Navia Natarajan: Bharatanatyam Takes the Stage

thIt was a pleasure to see¬†Tradition and Transcendence, the Bharatanatyam concert presented by Sangam Arts, June 22, Palo Alto. The featured artist, Navia Natarajan has so much to offer the dance form in which she excels. A classical Indian dance concert of the Bharatanatyam style follows a certain program form which allows dance followers to compare achievements in rhythm, expression, and grace. Ms Natarajan departed a bit from the usual format by inviting young dancers from four classical Indian styles to open the concert.** All of these were “pure dance,” “Nrittanjali,” which in this case means that the focus was on rhythm and the execution of treasured movements rather than on the telling of a story. The traditional opening number, the Pushpanjali, was performed by Kuchipudi exponents being trained by their Guru Madhuri Kishore; next was Nritta, performed by the Kathak students of Guru Sayali Goswami; Jatiswaram, a Bharatanatyam selection was performed by students whose Guru is Ms Natarajan; the Megh Pallavi was an Odissi selection danced by the students of Guru Ratikant Mohapatra. The closing piece was Euphoria, including all four dance styles. The choreography was by Gurus Niharika Mohanty, Madhuri Kishore, Sayali Goswami, Navia Natarajan. This was a happy way to see that Indian cultural riches are carried into new generations and secure in new homes in California. Congratulations to the Gurus and Sangam Arts for this inventive presentation.

th-1The heart of a Bharatanatyam performance is in the Varnam, a long dance which tells a story, usually a devotional story. Ms Natarajan selected Swami Naan Undhan Adimai. It shows a young girl who grows into a woman whose passion is for Lord Shiva. She seeks to be united with him. While the narrative is touching and related beautifully by Ms Natarajan’s movement and expression, the lasting impression for this viewer was the way she opened up her movement to take on the stage space. With its ancient origins in temple sculptures, classical Indian dance traditionally could be done effectively and beautifully in a small space. In Western classical dances, one is taught that movement through space is the dance more than the pose of even a perfectly balanced arabesque. Navia Natarajan seems to have challenged herself to open up the traditional movement. She has all the qualities of an excellent Bharatanatyam dancer, and she also jumps. Jumping across the stage; now that is something different.The transcendence in her program’s title is the goal of the dance performance. The dancer’s performance should relate to the mind and heart of the onlooker who will be lifted up out of time and space through the dance. It is a big goal, but why not go for transcendence? Dancing is not an idle pass time. All this work is about something. In the audience, this Hedgehog heard impressed onlookers comment on Ms Natarajan’s great energy. Yes, and it is energy with a direction. The transcendence here was also about literally transcending the stage. She is working toward choreographic innovations. Her Amarushataka was an expressive piece set to 7th century poet Amaru’s lyrical work on the mutability of love. The closing work, Agni, reflected three aspects of fire. It matched nritta, pure dance, with profound expression and abstraction with personal feelings. ¬†There is tension between Navia Natarajan’s movement exploration and fidelity to classical forms. The tension served to produce drama and passion; all of which drives the dance into the heart, which is exactly where she wants it to go.

**Dancers in the Opening Act – Nrittanjali, Pushpanjali(Kuchipudi), Sravya Cherukuri, Anusha Mannava; Nritta(Kathak), Preet Bhatt, Arshia Gupta, Anupreet Parmer, Anika Bhatnagar, Tanya Goel; Jatiswaram (Bharatanatyam), Divya Shridar, Meera Suresh, Urmila Vudali; Megh Pallavi (Odissi), Akhil Joondeph, Maya Lochana Devalcheruvu;

Pictures: Navia Natarajan