Devanshi Pandya Bharatanatyam Arangetram - Report
Dt. July 30, 2017
An Arpan Arangetram
- By Arathi Srikantaiah
On July 30th 2017, a beautiful summer afternoon in the Pacific Northwest, the audience at Meydenbauer Center in Bellevue, WA, witnessed the Arangetram (solo dance debut) of fifteen year old Devanshi Pandya, daughter of Bijal and Satyen Pandya and a disciple of Dr. Joyce Siamak Paul, the founder and director of Arpan (arpanarts.org) in Redmond who teaches the Kalakshetra bAni/style of Bharatanatyam. Here are my thoughts about each of the lovingly crafted parts/pieces that made up for the Arangetram and had me enraptured for the entire duration of the program.
Devanshi commenced her Arangetram with Maa Shaarade, a bhajan honoring Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of the arts and creativity. The word Saraswati means ‘one who flows’ and she is the goddess who brings flow, that magical state of meditative immersion that helps turn inspiration into outward expressions of artistic beauty. The ideas of flow and fluidity and the resulting creative nourishment that Maa brings were palpable in the beautiful dance choreography and musical composition in Raga Bhairavi by Joyce Paul and Shahana Dattagupta. Devanshi was a picture of grace right from the exquisite opening pose to the very end of the bhajan. This opening piece proved to be a harbinger for all the lovely dancing that was about to come our way and set the tone for the entire afternoon.
After the bhajan, Devanshi performed the Alarippu. A short invocatory piece done at the beginning of a Bharatanatyam recital, the word Alarippu means ‘to blossom.’ Starting with the tiniest of eye and shoulder movements, it moves on to faster and more complex movement-sequences of the lower body. Akin to practicing progressive relaxation of muscles to relieve tension in the body, to me, Alarippu looks like the progressive activation of the body, limb by limb, to begin a Bharatanatyam performance. I have watched it being performed many times over and yet I find this practice of setting the intention ‘to blossom’ on stage through a set of intentional movements, meditative and moving. Devanshi did the usi Alarippu, a creation of Prof. C.V. Chandrasekhar, where her steps were exactly one beat off from the music to create a fresh touch to the traditional piece.
A Jatiswaram in Raga Ranjini and Talam Adi that was musically composed by Meera Krishna and choreographed by Joyce Paul followed the Alarippu. A Jatiswaram creates beauty primarily through rhythmic movement and is a combination of jatis or rhythmic syllables and swaras or melodies. This particular Jatiswaram choreographed especially for Devanshi’s batch at Arpan, the ‘Badmash Takitas’, in the pleasing melody of Ranjini was sparkly and spirited, just like the girls of the Badmash Takita group and showcased Devanshi’s command over technique and footwork.
Following the Jatiswaram, Devanshi danced to, Vaishnav Jan To.., a bhajan written by 15th century saint poet Narsinh Mehta in Old Gujarati. A favorite of Mahatma Gandhi’s, it was frequently sung in the Sabarmati Ashram and many of his prayer meetings. The central message of the song to foster fellow feeling by embracing empathy and truth without abhimaan or ego, is especially relevant in this year’s unsettled socio-political climate. The devotion-laden choreography by Joyce was stunningly sensitive to the simple message of this song, Mangalam Shankar’s singing was full of heart and Devanshi’s dancing was like a soothing balm for the soul.
The central piece of the margam, a varnam followed the Gujarati bhajan. Devanshi performed Samiye Azhaithu Odi Va, choreographed by Leela Samson (Joyce Paul’s guru) and musically composed by Dandayudapani Pillai. In this varnam, which is dedicated to Lord Shiva, the nayika pleads with her friend to bring Shiva to her that very instant. She longs to be with him and describes Shiva’s wonderful persona and his magnificent dance in great detail to her friend. The piece itself is replete with opportunities for descriptive storytelling and the choreography responds to them with full justice using both facial expressions or abhinaya and communicative footwork as another channel, albeit an abstract one, for nuanced storytelling. I later learned that Joyce Paul had performed the same varnam that was choreographed by her guru, at her Arangetram. It was apparent that this piece, steeped as it was in personal history and subjective experience was close to Joyce’s heart. Devanshi embraced the piece with total immersion and danced with an intensity of feeling that was unmistakable in her vibrant footwork, expressive body movements and touching abhinaya, filling the hearts of the audience with rasa and joy.
A twenty-minute intermission followed the varnam.
The second half of the program started with Hari Hari Hatadharataya, a Geeta Govinda Ashtapadi where Krishna, in expressing his deep regret for letting his love Radha leave in anger after seeing him with other gopis, shows his vulnerable side. While we have seen Krishna in many different forms, a mischievous child, a great lover, a generous friend, a charming flute-player, a savior, and a philosopher, we don’t associate him with the emotions of remorse and repentance. It started off with the smug feeling of ‘serves him right’ at the beginning of the Ashtapadi to surrendering to audible sobs towards the end where Krishna expresses heart-wrenching sadness. The exquisite Hindustani music composition in ragamalika that ranged from the feelings of worshipfulness of Raga Kedar to the pathos of Raga Bairagi by Srivani Jade and the poignant expressional dance choreography by Joyce Paul were highly perceptive to each other, resulting in taking the audience into an intensely emotional space.
It is rare these days for a musician and dancer to work together in each other’s presence, in bonhomie, to create new work. The wholesomeness of this piece portrayed the wonderful synergy between Srivani Jade’s music composition and Joyce Paul’s dance choreography. Devanshi’s excellent abhinaya was highlighted in this primarily expressional piece.
Devanshi gracefully shifted gears from emoting intense regret in the Ashtapadi to expressing boundless joy in the buoyant Ananda Natamedum Padam keerthanam. Musically composed by Papanasam Sivan and choreographed by V.P. Dhananjayan. Shiva, with the crescent moon adorning his hair like a jewel, his damaru and other miscellaneous quirky paraphernalia was brought to life through the ecstasy of unrepressed movements of this dance. Devanshi’s assured and crisp rendition of this handsomely choreographed piece seemed to seep into my body and left me rejuvenated.
After the keerthanam, Devanshi danced a Javali, Marulu Minchera musically composed by Dr. Balamurali Krishna and choreographed by Joyce Paul. Javalis are expression rich pieces that focus on the feelings of the character for a snapshot in time. In Marulu Minchera, the nayika is enamored with her lover and refuses to let him go, now that he is finally with her. Devanshi inhabited her character with absolute heart, a twinkle in her eye and spring in her step throughout this piece.
The Thudhara dheem Tadhara thillana in Natabhairavi raga that followed the Javali may sometimes seem omnipresent in Arpan presentations, but it still is a precious gem that needs to be seen at every opportunity. It is known around the dance circles that Veenai Krishnamachari musically composed the thillana and offered it to Smt. Rukmini Devi Arundale as a gift for her birthday. The charanam of this thillana honors Rukmini Devi, the founder of the Kalakshetra bAni of Bharatanatyam and she in turn, choreographed this musical gift into a nritta gift for her students. I see the Natabhairavi thillana as a gift that keeps on giving. It has to be nurtured, protected and rendered with reverence to the acharyas who created it and those who teach it and Devanshi did all of these things with great devotion.
The final dance in the Arangetram, Tribute to Mother Teresa, was a special piece in honor of Saint Teresa of Kolkota. It is a tradition at Arpan Arts for the Arangetram student to create dance choreography on a topic that they are passionate about. Although Devanshi did not choreograph this piece, she has been inspired by the Mother’s work ever since she was a little kid and wanted to dance a tribute to the saint who created love, joy and hope through her compassionate acts and made the world a better place to be. Dressed in a blue-rimmed white cotton saree, rosary in hand, kindness writ large on her face, Devanshi was a picture of a luminous messenger of God that Mother herself was. The utterly moving choreography by Joyce supported by the vocal arrangements of Alexis Lara O’Donahue that used Gregorian chants and Ave Maria made me feel like I was in an ancient cathedral surrounded by the benevolence of saints and angels. A couple of weeks later, I still carry the beatitude of those moments in me.
After the performance, Srivani Jade, a local and beloved Hindustani music practitioner and composer said about Devanshi, “I saw a maturity in presentation quite beyond her age. She was able to handle a wide variety of repertoire ably and beautifully.”
While sitting back to savor the familiar pieces of a margam is always a pleasure for a rasika, taking in Joyce Paul’s five new evocative choreographies was thrilling and filled my heart with delight. Mangalam Shankar’s lovely voice, T. R. Sunderesan’s bold beats on the mridangam and Murali Pavithran’s magical violin strings that tugged at the heart brought about an indescribable sense of happiness. The special guest artists, Srivani Jade, Shahana Dattagupta, Yogesh Ratnaparkhi and Alexis Lara O’Donahue, inspired us and stretched our minds with lovely musical compositions and singing from other genres.
· Sacred Wind: Sarasvati
· Bharathanatyam and the World Wide Web: Gurupaadhabhyaam
About the author:
Arathi Srikantaiah is an art appreciator, dot connector and writes on a wide range of lifestyle and culture topics. Pics Credit - saayeh.com
Key words: Arangetram, Devanshi Pandya, Arpan, Bharatanatyam, Bellevue, WA, Joyce Siamak Paul, Arathi Srikantaiah
September 2017, 0917-18-R1
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