Of rare brilliance

Veteran Bharathanatyam dancer Rhadha.   | Photo Credit: R_Shivaji Rao

The rustle of silks, the jingle of the anklet bells, melody of musical notes, rhythmic sollukattus and thattukazhi was the daily ritual and cultural environment in which this girl grew up. It was no wonder that this sibling of Kumari Kamala, one of the icons of Bharatnatyam was also initiated into the art of dance.

Young Rhadha continued performing under the shadow of her celebrated sister in virtual anonymity. After a long hiatus when her sister moved to the U.S., Rhadha returned to dance as a performer and teacher, slowly carving a niche for herself in the firmament of Bharatnatyam, carrying on the legacy of the famous Vazhuvoor Baani in its unadulterated form.

Rhadha has never swerved from the Baani in order to accommodate the demand for innovation. The graceful flow of adavus, the different patterns executed in a leisurely manner, the beauty and grace of hand and neck movements are signature elements of her school.

Watching a performance of hers recently of a complete Margam from pushpanjali, jatiswaram to thillana repertoire was amazed to see the energy level sustained from beginning to end. At the age of 75, with seeming effortlessness she performed muzhumandi adavus and sarukkadavus for the theermanams for a Thanjavur quartet varnam.

Rhadha attributes her stamina to the foundation that was laid when she was young, the hours of rigorous daily practice and a self motivated regimen of diet and practice that she followed as an adult.

She remembers with fondness the years that she danced with her sister. “I got an opportunity to travel around the world, seeing and dancing in beautiful theatres and palaces, meeting distinguished statesmen, kings and queens and assimilating the varied cultural experiences,” she recalls. They were constantly moving from one place to another, with an entourage consisting of their mother who designed their costumes, their uncle and staff carrying the lights and the curtains.

“Often I would be taught padams on the train before reaching a destination where it would be performed,” she says. The experience stood her in good stead when she began teaching.

The second innings saw her blossoming into a teacher of great merit with her Pushpanjali school. Rhadha strongly believed in teaching on a one-to-one basis, unlike the group teaching methods which were becoming the norm. “It is so important, even if it is time consuming, to look at each student individually, so that they can be moulded, by working on their strengths and weaknesses.” Rhadha is adored by her students, who look upon her as a friend in times of need although they know of her strong core as a mentor.

With her dance school gaining momentum ,Radha began to choreograph group presentations. She re-choreographed Nowka Charitham, which was originally presented by Kamala. ‘Bhavaye Padmanabham,’ ‘Shivasakthi,’ ‘Meenakshi Ammai Pillai Thamizh’ and ‘Lakshmi Prabhavam’ with a musical score by N. Ravikiran are some of her other productions. Her magnum opus, however, is ‘Jaya Jaya Devi’ which brought together her collaboration with violin maestro Lalgudi G Jayaraman. This natya natakam is one of the most celebrated productions of all times.

P.C. Ramakrishna who played a part in this show , speaking about the process says, “Lalgudi mama would compose a scene overnight, his disciple S.P. Ramh would sing it on an audiotape and I would take it to Rhadha, who would choreograph it instantly. It was all spontaneous with both artists led by their imagiation at that particular moment. What emerged from this most unusual creative process was a production of such breathtaking excellence that audiences all over the world talk in reverential tones of the greatest of compositions, embellished by choreography of the rarest brilliance.”

Rhadha has many awards to her credit, including the Sangeet Natak Akademi award, Sangita Kala Acharya from the Music Academy, Acharya Choodamani from Sri Krishna Gana Sabha and the Cleveland Cultural Alliance’s Nritya Ratnakara award.

Radha is a competent singer too having been trained by Needamangalam V.V. Subramaniam and D.K. Jayaraman.

A simple unassuming demeanour notwithstanding ,she is a prankster at heart and a loving and caring friend and teacher. Summing up her persona, Sujatha Vijayaraghavan says, “She communicates the joy of dance every time she ascends the stage. The joy that she feels in her heart carries the viewer along as the dancer, the dance and the rasika merge in single consciousness.’’

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Printable version | Jan 12, 2021 5:40:26 AM |

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