Bala Bhavam Concert—Bharatanatyam by Rumya Venkateshwaran
Review by Roopa Nayak
On November 12 2016, Sruti, The India Music and Dance Society presented a tribute to Bharat Ratna Shrimati M.S. Subbulakshmi. As part of the Bala Bhavam series, Rumya Venkateswaran presented a Bharatanatyam dance recital.
Rumya needs no introduction to the Greater Philadelphia region. She has been learning and performing Bharatanatyam in Kalakshetra and Bharatanrityam style under the able guidance of gurus such as Smt Shobha Sharma, Smt Bala Devi Chandrashekar, the Dhananjayans, and Shri N. Srikanth. With a well thought out format, the entire performance was a sequence of neatly arranged pieces. Each one, in the original ragam as sung by M.S Amma herself, evoked the feeling of seeing a dancer deeply rooted to tradition. It was an appropriate and fitting tribute to the legend.
The first piece presented was an invocatory item. Alarippu in Misra Chapu was interlaced with the well known Annamaachaarya Krithi, Entamaatramuna, which was popularized by M.S. Amma during her time. The crisp and rhythmic sollukattu by the young and talented Vivek Ramanan and the melodious rendition of the Krithi by Rumya’s mother Nalini Venkateswaran set the mood for a great recital. This Alarippu was Rumya’s own choreography and was performed with precision and calm composure.
In the next piece, Rumya performed to one of M.S. Amma’s most famously rendered compositions of all time, Maharaja Shri Swati Tirunal’s Bhavayami Raghuramam in a Varnam format, which speaks of the glories of Lord Rama. Based on the structure of this piece, each of its six charanams describes one kaandam, each corresponding to Valmiki’s Ramayanam.
These are, respectively, Baala (Rama’s birth and childhood), Aayodhyaa (Rama’s banishment to the forest), Aaranya (Rama’s contact with Jataayu and Shurpanaka), Kishkindha (Rama’s meeting with Hanuman, Sugreeva, and Vaali), Sundhara (Rama and Hanuman’s search for Sita in Lanka), and Yuddha (Rama and Raavana’s final battle in Lanka). Its first Jathi was an adaptation of a well-known Vazhuvoor Jathi, while the other two Jathis were composed by the Nattuvanar, Vivek Ramanan. The song, composed in Ragamalika and set to Rupaka Talam, is choreographed by Rumya’s Grand Guru, Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam. The complex and cross-rhythmic pattern of the jathis brought to light not only Vivek’s skills as a Bharatanatyam dancer and as a trained Mridangam artist, but it also showed Rumya’s tremendous grip on taalam.
Rumya’s in-depth training in Carnatic music, and hence a sound knowledge of the thalam, proved to be an asset in her skillful presentation of the jathis which she had choreographed herself. Each jathi was performed with such immaculate precision that it elicited repeated applause from the audience. She was also very convincing in Abhinaya, and whether she portrayed the antagonistic Manthara, the calm and devout Sita, the troublemaker Shurpanakha, or the bhakthi of Hanuman, her facial expressions were quite real. She was able to convey the actual nature of every character portrayed, and she was certainly able to express in detail, even with mere glances, the multitude of characters within her dance.
Rumya also choreographed the next piece, a composition of Shri Subramanya Bharathiar entitled Vellai Thaamar, where the poet describes the beauty of Goddess Saraswati. Throughout this song, the poet recites, “She resides in the white lotus flower and is present in the sweet sound of the Veena, yet she also resides in the hearts of devotees and poets who sing songs, s preading their inner joy outwards to one and all.” This composition in ragam Bhimplas was set to Adi Thalam. The finale, a duo consisting of the Shiva Panchaakshara Stotram followed by Shivoham, was definitely the highlight of the performance. The Shiva Panchaakshara Stotram, written by Shri Adi Shankaraachaarya, corresponds to the five syllables of the chant of Lord Shiva’s name, “Om Na-Ma-Shi-Va-Ya”. This stotram preceded Shivoham, a choreography of Rama Vaidyanathan that invokes the dancer’s meditation by spiritually connecting with Lord Shiva through the medium of dance. The verses, “Jeevaha Shivaha Shivo Jeevaha”, taken from the Skanda Puraanam, reflect that life, which is inside of me, is Shiva. Therefore, I am one with Him. This meaning resonates throughout the piece, symbolizing the connection the soul makes with the Supreme Being, a concept known as Jeevatma-Paramatma. The Shiva Panchaakshara Stotram, in Ragamalika and Khanda Chaapu, followed by Shivoham, in Charukesi and Adi Talam, was a feast for the eyes and the ears.
The recital concluded with a mangalam in Madhyamavati with verses taken from the Venkatesha Suprabhatam, one of M.S. Amma’s most famous devotional renditions. It was a performance that came together in all aspects, including the dancer and the accompanying orchestra. One could appreciate both the dancer and the accompanists together without forcing the audience to separate them.
Nalini Venkatesan’s melodious voice enriched the performance with the necessary variations in amplitude, and Dr. Sriram Balasubramanian’s mridangam offered the nadham that rounded out the audio aspects without distracting the tone of the piece. Additionally, Shri Balachander Krishnaraj’s lilting music on the flute completed the ensemble. Rumya’s dance was performed with conviction. There was a sense of confidence and authority that was depicted in the sudden and arresting pause she provided, after a brisk sequence of movements, a technique she used throughout the performance in various places. This technique, performed to a perfect rhythm gave the impression of a promising and bright future for Rumya in Bharata Natyam.
Roopa Nayak is Bharatanatyam teacher in Sinking Spring, Pennsylvania and continuously strives to preserve and present the purity of her style and currently encourages young budding artists through her institute, Nritya Surabhi.