Performance Natyarangam’s Janabharatham gave school children their first exposure to classical dance.

Having tasted success in conducting Janabharatham in schools and corporations for a decade in Chennai, Natyarangam seized the opportunity offered by the authorities of Vedavalli Vidyalaya Senior Secondary Schools, in Walajapet and Ranipet, to acquaint the students with the basics of Bharatnatyam in a lec-dem of 90 minutes. It was held recently on a day that happened to be the School Founder’s Day.

It began with the presentation of awards to the toppers, but soon the stage was set for Janabharatham in the spacious hall, which accommodated hundreds of eager boys and girls.

Janabharatham’s quartet, Priya Murle, Roja Kannan, Vijna and Renjith Babu, presented the basics such as mudhras, arai-mandi, adavus, nava-rasam, alarippu, kavuthuvam, jatiswaram and an interesting segment of varnam too.

The children had no exposure to fine arts such as Carnatic music or Bharatnatyam per se. For Priya Murle and Roja Kannan, however, this was no stumbling block in communicating to their young audience.

When Priya invited them to name a few dance styles of India, the students listed them from Mohiniyattom to Kathak. And that was enough for her to lead them through the aspects of Bharatnatyam.

When all the four artists presented different poses of nava-rasas, they were at once connected with the abhinaya aspect. But what impressed the children was the depiction of nature, waterfalls, fountains and animals. If Renjith Babu’s ‘monkey’ made them laugh, his depiction of a lion, a hooded snake and an elephant drew applause.

A boy wanted to know about Pancha Bhootham and Roja Kannan took the icon of Nataraja and showed the five elements - water, fire, wind, sky and earth, all represented in the idol itself. Another boy was curious to know what ‘Thaandava’ was all about and Renjith Babu’s powerful demonstration for the forceful jatis in the background brought thunderous applause. It was time for a group presentation as a finale and the foursome took Bharathiyar’s ‘Bharatha Samudhayam Vazhgave,’ to which the young audience and the staff clapped with enthusiasm.

At Ranipet branch

The second lec-dem took place at the Ranipet branch, where the children also showed keen interest in the fine arts. Two girls came on stage to show how they have learnt Alarippu, while two boys were rewarded with sweets for performing Attami exactly the way the dancers did!

Here too, the children responded with laughter at Renjith Babu’s depiction of different animals.

The group presented the nava-rasas and the children, when asked to repeat them after they had watched each rasa, won chocolates for their five right answers!

The dancers were able to reach out to the students and the team won them over through interaction mixed with humour, which made it easy for them to understand the subject.

Janabharatham had to take into account the fact that the children were not exposed to any cultural performances and neither has SPICMACAY entered these areas.

Ms. Bhooma Parthasarathy, correspondent of the Schools, who had extended the invitation to the Natyarangam team of Narada Gana Sabha, Chennai, praised the group for presenting Bharatanatyam in a capsule form. “All the artists were enthusiastic and cheerful throughout the day and gave phenomenal performances,” she said.

“I know these programmes need follow-up for some retention and let us see how to work that out,” she added.

In the evening, it was a full-fledged performance from the artists at the Amirthavarshini Sangeetha Sabha, Arcot, about 10 km from Ranipet. The performance was held at the Sri Ramakrishna Higher Secondary School open air auditorium. “It was quite a while since the last performance was held at this venue,” said S. Vijayaraghavan, honorary secretary of the Sabha, and added, “We have, of course, arranged Carnatic music concerts by young musicians.”

The highlight was a Dasavatharam piece, choreographed by Guru Adyar Lakshman, for the lyrics of Veeramani Iyer of Sri Lanka, which was performed by the four dancers. Although power supply played spoilsport, the audience, both young and old, enjoyed the performance that had been staged after a long gap.

Students of schools outside Chennai have to be brought under Janabharatham was one lesson Natyarangam learnt in this maiden outreach programme. The other lesson was that smaller sabhas beyond Chennai City have to be nurtured if fine arts had to grow.