Shubha Alavandi: An arrangetram dripping with bhakti

It’s rasa galore in Bharatanatyam dancer Shubha Alavandi’s debut performance, writes SMRITI SEKHAR

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When Bharatanatyam dancer Shubha Alavandi presented her arangetram (debut performance) recently, her ankle bells (salangai or ghungroo) rang out in a manner reminiscent of the words of legendary dancer the late Pandit Birju Maharaj.

The Kathak exponent who we lost only recently, had said famously, “When the ghungroo ring out, an awakening (of spirit) occurs.”

The essence of the beloved Padma Vibhushan’s words was realised in Shubha’s recital, in which a sincere commitment to the artform underpinned every item.

It was heartening to see the awakening of Shubha’s spirit for the artform as she presented her arangetram at Sydney’s NIDA theatre. A student of Guru Smt. Nikhila Kiran at the Natyanivedan School of Dance, Shubha displayed effervescence as she navigated through her extensive repertoire, taking the audience on a journey filled with rasa. In an outstanding moment at the end of the final item, her facial expressions matched exceptionally with the lyrics as she conveyed her joyful sense of accomplishment.

To stage an arangetram in these trying times in no easy feat. Despite the rapidly changing context, Guru Smt. Nikhila Kiran, Shubha and her family and friends coordinated an extraordinary evening of classical dance and music that uplifted the spirit of each member of the audience. It was an apt way to celebrate the dance school’s 25th silver jubilee anniversary, establishing it as a dedicated part of the Sydney dance community.

Shubha, a primary school teacher based in Sydney, started dancing at the age of six.

Following tradition, Shubha’s recital commenced with a respectful Pushpanjali and Ganesha Vandana. Proceeding to her first presentation Alarippu (which translates to ‘flowering bud’), the debutante showed her adeptness as she handled the escalating rhythmic patterns with a smile.

bharatanatyyam dancer shubha alavandi
Image: Supplied

Up next was the Jathiswaram where melody joined in with the pure dance mix. Shubha was able to execute swift jumps and particularly resonant moves, pulling and pushing her hands in beautiful flower mudras to delightful dance geometry.

In the pièce de résistance, the Varnam, Shubha presented ‘Prananatha’ in a garland of ragas.  The item enabled the dancer to enact characters like Rukmini, Lord Krishna and Shishupala in particularly moving ways. Alongside some playful violin and serene flute melodies, she rendered Rukmini and Lord Krishna’s story – conveying the underpinning bhakti theme – with sincerity. It was a powerful experience for the audience to view the fusion of the lyrics being melodiously sung, with the dancer’s poses and facial expressions. Interspersed through this item were pure dance displays supported by the percussive nattuvangam.

The Varnam further saw Shubha interpret the role of a nayika (heroine) wandering about and wondering about her lord. In various impressive moments, she played a peacock with elegance, stirring the audience’s soul. Another splendid point was the fading of the instrumental support as only the drums accompanied the nayika as she heard approaching anklets. The item ended on the note of bhakti as the dancer circled the stage with hands folded in prayer pose, as the music rose in a crescendo. The emotion was very nearly tangible, leaving the audience to erupt in awe-filled applause.

shubha's arrangetram musicians
Image: Supplied

Next featured was a Padam on the lineage of Yadu describing and praising Lord Krishna. This item was inspired by the famed sculptures in Belur, Karnataka which was evident in the delivery of the choreography. Shubha deftly made use of a plate of flowers to venerate a statue of Krishna on stage and walked out gracefully with an air of triumph.

The next item, a kriti entitled ‘Shringara Lahari’ evoked the blissful aspects of Devi (Mother Goddess). Bringing to play the exquisite tribhangi posture, Shubha was able to emote the iconic shringara rasa and embody the Goddess Parvati in this poignant item.

The much-loved Lord Krishna came on next in Shubha’s form, offering up a wonderful change in mood: in a spectacularly lively piece, we saw him engage in playful pastimes with his friends.

A vibrant Thillana with intricate pure dance, and a final celebratory and gratitude-filled Mangalam ended the repertoire on a marvellous high.

bharatanatyam arrengetram of shubha alavandi
Image: Supplied

“Bharatanatyam enriches my life by enabling self-expression,”  the Sydney-born and raised Shubha told Indian Link later. “It has become an innate part of my identity.”

Pandit Birju Maharaj’s words about the ghungroo rang true in the end, as the delighted audience saw and felt the young dancer’s ‘awakening of the spirit’ in a bhakti-filled presentation.

READ ALSO: Dancing for a cause: 11-year-old Bharatanatyam dancer Sagarika Venkat

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