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It was a unique experience watching the young Sagarika Venkat on stage. The 11-year-old Year 6 student presented her first full-fledged solo Bharatanatyam performance at Bankstown’s Bryan Brown Theatre, dancing to her heart’s content.
Her show Bhakthi was a bouquet of dances in aid of a Bangalore-based not-for-profit Satguna Sangraha Trust, donating $2200 to support the education of a young child, only a few years younger than herself.
Sagarika is the daughter and disciple of Manjula Viswanath, renowned dance teacher and director of Rasika Dance Academy in Sydney.
Quite ambitiously, the dance prodigy – who performed her arangetram (debut) not so long ago chose vignettes from the life of Krishna for her central piece Varnam. It paid off. Based on a simple and expressive lyric set to the pleasing Vasantha Raga, the lengthy and stretched item provided a compelling experience to the audience. Krishna is Kannan kamala Kannan, neela vannan.
First, Sagarika’s eyes danced to the theme, then her limbs, and then her entire body followed in perfect harmony. Powerful music showered Jathis, pure notes and words on Sagarika, calling her to dance. This she did in sparkling glee. We got to see Krishna in several divine forms – as a dairy-loving toddler, as the village heartthrob, as the mountain mover, as the snake destroyer, and then as charioteer to the archer Arjuna on the battlefield. In this last form, Krishna’s humblest yet greatest, he bestowed the Gitopadesha on the weary soldier.
Each role was brought to life splendidly by the young dancer. Backing her up, was rich stylistic detail in choreography, as well as some gems in lyrics, free-flowing swaras and jathis. It was a sight to see Sagarika dance to lines such as Taye Yashode balan, Navaneetha choran, Gopi janodan vilaiyadu, Maram maru bala Govardhana dharam, and Govinda, Madhava, Keshava kapade nee enai.
The Varnam is the acid test for a young dancer, providing ample scope to showcase skills through abstract jathis and concrete abhinaya. Sagarika readily accepted the challenge and did well through her slow-tempo movements at times, and brisk ones at other times as required.
What I noticed was a relaxed dancer eager to dance more.
The dance on Shiva in raga Chandrakouns was a sharp contrast to that on Krishna. While Krishna, with a smiling face, stood for love, protection and the pleasant sides of life, Shiva stands for the very destruction. He wears the Gaja Charma for his body and has skulls for his necklace. This time round, it was not the fine Mridanga that sounded, but the harsh Damaruga. Sagarika aptly conveyed the chaos that Shiva represents.
Other numbers, carefully picked, gave us a sense of place and personality. Ganapathi Pushpanjali, in ragamalika and talamalika informed the audience of things to come. Thirupathi Girivasa, an excellent film hit of yesteryears, presented Srinivasa, the God of everything.
The item on Hanuman in raga Bhoopali allowed Sagarika to span the entire stage with the “monkey” movements. Jumping on the stage and running across it, she enacted Ramayana itself.
Thillana, with special light effects and rich music, took the audience to a faraway dreamland.
Among some welcome features of Sagarika’s recital was that most of the items were fresh and new, rarely presented at dance debuts. Ragas such as Chnadrakouns, Bhopali were certainly unusual choices. The Thillana incorporated music with several dimensions, including a rare guitar accompaniment, specially rendered by Praveen Rao.
Lighting, meticulously thought out, was attractive and heightened the impact. The spotlights used at the beginning and the conclusion of the items need a special mention. They added to the impressive picturesque poses that the young dancer presented.
The audience, it must be mentioned, absorbed the dance and reacted with enthusiasm. Their applause was well deserved.
Sagarika Venkat, you’ve proved yourself a dancer.
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