
and Sweta Kambhapati (disciples of Padma Kutty). Mridangam by Shubha Chandramouli
(disciple of Poovalur Srinivasan), Violin by Arun Ramamurthy (disciple
of Delhi Sundarajan and Krishna Kutty) and Nattuvangam by Ahila Gulasekaram,
Amita Sheth and Smeeta Vora completed the ensemble.
‘Maya Manusha – the illusive
had hardly left the foyer of the theater when the set up began for the
evening’s presentation. As the lobby was being prepped with beautiful portraits
of the company dancers, none other than the famed Sethumadhavan himself
was prepping the young dancers backstage. ‘Sethu Sir’, as he is fondly
called, was an honored guest for this special event having been Ramya’s
make up artist since her Arangetram in 1970. Hardly taking a rest after
‘Samarpan’ he went through 16 more girls with the precision and detail
that he is renowned for.
started with a prayer and the introduction of the theme with a bright Swaranjali:
a maiden with jubilant news
is born! A child is born!
He who with His birth
has brought such mirth?
woven verses (written by Usha Sampath and Ramya) formed brief and succinct
introductions linking the various events in Krishna’s life; His Birth (Vannamadangal),
His youthful pranks (Chikkavane), his Love (Rusali Radha)
and His being the Saviour (Ode Oodi Vanden Kanna…).
It’s you I desire to see.
are the personification of beauty!
I bow with devotion,
you are real or an illusion.
concluded with a sprightly ‘thillana’ that evoked an appreciative response
from the near sell out crowd at the Barclay. This production, first presented
in 1992, secured Ramya the coveted Choreographer’s Fellowship award from
the National Endowment for the Arts (1993 –1997). Although never attempted
before, the dual presentation on the same day turned out to be quite a
success although it posed some stresses on the technical and administrative
The Maya Manusha
dancers of Arpana Dance Company were Trisha Banerji, Purwa Bansod, Shubha
Chandramouli, Nitya Joseph, Hemali Lalu, Maneesha Limaye, Vidya Murthy,
Sumita Nair, Aditi Nath, Rupa Nath, Avni Patel, Jemini Patel, Sejal Patel,
Shivani Reddy, Asha Sumanth and Anita Vaidyanathan.
breathed a little easier on Monday July 1st, it was not to be for long.
The final touches had to be put to ‘Woman Divine’, the new presentation.
A tribute to Devi, as a metaphor for some of the great qualities of women
over the centuries, it started with a powerful rendition of the Kali Kauthavam
by Ramya. To extol some of the virtues of women, the endearing tale of
Abhirami Amman using select verses from Abhirami Andadhi highlighted Compassion;
Meerabai’s Dedication was presented in the lilting bhajan ‘Paga Ghunghroo
Bandh’; verses specially written by mridangist, G. Vijayaraghavan,
and tuned by Reji George in musical opera form eloquently conveyed Kannagi’s
Courage; woman’s Strength as portrayed by Mahishasura Mardhini performed
to fiery rhythmic sequences brought a fitting climax to this unique segment.
A scintillating exposition of group choreography, symmetry, patterns and
poses along with meaningful interpretation contributed to a pleasing end
to the first half, in the piece about Nityakalyani originally choreographed
by dancer, A. Lakshman.
half’s piece de resistance was performed by Ramya and G. Narendra in a
classic representation of the concept of Ardhanariswara in ‘Chaampeye Gauradhra’.
Holding the rapt attention of the audience, the duo exemplified the concept
of the male and female principles working in harmony and balance in the
Universe, unique to Hindu mythology. Following solid solo performances
in an Astapadhi by Narendra and ‘Krishna Nee Begane’ by Ramya, this segment
brought other powerful aspects of Devi. Using the backdrop of the Navarathri
festival, sculpturesque bommai’s of Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswathi
came to life to popular lyrics that proclaim their great qualities; mental
and physical energy (Durga), wealth of character and prosperity (Lakshmi)
and power of discrimination and intellectual inquiry (Saraswathi).
A light ‘Kummi’ traditionally performed during Navaratri provided a segue
to a Thillana in Yaman. ‘Woman Divine’ provided a challenging yet rewarding
experience for nine of the early graduates of the School and senior members
of the Arpana Dance Company. Narendra’s dedicated contribution to the choreography,
Ramya’s enthusiasm and energy and the support of the accomplished musical
ensemble made the event a grand celebration of the 20 years of Arpana.
G Narendra and Ramya
'Durga' pose of the dancers of 'Woman Divine'
Woman Divine dancers of Arpana Dance Company were Sruti Chandramouli, Meera
Deo, Ahila Gulasekaram, Anusha Kedhar, Supreeta Sampath, Amita Sheth, Arathi
Varma, Anjali Vora and Smeeta Vora. Other credits include Artistic Direction:
Ramya Harishankar, Choreography: G. Narendra, A. Lakshman and Ramya Harishankar,
Producer: Harish Murthy, Musical Direction: Reji George and Nellai D. Kannan,
Makeup Artist: Sethumadhavan, Musicians: Sunanda Chandramouli (vocal),
Padma Kutty (vocal), Usha Sriram (vocal), L Saravanan (Flute), Rusti Gillette
(Ghatam), Ravi Deo (tabla)
concluded with a reception honoring all the artistes, members of the community
and the families who have contributed to the growth and success of Arpana.
Ramya spoke eloquently and with devotion of her gurus, the late Swamimalai
K Rajaratanam and Smt. Kalanidhi Narayanan; her mentors Radha Nagarajan
(mother), Pattu Balagopal (grandmother) and Lakshmi Krishnamoorthy (mother-in-law),
the ‘women divine’ in her life. In her continued efforts to make a ‘difference’
she had chosen to invite Sethumadhavan on his first visit to the US. To
commemorate the event specially commissioned mementos were presented to
everyone including the participants in the 3 programs.