Six dancers, six musicians, six unique styles from six different cities across North America, united by one passion to render one soulful experience. This best defines the essence of the recently formed North-American dance troupe and production group, Anubhava.
The confluence of youthful exuberance and finely honed talent, Anubhava is a full-scale professional Bharatanatyam dance production with live orchestra; conceived, created and executed by a group of 12 Indian-American students. Anubhava bears testament to the bright future of India’s classical arts outside its natural borders. Not only are these arts in very capable hands, but they are also being invigorated by a fiery passion rapidly growing amongst youngsters outside India.
The story of Anubhava began in February of 2015, when dancers Shriya Srinivasan from Cleveland, OH, and Joshua George from Chicago, IL, approached V.V. Sundaram, the chief organizer of the Cleveland Thyagaraja Aradhana, to perform at the festival. Sundaram, the eminent pioneer recognised for promoting classical arts in the United States, challenged them to come up with a unique concept. Convinced that this was an ideal platform to showcase their own production, and bringing in dancer Nivedha Ramalingam from Toronto, the trio together began choreographing their performance. In under a month, the troupe had grown to include fellow Cleveland performer Mathangi Sridharan and Chicago-based dancers, Bhavya Kumaran and Sutikshna Veeravalli.
Adding novelty to their concept, the choreographers infused radiant, live music into their performance, rather than using recorded music. Recruiting Mathura Sridharan from New York to play the Nattuvangam, Keerthana Sankar from Detroit, MI, as the vocalist, Kamalakiran Vinjamuri from Springfield, VA, on the violin, and Anand Vemuri from Rockville, MD, on the flute, brought more talent to the troupe. Chicago-based siblings Athrey and Arthi Nadhan on the mridangam and veena respectively, completed the orchestra.
Thus began their artistic journey – on a path of exploration to combine the quintessential integrity of the arts with their ingenuity – and to create dances that would strike a chord with any audience instantly. With their discipline and commitment, the youngsters set tough deadlines for themselves, juggling practice time with academics. Initially, all rehearsals were online on Skype. Working with their individual teachers during weekends helped fine tune their acts. Shriya says, “It was challenging at first, to work with the different styles of Bharatanatyam we had learnt, but with each passing practice, not only did we overcome this, but also happily acknowledged constructive criticism from each other. We have literally become one family now!”
Anubhava premiered at the prestigious Cleveland Thyagaraja Aradhana festival in April of 2015 to widespread acclaim. The group has since toured across the USA, garnering fame with each performance. On August 1st, 2015, the temple of The Woodlands, TX, hosted their performance. Shashank Subramaniam, flautist, a younger version of the world-famous flautist with the same name, from Novi, MI, and Sushmitha Ravikumar, violinist from Dayton, OH, filled in beautifully for Anand and Kamalakiran.
Playing to a packed auditorium, the production opened with the traditional Mallari followed by an Alarippu. Next the team saluted the obstacle-remover Ganesha with “Shri Mahaganapathim Bhajeham”. In the central piece, the varnam, “Shri Krishna Kamalanatho”, the dancers poignantly depicted the travails of Nanda, during the dramatic birth of his son, Lord Krishna.
Scenes from the Ramayana - Aranya Kandam followed – and was easily the piece de resistance of the show. The choreographers, skillfully adapted the Carnatic Ragam-Thanam-Pallavi (RTP) format, to dance, in this piece. The program culminated with a lively thillana, a tribute to Lalgudi Jayaraman.
The overall choreography belied maturity far beyond their young ages. Their perfectionism was reflected in their flawless transitions, formations, expressions and footwork. Even as one was enraptured by the dancers, the orchestral brilliance reverberated across the auditorium. The young ensemble rendered a performance comparable to that of experienced artists. Their energy was high; confidence, steady and handling of every raga, adept, keeping the audience in awe during the entire performance.
Versatility is a key trait of each member of the group - the product of many years of rigorous training by top gurus from India and North America. Having completed their arangetrams in dance and music, this group, in their late-teens and early twenties, is also academically accomplished – each pursuing challenging undergraduate and graduate programmes in top universities across North America.
The youngsters are a perfect blend of the American inspirations they have grown up with, and the profound understanding of Indian culture. The fruits of their labour is for us to cherish - an unforgettable Anubhava.