Outstanding performance in Cape Town by Dr Janaki Rangarajan : 27th March 2016.
A Report from Heather Parker
In Cape Town we were truly blessed this Easter weekend with an outstanding performance of Bharata Natyam by danseuse Dr Janaki Rangarajan whose visit to Cape Town, South Africa, was sponsored by the Indian High Commission. Dr Janaki spoilt us with six perfectly presented items.
She began with alarippu: a mesmerizing piece - alarippu with abhinayam - which frankly I could have watched over and over again. Often today (and even in India) the alarippu is omitted from a performance whereas it is the ultimate test of a dancer’s ability to engage with her art form. This linked with a Tamil hymn to Lord Muruga. It was followed by a spectacular varnam, long and complicated. One of the old varnams composed by Ponniah Pillai of the Tanjore Quartet (early 1800s); likely it would have been presented at the court of Serfoji the Second. This varnam was in ragam todi and adi tal and is based on the nayika longing for Lord Krishna who is enshrined in the local temple. Abhinaya covered a wide range of emotions that included humour, anger, pathos…Then an ashtapadi with more superb abhinayam, one of the poems by Jayadeva in which Krishna and Radha rise after a night of love. This was performed seated in the Vazhuvoor tradition of Bharata Natyam. (I think the conservative audience were a little taken aback by the explicit nature of this poem.) A contemporary item followed these traditional pieces, a composition on Sufi poetry. The performance ended with a tillana, the sahityam on Ohm - an unusual choice.
Dr Janaki is trained in Vazhuvoor style as taught by Guru Srimathi Padma Subrahmanyam but her choreography (which is her own) is quite unique. It is the first time this style was presented in Cape Town and this was not mentioned to the audience, which was a shame. But probably the young girl who introduced the programme was unaware of the importance of this significant detail and she basically just read a piece which she must have googled off the internet. One can only hope that the local students trained in the Kalakshetra style (who were in the audience) do not try and introduce any of the flexible movements of torso and the sinuous arm movements, unique to the Vazhuvoor style, into their own dancing!
The performance was perfect in every single respect, only complete dedication to an art form can produce technique as we witnessed it. Dr Janaki glided effortlessly from movement to movement and the dancing was so well paced one could actually appreciate every single sculpted moment. Her foot positioning was a pleasure to see. Her hand gestures are quite beautiful and even sitting quite far back in the audience (as I was) one could appreciate the extreme subtlety of the abhinayam and her engaging use of eye movements. Her araimandi position was impressive, only a dancer will know how painful it is to sustain this deep posture… and she made it look so easy.
The style she performs requires a great deal of stamina because of the light, high leaps and the repeated use of the full mandi position in many of the adavu. She simply flew across the stage, making full use of the space provided.
What more can I say as superlatives roll off my tongue… ? When it was over I sighed with deep satisfaction. We were so privileged to have this experience. A great dancer and an engaging personality, she comes across as so very humble and she kept thanking the audience for allowing her the opportunity to dance! And, she performed with such feeling to taped music… !.
Finally, the performance was held at the Joseph Stone Theatre an interesting venue in itself, if somewhat run down. It was a theatre constructed during the apartheid years in South Africa during that period when dark skinned citizens were not allowed to perform on the same stage with white artists; under the auspices of the Eoan Group this theatre was constructed for Indian and Coloured communities on the Cape Flats. Unfortunately, because of this, the white community will not, in the main, attend this venue; it’s perceived as unsafe to travel to Athlone, as it means moving out of one’s comfort zone. So the audience was almost entirely Indian. This has been one of the reasons that Indian dance, as a classical art form, has been held back in South Africa when compared with Canada, the States, Russia, Japan and Europe… we have the largest Indian population outside of India in this country and one feels disappointed that the art form is not appreciated more widely, particularly when an international artist of such high repute is introduced.
Copyrights Acknowledged,PriyaLasya, Hamara, (C)
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