Natyarangam, Narada Gana Sabha's dance wing, believes the art is not just about imbibing but also reaching out and sharing.
This is a perfect case of parents' angst proving advantageous to the art. While their children were being trained in Bharatanatyam, Sujatha Vijayaraghavan, K. S. Subramaniam and A. Balasubramaniam saw first-hand the problems that beset talented young artists in getting performance opportunities. The most disillusioning aspect was paying money to organisers to get a platform.
Eager to stop the erosion of aesthetic values, Sujatha took up the issue with R. Krishnaswami, secretary, Narada Gana Sabha (who is also the president of the federation of sabhas), and he suggested the creation of Natyarangam, the dance wing of Narada Gana Sabha. The organising committee included Sujatha, Subramaniam, Balasubramaniam and his wife Kalpagam. Besides, S. Kannan (the main force behind ‘Aindhu Karangal' that brings out the Margazhi programme booklet every year), S. Janaki (executive editor, Sruti) and S. Viswanathan (Tamil writer) also joined the artistic cause. Since September 1995, when Natyarangam came into existence, this enthusiastic group spearheaded by R. Krishnaswami, has been successfully promoting new talent and generating awareness among the audience on various aspects of dance appreciation.
Natyarangam's two-fold purpose is realised through activities round the year, such as dance recitals and lecture demonstrations on the third Saturday and Sunday of every month, a thematic dance festival that brings together emerging and established artists and research scholars, Bharathi Day celebrations, Natya Sangraham and Jana Bharatam.
“For our monthly performances, we have gone around scouting for promising up-and-coming dancers. The intent is that the opportunities should go to the most deserving,” explains Subramaniam.
An annual dance festival was started in 1997 to enable youngsters in the field to realise the significance of research, relate to allied arts, examine their experiences and awareness, bring in individuality to their performances and think out of the box. Not surprisingly, many selected artists are invited to perform the same pieces at other venues in India and abroad.
“We just went ahead with the festival without thinking much about how it will be received. But, it's heartening to see it become a much-looked-forward-to event today in the city's cultural calendar,” smiles Kalpagam.
The first edition of the annual festival coincided with the golden jubilee celebrations of India's Independence and was titled ‘Vande Mataram.' The chosen artists were told to choreograph pieces on patriotic verses penned by poets, past and the present. The subsequent year, the festival brought together classical musicians and dancers and was titled ‘Gita Bharatham.'
“Choosing the theme is the most exciting and challenging part. We have our share of arguments and debates before we arrive at a consensus. It's great fun and a learning process too,” avers Janaki. In the past 15 years, the festival has covered an astonishingly wide and unique range of subjects — ‘Bharatham Samanvayam' (religious harmony), ‘Katha Bharatham' (Harikatha stories through dance), ‘Kavya Bharatam' (classical poetry and drama from Sanskrit and Tamil literature), ‘Laya Bharatham' (dancers coordinated with laya vidwans), ‘Ramayana Bharatham' (each artiste dealt with a different kaandam from the epic), ‘Tirtha Bharatham' (on the rivers of India) and more.
“Care is also taken in allotting the theme to the artists. There is no random choice. We watch their performances and study their approach,” says Balasubramaniam. “Honesty and transparency are important to ensure Natyarangam does not lose purpose,” adds Sujata. “Due credit should be given to Krishnaswami for giving us complete freedom. More importantly, for never recommending any artist or doubting our decisions.”
Natyarangam's creative outing does not stop with the monthly performances and the annual festival. Every year, a three-day workshop, Natya Sangraham, is organised at the temple town of Thennangur (110 km from Chennai). The workshop enables those above the age of 18 intent on pursuing Bharatanatyam as a performer, teacher, choreographer, critic or even as an organiser, to get a holistic perspective of the dance form. Experts, who conduct the workshop, explore all aspects of abhinaya and explain how to incorporate elements of music and poetry into dance. “The participants also get to take part in the temple rituals and understand the deep bond between art and spirituality,” says Viswanathan.
Natyarangam believes dance is not just about imbibing but also reaching out and sharing.
The Jana Bharatham was launched in 2003 to encourage young aspirants to take their art to the people and widen the audience base. The dancers visit different areas in groups and explain the finer aspects of Bharatanatyam in simple but interesting ways.
As the stage is set for Natyarangam's 14th dance festival ‘Vaggeyabharatam' (from August 30), its committee members have enough reasons to sound upbeat about the organisation's commitment to promote exceptional young talent.