Journey of an artiste

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A classical dance program, Margam highlights the steps on the path to fulfilment

A recent buzz word that finds its way into every conversation, whether appropriate or not, is ‘journey’. However, the term found its most appropriate use in branding a dance program presented by Vinaya Rai and her 15 students recently. The recital, entitled Margam (The Journey), played to a packed house at the Parks Community Centre in the north-western Adelaide suburbs.

The hour-and-a-half program showed the progressive course that a Bharatanatyam dancer takes the audience through during a typical performance, exhibiting her skill and entertaining the gathering. Vinaya chose the title Margam to explain the process that an aspiring student goes through from the first few steps to the final goal of performing on stage. The evening fare was not a sequence of dances, but an amalgam of education and entertainment. It combined verbal description of special terms used in this complicated yet captivating art, in tandem with visual demonstrations so the uninitiated could understand and appreciate the nuances of the various body movements.

After giving a brief history of this art form and its origin at the temples of southern India, Vinaya quoted the analogy coined by Balasaraswathi, a renowned exponent – a Bharatanatyam recital is similar to a grandly structured temple. Two of Vinaya’s former students Tara and Maya, who were MCs for the day, referred to this analogy appropriately at the start of each item. After the customary Pushpanjali (prayer to the Lord and obeisance to the guru), the program started with the Alariupu, the introductory piece that begins with gentle movements of eyes, neck, shoulders and arms, moving down to the feet finishing in a crescendo of rhythm and beats. As Balasaraswathi said, “We enter the temple of dance Varnam through the gopuram (grand entrance spire) of alaripu.”
From there the event progressed to Jatheeswaram, that is like arriving at the ardrha mandapam (half-way hall in the temple). This was performed to the accompaniment of the all-time favourite song ‘Kuzhaloodhi manam ellam’, composed by Oothukadu Venkata Kavi. Prior to moving to the next major item Varnam, two light pieces with background music in Hindi and Tamil served as an interlude, giving Vinaya’s youngest students a platform to show their newly-acquired skills to the audience, doing their parents proud.

Varnam, being the anchor piece of a Bharatanatyam recital, is likened to arriving at the sanctum of the grand temple. Vinaya took it upon herself to perform the dance to the tune of the Tamil song Nadhanai azhaithuva sahiye (Oh my friend, usher in my suitor). For the concluding piece Tillana, known for brisk body movements and intricate footwork, a song on Lord Krishna by Dr Balamurali Krishna was chosen as the background music.

It is a laudable move to debut over a dozen youngsters ranging from tiny tots to tertiary students in one evening.  Vinaya and her family can take due credit for this at Margam. Credit in ample measure should go to those youngsters who try to learn a traditional art that demands enormous effort and enthusiasm in a foreign clime besides pursuing their studies and hobbies. They performed with passion to prove their worth.  Kudos to their parents too, who, having moved to a new continent, contend to nurture traditional artistic skills in the younger generation.

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