How Bharatanatyam travelled to the Eastern Coast of North America

A new chapter of the association of Bharatanatyam dancers (ABHAI) was launched recently during ‘Pravaha’, a festival that focused on the art form

Updated - June 06, 2023 07:42 pm IST

Published - May 17, 2023 06:52 pm IST

Roja Kannan and Priya Murle at the launch of ABHAI’s new chapter

Roja Kannan and Priya Murle at the launch of ABHAI’s new chapter | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

If ‘Pravaha’ was a case study in a B-school, it would raise a toast to the 4cs – Communication, Collaboration, Culture, and Conversations. Pravaha, A Sanskrit word, Pravaha means ‘flow’, the four-hour festival curated by New Jersey-based Bharatanatyam artiste Ramya Ramnarayan, it was held recently at the Balance Arts Centre in New York. It stemmed from Ramya’s desire to enable sustained and meaningful exchange of ideas and thoughts, process and performance among members of a community that is dedicated to the cause of the Indian classical performing arts in this part of the world, where she has spent nearly three decades.

‘Pravaha’ also marked the launch of ABHAI’s (Association of Bharatanatyam Artistes of India) chapter in the East Coast (North America), a momentous occasion for this Chennai-based organisation, which is currently helmed by senior Bharatanatyam artiste Roja Kannan. In the era of globalisation, this step augurs well for the dance form’s future. It’s tie we bring down the walls and break down the barriers to create a space where artistes can bond and brainstorm.

Looking back

‘Pravaha’ brought together practitioners, teachers, writers, researchers, and rasikas to share their joys and journeys in learning, teaching, and performing. There was a free flow of thoughts and expressions.

Chicago-based Bharatanatyam artiste Hema Rajagopalan and New York-based artiste and academic Maya Kulkarni set the tone for the festival with their short but insightful stories.

Taking the gathering down memory lane, Hema narrated how it all began her studio apartment in Chicago. “I knew I wanted to dance. It was difficult but I kept at it. What is important is to always keep up your spirit,” she said.

Maya Kulkarni shared how she came with Shilpa Natana, a classical dance performance style. Someone who mentors dancers from across genres, Maya reiterated the importance of finding the “heart in the art” and “For me, it was all that mattered.”

The next generation

The second segment, aptly titled ‘Parampara’, showcased a young generation of artistes such as Kavitha Thirumalai, Yamini Saripalli, Barkha Patel, Kasi Aysola and Sophia Salingaros. This section was about how they have imbibed the art and are interpreting the traditional nuances with a contemporary sensibility. Kavita Thirumalai’s offering — Muthuswamy Dikshitar’s Anandamruthakarshini — was an ode to the tradition. “Over the years, these timeless choreographies have allowed me to pause, reflect and understand their essence and infuse my own energy into them and find joy in my dance.”

Yamini Saripalli presented a traditional Manduka sabdam that sets the scene for the famous Gajendra Moksham story, choreographed by maestro Vempatti Chinna Satyam. Yamini spoke about how she learnt this piece as a teenager and how, by virtue of engaging with it over the years, the work has acquired a new meaning for her. “It has let me travel to a higher artistic realm.”

Next came Tirvat, a Kathak bandish composed by Rajeev K Mahavir and commissioned by Barkha Dance Company. Performer Barkha Patel generously drew us into her world as she explores movements.

Finding oneself through dance

New York-based dancer Sophia Salingaros presented ‘Sambho Mahadeva’, a Tyagaraja composition, combining strength and grace in equal measure. Post-performance, she talked about how she transitioned from being a student of ballet to a student of Bharatanatyam. “To ensure my dance is as authentic as possible, I travelled to India and spent time living and observing life there.”

Kasi Aysola’s traditional Satyabhama Pravesa Daruvu, from the traditional dance drama Bhamakalapam, choreographed by Vempatti Chinna Satyam, brought to the fore Kasi’s constant effort to give vent to his imagination. “It is the beauty of the Kuchipudi structure that continues to keep me inspired.”

The third segment of the afternoon featured Roja Kannan and Priya Murle (vice-president ABHAI) where they showcased their journey as artistes, friends and collaborators through solo and duet performances. Referring to the opening ABHAI’s new chapter, Roja said, “It’s dream come true.”

Significant discussion

The fourth segment, a panel discussion featuring Malini Srinivasan, Sonali Skandan, Bharathi Penneswaran, Sahi Sambamorthi, Chitra Ramaswamy, Deepa Mahadevan, who wear multiple hats as dancers, teachers, researchers and curators, focused on pedagogy, sustaining creativity, making dance accessible, building an audience base for Bharatanatyam and above all, the need for more such forums for dialogue. Moderated by New York-based dancer Srinidhi Raghavan, it drove home the significance of looking at dance beyond the stage.

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