In an age when Bharathanatyam arangetrams (debut performances) are becoming more and more elaborate, with multiple costume changes and extensive repertoires, it is refreshing to attend one that focuses on the essentials. On 10 February 2018, Asha Vishwanath and Keertana Avalur had their priorities in order, with an elegant repertoire that covered all the bases and left the audience feeling fulfilled without any audience fatigue. Students of Guru Gayatri Krishnamurthy, Asha and Keertana ascended the stage at Sydney’s NIDA, with a very competent performance that saw them earn their place where many a talented artist before them had been.
While the program was neat and not overly complicated, the evening was anything but typical, with many a personal element to charm the attendees. The welcome speech, in my opinion one of the most heartfelt and eloquent of arangetram welcome speeches, was delivered by Keertana’s cousin and Asha’s brother Ajai. Ajai reminded us of the intangible nature of the performing arts, that we hold on to the experience only with our memories, and thus we as an audience were blessed to be the few witnesses to the evening’s performance. The most lovely and novel way of asking attendees to switch off their phones!
Another family contribution came in the form of the lyrics in the opening item Shivastuthi, which were composed by Asha’s grandmother, Loganayaki Vishwanath. In this item, both young dancers showed that they possessed the talents of expressiveness, or bhavam, and technical finesse in equal parts.
The Varnam, designed to be the most demanding component of the repertoire, was executed seemingly effortlessly by Keertana and Asha. Varanamukha, in Ragam Nattaikurinji and Thalam Aadi, was choreographed such that each dancer had an opportunity to display her talents and retain the audience’s attention throughout. There was a strong connection established with the audience by both dancers. Their abilities were well matched, leading to a smooth performance that was easy to watch.
The most memorable item of the evening was Manthara Kaikeyi, a scene from the Ramanatakam, where the maid Manthara convinces Queen Kaikeyi that Lord Rama should not be allowed to take the throne. In this piece, Keertana was delightful as the cunning and manipulative Manthara, not-so-patiently influencing the Queen’s way of thinking. A chuckle was elicited from the audience when Keertana as Manthara cleverly makes to leave the Queen to her own devices, knowing very well that Kaikeyi would not allow her to leave. Asha was convincing as the Queen, initially bewildered when she is rudely awoken by her elderly maid, evolving to agreement with Manthara and indignation at the choice of Rama as King. Comedy is difficult to portray using Bharathanatyam, particularly for young dancers in the beginning of their careers, so Asha and Keertana’s success in this scene was impressive.
Vocalists Mrs Radha Badri and Ms Sindhuja Ganapathy, Mrs Gayatri Krishnamurthy on nattuvangam, violinist Bhairavi Raman, mridangist Mr Bala Sankar Shastri and flautist Mr Venkhatesh Sritharan provided flawless accompaniment to the dancing. The event was well organised, with clever touches such as display of each musician’s profile during the musical interlude, rather than being read out separately as is typical. Of course, the big bowl of mouth-watering Lindt balls that guests were welcomed with did not escape this reporter’s notice!
Keertana Avalur and Asha Vishwanath’s arangeteram was an immaculately assembled evening, with all roles played to perfection. Keertana and Asha proved themselves to be bright and talented young dancers, who no doubt have exciting Bharathanatyam careers ahead and an ability to carve their places in the Sydney dance scene.
Photos: Sidd Rishi Photography